Sales Process vs. Technique: Which Matters More?

If your sales are not at the level that you’d like, the best thing you can do is have your salespeople brush up on their sales techniques so that they perform better, right? Wrong! Achieving predictable, long-term revenue growth is not as simple as sales training.

If you’re guilty of repeatedly investing in sales technique training hoping that it will boost your sales, you’re not alone. As a fractional VP Sales, I’ve seen many business owners fall into this trap.

Why Sales Training is Not the Way Out of a Slump

When your revenue generation is not at the level you’d like, you may assume that it’s because your salespeople are under skilled and that sales training is the easy fix.

What my experience as an outsourced sales VP has taught me is that virtually 100% of the time, the problem lies in the sales process, not in the skills of the sales reps. You could have the most talented salespeople in the world, but if your sales process is flawed, they will not perform well.

When I go to work with a team, the first thing I do is assess whether they know what to do. Because you need to know what to do before you perfect how to do it.

A story for you about this concept…I asked my son to paint the front porch this summer. I spent some time going over the painting technique (the “how”) and left him to decide the best way to apply that to get the job done. Well, he ended up doing a great job with the painting itself but he also managed to [literally] paint himself into a corner! I shouldn’t have been too surprised, since I hadn’t told him he should start on the opposite side and paint himself to the stairs (the “what”).

Aside from being a funny story, this is an example of why someone needs to understand a process before honing their ability to do specific parts of that process. In the context of your sales team, that’s why sales training won’t help if your sales team doesn’t understand the sales process.

A Diagnosis of What’s Most Often Wrong

When sales are down and business owners come to me for help, they’ve usually already self-prescribed sales training. My analysis of their sales process usually reveals one of the following:

  • There are things they should be doing that they’re not
  • There are things they shouldn’t be doing that they are
  • They’re doing the right mix of things, but in the wrong order
  • They’re doing things to the wrong degree

Let’s use a baking analogy to examine the difficulty business owners often have with diagnosing the problem with their sales. My clients come to me saying their soufflé is continually flat- they just can’t get it to rise. They wonder whether the temperature of the oven is wrong, or if there’s something wrong with the way they put it in the oven.

When we go back and look at their recipe, it usually turns out that they’re missing some ingredients or mixing them in the wrong order. When you have the process incorrect, the results are not going to be what you expect.

A Recipe for Sales Success

Speaking of recipes, a recipe for increasing sales is the magic 4 R’s formula. Sales training and a bit of extra motivation are not going to cut it. Your sales team needs to be doing:

  • the Right Things
  • the Right Way
  • to the Right Degree
  • at the Right Time.

If they do, you are guaranteed to get reliable and predictable revenue growth (you can read more about each of these 4 R’s here).

Where the magic comes in is the particular mix of these things that is right for your business, depending on your industry, your specific market, and your geographic area. Although there’s generally a list of the ‘right’ things to do in sales, the right way to do them usually varies according to the culture and customs of different regions. The right time refers to the need to approach buyers at the right time; sending a salesperson in to meet a prospect at the wrong time is setting them up for failure.

This is why the sales process is a bigger priority than the sales technique. If you don’t have the right 4R mix for your business, even the most highly skilled salespeople won’t get the results you hope for.

So, When Does Sales Technique Matter?

I’m not saying that improving sales technique isn’t important- just that it should come second to optimizing your sales process. Sales techniques such as rapport building, mirroring, and knowing which questions to ask and how to ask them are obviously crucial parts of sales.

Sales technique is about understanding buyer pain points, figuring out how their situation can be improved, and the business value they want to get from making that change. In chapters 4, 5, and 6 of my book Sell More By Selling Less, I outline in detail how salespeople can strategically identify pains, desired gains, and value drivers.

The way salespeople ask these questions is technique. Understanding the responses and putting together a solution that will solve pain points, make an improved situation a reality, and deliver value increases the likelihood that the buyer will say yes. To do these things is process, not technique.

Most people think sales training is the priority, and process optimization should come second. In reality, it should be the opposite. Process optimization should be the first thing you tackle if you want to see a sustainable increase in sales.

If you’re spending money on sales technique training without sales process optimization, you might as well be throwing that hard-earned money out the window. If you’d like to discuss more about why optimizing your sales process is more important than technique, reach out by phone or email. I’m always happy to help.

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