Building the Machine

The sequence of steps

Building the machine involves the following steps:

  1. Identify your buyers
  2. Diagram their buying processes
  3. Add to this diagram the steps you will take to address their buying process
  4. Diagram the Actions you will take to move prospects through the process
  5. Examine the linkages between Actions to make sure the next steps are obvious
  6. Define the qualification criteria
  7. Examine the customer motivations for each Action
  8. Define the organizational resources responsible for each step
  9. Define the technology/software that you will use to automate the process

building-the-machine-process

1.  Identify your buyers

Start with an intense study of the Customer

If you are like most of the people that I talk to, you already have a sales process, and can show a diagram of the different steps. However most of the time when I work with people to diagnose what is not working as well as they hoped, the problems arise because they have not found a good way to motivate their customer to move forward through a particular step. This happens because they have designed their sales process from their point of view, and not created a customer-centric process. A good way to make sure you are building a sales process that will work for your customers, is to diagram out their buying process. This will help make sure you have appropriate steps in your sales process to address the issues and questions they need answered before they will purchase from you.

I recommend starting by identifying the different job functions that are involved in purchasing your product or service. Often your champion may be a business buyer that is interested in your product for how it can improve a particular business function. But they may have to get approval from the IT department before they can make a purchase. And if the size of the purchase is large enough, you may find that you have to deal with the CFO who only cares about the return on investment.

Also if you work through channels, such as VARs or System Integrators, you will want to develop a completely separate sales and marketing process for how you will locate and qualify them, sign them up, and make the productive.

2.  Diagram: customer’s buying processes

Once you have each player identified, I recommend diagramming the buying process for each individual. Only when you are armed with this information, can you properly design your own sales and marketing process.

The flow chart below was produced using an excellent flow charting program called SmartDraw that I highly recommend for this purpose. I found SmartDraw after a lot of research and trials of various other products, and it was by far the easiest and fastest. All other tools that I worked with got in the way of thinking through the process, and required me to pencil out the process before trying to use them to document it.

sales-process-1

Note that while the above diagram only looks at the main player in the sales cycle, the tech champion, it is important to repeat this step for all other players that are involved in the sales cycle. For example if there is also a business buyer who is the actual decision maker, understanding how they think is going to be important. Or if your sales process involves using resellers or systems integrators, you will want to do a similar diagram for the VAR/SI, thinking about the owner, the reseller sales person who will sell your product, and the technical resource who will demonstrate and install your product.

3.  Diagram: add the steps to address the buying process

This next stage involves adding the steps that you can take to address the concerns and needs of the prospect that you identified in the prior stage diagram. Those steps are shown here in the beige color.

sales-process-2

Since the Free Trial has become such an important part of the sales process for many products, I have included a separate sub-process diagram for this here:

Free-trial-process

4.  Diagram Actions to move prospects through the funnel

This step involves creating a diagram showing how you plan to move prospects through your sales process, and is the company-centric view. (The diagrams above are all customer-centric.)  Having done the work above, this step should be fairly simple.

The concept behind this part of the process is that we are breaking down a complex sales cycle into a smaller set of Actions that should result in movement of the prospect through the sales cycle. Later on when we instrument the machine, we will want to track how many people went through a particular Action, and how many of them were we able to successfully move to the next step (conversion rate).

Sales-process-company-view

5.    Examine Linkages between Actions

The next step is check that there are clearly defined linkages between every action on the diagram, and the following step.  One of the most common problems I see is marketing activities that have no clear call-to-action; or no clear step to process the leads after the action is completed.

For example, a company will visit a trade show and collect leads. However when they return, no one has thought of how they need to be processed, and as a result they will sit there for many days without being called or emailed.

Another common problem is marketing activities that have no connection to this process. For example, they may sponsor some event, hoping to build brand. But that activity does not result in leads. In my view, ot startup can afford to do any kind of marketing activities that doesn’t directly contribute to the process of moving a prospect through to a closed deal.

6.    Defining Qualification criteria

Another common problem is no integration between sales and marketing. Sales complains that marketing doesn’t provide them with enough leads, and marketing complains because they gave sales a ton of leads, and sales won’t call them. This happens because there wasn’t a discussion between sales and marketing where they mutually agreed on a clear definition of what represents a Qualified Lead that is acceptable to sales. Getting the lead to that level of qualification (often referred to as a Marketing Qualified Lead or MQL) is the responsibility of the marketing department.

To help with qualification, a set of questions are defined. In many cases these are the standard BANT questions (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing). It may also be valuable to ask additional questions that are important to your particular company to make sure they are in your target market. For example: are they a mid-sized company; are they B2B or B2C; are they in a particular vertical; etc. A lead can become an MQL when certain number of these are answered positively.

7.    Examine the customer motivations for each Action

This step represents one of the most important and powerful aspects of this methodology. If you started off by looking carefully at your customer’s buying process, you are already beginning to think the right way. But this step takes things further. To this well, you will need to get inside your customers head, and learn to think the way they do.

For each Action that you want your customer to do in your sales process, ask the following questions:

  1. What concerns are they likely to have that will make them not want to take this action?
  2. What motivations might they have that will make them want to take this action?

The most common reason that a sales process isn’t working well is because your customer is not adequately motivated to do a particular thing that you want them to do. For example, your customers may not be going through with your Free Trial because they have to register on your web site beforehand. Or your customers may not be completing your free trial, because it requires them to open a port in their firewall (or similar).

To fix this problem, you will need to get inside your customers head and understand their concerns and motivations, and brainstorm a way to provide additional incentive to motivate them to complete the step. For example, offer them something meaningful if they complete your registration. Or find a way to eliminate the need to open the firewall port, and allow them to do the trial in the cloud on your own systems.

There is a lot more discussion on this important topic under the section entitled “Solving Blockage Points” that comes later.

However, I have found that the most important part in the art of designing a successful sales process lies in this step.

8.   Define the organizational resources responsible for each step

This step is simple: for each action you have in your sales process, make sure that there is a clear organizational resource that is focused on that step, and make sure they are measured and incented based on the number of leads they process, and their conversion rates.

9.   Define the underlying technology and software

Since we want our sales process to be scalable, we need to automate the way that information flows from one step to the other. This requires software or software provided as a service (SaaS). CRM software is a well understood category with Salesforce.com as the dominant vendor that we see in startups. However the are of software for marketing automation is an emerging and rapidly changing area. As of today, there is no one vendor that provides all the tools you are likely to want to use, so you will need to combine several products/services.

Interesting areas for marketing products are Inbound Marketing; Social Network monitoring and management; Lead Nurturing and Scoring; eMail marketing; and Web analytics. (This list is not meant to be complete, as this area is evolving fast, and interesting new ideas keep emerging.)

There is a complete section dedicated to looking at technology and services that can be used to help your process: click here.

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  • http://twitter.com/SellingHasValue SHV

    Nice clear info for an entrepreneur to understand. I would also focus on mapping out a sales process in more detail to present to the sales team. Keep it simple and keep working on it. http://www.sellinghasvalue.com/

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  • http://twitter.com/prousselot prousselot

    Great stuff on building an effective acquisition channel. Very valuable and time saving. Thanks !

  • http://twitter.com/prousselot prousselot

    Great stuff on building an effective acquisition channel. Very valuable and time saving. Thanks !

  • Jon Harris

    David,

      As a young college age entrepreneur I find this website to be inspiring. I have been recently working on learning your Building a Sales and Marketing Machine. I like that there is a clear plan to charting this. I am having a little difficulty applying it to my company, which is non technical related. I know you are particularly busy, but I thought I’d ask if you’d consider going through an additional example of the graphical process for a non tech business. Two examples would certainly help me see the underlying principles separate from the individual examples. Thanks for your consideration!

    Jon Harris

  • Customer Services
  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Thanks for highlighting that. I had deleted that page as it was not up to date, but not removed the links.

  • Jim Harris

    Great article to understand about the machine building process. The diagrams helps to keep it simple. As a colleague entrepreneur working with http://www.its-eng.com I give this article A+++++

  • http://www.abhinavk.com Abhinav Khushraj

    The link to the “complete section for technology and services” is broken. Can you please share the accurate link?

  • Markus

    Best blog sales incite for a while

  • Dom

    David,

    I’m from Italy and I just set up a SaaS company a year ago. I want to ask you a question about our organization chart. We have five different departments as Software Development, Partner Success Team, Sales, Operation and Product Development. These all five connected the one -CEO-. and organization chart is horizontal. Do you have any suggestions to improve this chart? How can I change it to make effective?

  • Anthony

    Thanks for this information David. Very helpful stuff.

  • Vance

    You mention providing an ROI spreadsheet in one of the diagrams above. Do you have a link to an example? Really enjoy the material by the way.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok
  • Mike

    David, do you have any best practices or process work flows that outline how a lead can move through specific stages within a free trial? We are trying to determine if 1.) They are qualified where they need to be in a proof of value not 30 free trial. 2.) Free trial but only meet a certain set of qualification criteria if any where there really just a lead. 3.) Free trial where they meet certain qualification criteria and they are an opportunity. I’m trying to understand how to build out our free trial process but incorporate it into our overall sales process. Awesome post by the way. This is extremely important when you want to scale your sales team.