- October 5, 2023
- Posted by: Dave Kurlan
- Category: Understanding the Sales Force
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about building a stone walkway and how it is such a great analogy to sales process. Today I was watching stone masons build a stone column and while the focus is on the column itself, each stone represents a process unto itself. Unlike retaining walls or two-sided walls, columns expose stones on all four sides, so each column takes a long time to assemble. To place a single stone in the column, the stone masons must:
- Measure the opening
- Locate a stone that is close to the size of the opening with at least one flat side that will be visible (and 2 flat sides at 90 degree angles for corners)
- Chip away at various parts of the stone until it is the appropriate size
- Fit the stone horizontally
- Prop up the stone with smaller pieces of stone if necessary for it to sit plumb
- Backfill with mortar (which they are constantly mixing and making)
- Rinse and repeat
There are approximately 340 stones in each column so the above process is repeated 340 times for each column to be built.
Now think about the sales process. An ideal sales process has 4 stages, each with anywhere from 4 to 10 milestones that must be met in order to move to the next stage.
You could make a case that measuring a stone is similar to targeting, locating an appropriate stone is like prospecting, chipping away at the stone makes a good analogy for a discovery call, checking and trying to make the stone fit is like qualifying, etc.
I believe the analogy works even better when we look at one particular stage of the sales process. It’s a stage where salespeople are typically weak and/or ineffective. Can you guess which stage that would be?
In general, salespeople are not very good at discovery because they don’t take a consultative approach or ask enough good questions. But taking a Consultative approach is difficult so I’ll give salespeople a free pass and not use Discovery as the analogy for this article.
Qualification is easy to execute but most salespeople tend to avoid it like Covid (is C0vid a suitable replacement for “The Plague?”)
Take another look at the 6 steps of the stone wall process. The steps are milestones and if the stone masons skip one milestone, take one bad measurement, and fail to assure that every single stone is plumb and level, the stone will appear out of place and the column will look bad.
A Stone Mason’s work is much more similar to the sales qualifying process than the discovery call. If you skip or get one milestone in the Qualification stage wrong, the opportunity will appear out of place in the pipeline and it will look like a bad opportunity in the eyes of a Sales Leader. If you get one milestone in the Qualification stage wrong, it won’t CAUSE you to lose the business, but you won’t know that you can’t win the business, and therefore, that mistake PREVENTS salespeople from losing quickly.
If you qualify every milestone in the Qualification stage, it won’t GUARANTEE that you will win the business, but it will provide you with tremendous CONFIDENCE that you CAN win the business because you’ve eliminated most of the things that can go wrong.
What does the Qualification stage consist of? In the screenshot below, you can see the attributes of the Qualification Competency where, in this particular sales team of 18 salespeople, there were some huge gaps.
(NOTE: The Qualification Competency is one of twenty-one Sales Core Competencies that OMG (Objective Management Group) Measures. OMG has assessed 2.4 million salespeople and you can see the data, filtered by industry and sales percentile, for all 21 competencies here.]
While this team scored between Fair (gold) and Strong (green) on most of the tactical attributes in the competency, they did not score very well in the attributes representing Sales DNA, which are required for them to be comfortable executing the tactical attributes. In other words, they know exactly what they are supposed to do relative to qualifying, but they are so uncomfortable with some of it that it is not being done consistently or effectively.
The milestones of the Qualification Stage differ from the attributes of the Qualifier Competency because the stage doesn’t include the attributes of Sales DNA. There could be additional milestones in the Qualification stage that aren’t listed in the competency, such as the prospect’s commitment, the synergy and fit, the timeline, how the company compares with the competition, the prospect’s willingness to buy value and more.
The next time you enter the qualification stage of your sales process, act like the stone masons and be thoughtful, diligent, accurate and thorough.