Unilever, Linked In and Sales Process

Over on Linked In, there is a long debate going on in  one of the sales forums about two linked activities; does anyone use a sales process, and is there any coaching for sales teams anymore? From the perspective of someone engaged deeply in purchasing, this is a really interesting thought process. On the purchasing the debate about whether there is a need for a procurement process is long since over; the only debate is about how deeply approaches such as category management are applied.

However, there’s no sign of that as a concept in the wider sales community. Examples of well developed and embedded sales processes do exist, such as those employed by Unilever (who seem to be pretty good at selling their products and services). However, the debate in the Linked In forum got as far as both decrying what a process is (going from a proscribed set of steps, and therefore anathema to the need for flexibility in sales, to a loose direction which can be followed at the level required to achieve success, and therefore not a process) and whether the individual brilliance and natural read of human character available to all great sales people is unnaturally constrained by having to even glance at a process.

A small number of commentators recognised the imbalance between the rest of the departments in their organisation (imagine manufacturing, or accounting, with no process to follow), suggesting that perhaps some level of process might be helpful in getting a degree of repeatability. An even smaller number get the opportunity to concentrate on elements known to help sales activity and to get better at this.

The parallel discussion reflecting on the lack of coaching in sales was equally illuminating, particularly when read in parallel to the lack of process. Coaching is tough to do, but when there’s no underlying guiding principles to work on, it tends to fall back on ‘do it like me’  – which can be fine, as long as a previous coach hasn’t used an entirely different approach. The linkage between the two areas – an adequate process, and a developed coaching approach, seems to be invisible to many commentators.

So, what does this tell the procurement community? Firstly, if there is no generally accepted or built approach, we shouldn’t expect any consistency from sales teams. If the person changes, the approach changes. Further, don’t expect an understanding of procurement processes in large businesses. If there’s no coaching or explanation of how this is done, they won’t know. Interestingly, this adds a whole twist into how we need to explain things to suppliers. We need to be up-front in communicating the procurement process to them, so they know what to do.

There is a huge area of alignment between sales and purchasing. Both sides need to understand the business requirements which need to be met; purchasing, so they can explain them, and sales so they can fulfil them. Perhaps if there is a concentration on this area as a start, it will both help Procurement get the best from sales, and help sales accelarate the process of meeting those requirements.

Mark Hubbard thinks about Procurement and Sales at www.smartbrowndog.com

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About Mark Hubbard

I set up a specialist purchasing consultancy and a business focussing on seeking innovation. I work all over the world with clients, helping purchasing teams develop new ways of delivering value for their businesses. I love thinking about how purchasing works, and how it can be better, and I'd love to share some of those thoughts with you
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