The role of sales process in CRM

No two companies sell in exactly the same number of steps or use exactly the same set of conditions or rules to sell.  Any company that has not produced a successful, repeatable, sales process–either manually or with some prior automation–will not gain ground by implementing more technology.  They will simply drive an incomplete or ineffective process faster!

This blog article discusses the need for the development of an accurate “map” of the most efficient process for each discrete sales effort prior to committing that process to automation.  Mapping and improving processes prior to enabling them with technology provides several benefits:

  • Locks in agreement on how things work among sales process owners
  • Provides an efficient environment to discuss or produce change
  • Provides Least Cost initiative approaches
    • Compresses the time needed to decide on changes
    • Provides an accurate picture of the steps and relative ROI of each for prioritization
  • Provides documentation and internal disciplines to re-create change downstream

The Role of Process
Process mapping is the documentation of discrete activities involved in completing the sales cycle–from point of customer contact through information-gathering to closure and fulfillment.

Surprisingly, few companies take the time to produce this map in any great detail or to understand the roles within the sales and marketing team.  Beyond sales and marketing are many more layers of support and customer service people whose roles create touch-points within the sales process.  If sales roles are not well understood, these supporting roles suffer as well.

The reason most companies don’t map their sales process is a sense that everything is working–that the perceived process is in place and working by its own momentum.  Process is important to the entire enterprise, although for purposes of this document we are generally speaking about CRM process improvement and its role within the enterprise.


Many sales teams have a few savvy team members who have learned to achieve and excel in standalone mode.  The motivation comes from an extreme desire to clear away all hurdles between themselves and commission checks with extreme dispatch and efficiency.

As these few continue to blow out their monthly sales number, management looks at the success as proof of a successful “process” and often begins to skew the structure of the entire sales force and support staff to mimic these successes.

But is it a process, and is it a success?

Once you begin to break down the steps needed to support these top performers, it often becomes clear that their sales are supported by an inordinate amount of background resources who manage extraordinary, unpredictable gyrations of paperwork, communications and customer contact to make all ends meet in the middle.

If every salesperson on the team were allocated similar resources, cost of sales would skyrocket as margins plummeted. In fact, these top performers are the antithesis of process.  They are inefficient, resource-gobbling engines driving events through the path of least resistance using anyone and everyone who will help them. They rarely do it the same way twice.

Documenting the process–literally creating a graphic and textual representation of the steps being created to support the example above–would quickly highlight the problem.

The Value of Process Mapping
Process mapping is a proven analytical and communication tool intended to help improve existing processes or to implement a new process-driven structure in order to improve business processes.  By definition, a business is only as efficient as its processes–processes that are measurable and rewarded based on performance relative to strategic goals.  It is imperative to understand how each process fits into the overall enterprise structure. Everything a business does to survive is process-driven.  Any metrics used to assess or value success can only be calculated within the discipline of process.  Within CRM, process is extremely important to establishing valid roll-up of some of the most critical indicators for ROI:

  • Revenue per year
  • Gross profit dollars per year
  • Lower costs of sales as percent of revenue
  • Customer satisfaction and retention

Each of these metrics requires an accurate and repeatable process in order to derive true and accurate measurements.  If the gross results feeding these numbers are calculated in any way through a random or subjective (non-process) methodology, they have no accurate value. A good example lies in the process of managing customer contracts:

Preferred customers–those who buy in volume or regularity or both–are often offered more competitive pricing and delivery terms and conditions on the products or services purchased.  A relative value, or pecking order, is established by layering these conditions in some kind of matrix that makes sense for the product provider.

As long as these contracts are administered through an effective and unchanging set of business rules (process), the rolled-up results of sales in each category have meaning.

If, on the other hand, there is subjective management of conditions within the contracts, such as an ad hoc discount thrown in on a one-time or erroneous basis, the rolled-up revenue from that contract will reflect a different number than would have occurred in a strictly managed process.

The only way to guarantee the number remains consistent over time is to know and exercise the right process the same way time after time.

For companies who have repeatable processes in place, process mapping can be used to analyze the purposes an application serves as conditions, customers or markets change.

Steve Phinney is Principal of SBM Services providing strategic planning and process improvement. Steve helps organizations implement quality initiatives such as Six Sigma, Rummler-Brache, and other improvement methodologies. He received his black-belt certification while at General Electric and has been involved with simulation for over ten years in both the corporate and government sectors. He can be reached at or by e-mail at

Cyr, Tom & Scott, Kim (1999). Process Training Manual. Unpublished manuscript, Micrografx, Portland, Oregon (7585 SW Mohawk Street, Portland, OR 97062).

Profozich, M. David (1998). Managing Change with Business Process Simulation. New Jersey: Simon & Schuster.

Hunt, V. Daniel (1996). Process Mapping: How to Reengineer Your Business Processes. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

SalesForce Training is North America’s premier sales training company, focusing on both training, support, and implementation, as well as soft skills training in all areas of tactical selling, strategic selling, territory management and coaching skills for  sales managers.