Is Process Paramount in Selling? – by Andy Paul

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Which is more important in selling: Process or selling skills?

This is one of the classic debates about sales and selling. It is very similar to the “nature vs. nurture” debates that young adults without kids and too much time on their hands indulge in. (Anyone with kids quickly learns the answer to this…)  The answer is that both process and skill are required to succeed in sales. However, process provides the platform for skills to flourish.

What Would Michael Do?

Take the case of an elite athlete like Michael Phelps, the world champion swimmer. Michael Phelps trains like a demon, spending hours face down in a pool every day, to showcase his skills on the world’s biggest stage, the Olympics. He won an unprecedented 8 gold medals in swimming at the Beijing Games in 2008. There is no doubting his obvious skills. Having conquered the world once, the question was would he return to the London games in 2012 and try again? (He did, and although he didn’t match his Beijing performance, 4 more gold and 2 silver was something to behold.)

In preparation for the Beijing Olympics, Michael followed the training regimen put together by his coach, Bob Bowman. It was a process that focused on the quality of the daily work Michael did in preparation for competition. Every workout he swam and the details of how he performed in that workout, every weightlifting session, every cross-training session were meticulously recorded, tracked and analyzed. Bowman and Phelps knew that the most accurate predictor of how Michael would perform in the big competitions was the data collected about his daily training process over the previous months and years.

The Day-to-Day Process

This is similar to selling. How you execute your sales process on a day-to-day basis will be the most accurate predictor of whether you will win orders and meet your objectives. An effective and disciplined sales process can do for you what it does for Michael Phelps. If you work hard, it will put you in a position to compete for and win orders. It is how well you execute the basic sales activities that comprise the steps of your process, and how often that will ultimately lead to the order.

As he began his preparations for the London Olympics Phelps strayed from the process that had led him to the podium eight times in Beijing. And, with all the skills in the world, his results in competition suffered. He was losing to swimmers that previously couldn’t compare to him. What did he do? He redoubled his commitment to the process laid out by his coach. He might have rebelled against the process but he returned to it because he knew that if he invested his hard work into it results would follow.

Listen to Michael Phelps being interviewed after a competition today and he defaults to talking about his process. The race result might now have been a first-place finish but he will talk about how well his training is going instead. His focus is on how is he performing each day in each step of his training process. He knows that if he executes his process, he’ll put himself in the position to achieve the results he expects.

In the same way sales process can provide a much clearer snapshot of potential sales than simply looking at your pipeline of prospects. Well-defined sales processes provide a method to continually assess and measure the underlying sales activities that will lead to orders. Using metrics to continually measure and fine-tune sales processes, just as Bob Bowman did with Phelps’s training regimen, leads to improved outcomes for salespeople of all skill levels.

Your Process Enhances Your Skills

I had a client where one of the more senior salespeople, a grizzled sales professional, Ollie, was determined to resist management’s efforts to implement some fundamental and essential sales processes to respond to a changing sales environment. Ollie had always managed his sales territory his own way and while he possessed great sales skills and experience, he was floundering. He found himself at odds with evolving prospect and customer expectations for salespeople in terms of responsiveness, follow-up, content delivery and service.

The processes that Ollie’s management implemented saved his sales career by requiring Ollie to become more responsive, more proactive and timely in follow-up, more knowledgeable of the products he sold, more conscious of eliminating time-wasting sales calls and making every customer interaction achieve the maximum impact in the least time possible in order to compress buying cycles.

This does not mean that a salesperson should ignore the skill components of selling. We should always be working to improve our sales skills no matter how much experience we have. But sales skills need to be utilized in support of defined sales process to create the most value for the customer. And the salesperson.


Andy Paul is a leading SMB sales expert and the author of “Zero-Time Selling, 10 Essential Steps To Accelerate Every Company’s Sales.” He is committed to helping every CEO and sales manager transform their sales efforts by integrating higher levels of responsiveness, information content and speed into every step of their selling process. For more information, visit his website at Contact Andy at or 619-980-4002.



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