Sales to Services handoff

Think | Act

One in a series of Leadership Articles to cause you to think and perhaps to act. Read other articles.

Managing the space between sales and a delivery organization has it’s unique challenges. Over the many years I’ve walked in that somewhat rough ground I’ve learned a thing or two about how to manage the process and in doing so, myself.

1) Process

One of my best lessons about the sales process was given to me by a skilled sales executive who reminded me that you “Never confuse selling with installing”…

Michael Shulist

Generally the process between sales and the delivery team is troubled by resource conflicts. This is usually because there is not an effective early warning system to indicate what is “coming down the pipe”. Also, from my experience, there is usually not a clear process being followed by all sales staff (or potentially the services delivery staff) which would support a resource planning process. I have faced this same problem in many locations and have found that the following approach may have a positive effect.

Have a clear process that defines the interaction and hand-off between your sales and professional services. If you do not currently have a documented sales process and are looking for one I suggest you read a book called ” The New Strategic Selling” by Heiman and Sanchez. The book has a section that lays out the process that sales should go through. I’d give you the exact reference but I’ve misplaced my copy in recent move. At any rate for each step of the sales process there is an aligned step that needs to be done by services delivery.

This is the point you have to roll up your sleeves and actually do something. You will need to translate the textbook form of the sales process into something that will work for both your sales staff and also the service delivery counterparts. This is a crucial step and one not to be taken too lightly. It also needs the buy-in of both parties (sales & service delivery). Once the process is documented make sure involved people are trained on using it.

2) Pipeline

Develop a sales pipeline with an outlook that spans at least the next 6 months (this depends on the type of product and the typical sales cycle, longer sales cycle means longer outlook).

3) Purchase probability

Be clear about how a prospect moves from one probability level to the next. Good sales staff generally have “happy ears” and as such are always way more optimistic (they should be since a pessimistic sales guy is just about useless.) than the reality of the situation generally substantiates. The move from one probability to the next has to be based upon the existence of a tangible ‘marker’. Here is my suggested list, but modify for your own situation:

Attempt to eliminate the following banter from the evaluation of the probability;
■ This is a strategic sale..
■ I know there are three competitors but we’ve got a lock…
■ This is an easy project…
■ We’re more expensive but I have an in…

  • 50% — Prospecting has indicated a likelihood of a product match and the client is in a state of potentially buying. Probabilities of less than this are coin flips.
  • 60% — Analysis and contact have created the opportunity to develop further interest. RFI, RFP or RFQ processes have been started.
  • 75% — We have been determined to be on the long list of suppliers. The customer ‘buyers’ have been identified and formal presentations and discussions are underway
  • 90% — All buyers have been met formally and have moved our proposal to the short list. The user communities have been given a demo and are supportive.
  • 95% — The contract process is underway and both parties are finalizing details of the terms. The signing is scheduled and imminent.

4) Review progress

Schedule a routine and regular review of the pipeline with the services delivery staff who are responsible for the completion of sales support and resource planning. Not a cast of thousands, mind you, but just those who are prime. Review all items on the pipeline and ensure that the progress reflects reality. Discuss in detail any item that is in jeopardy for the following reasons:

  • Might lose an important sale due to something you can change (don’t cry wolf here)
  • Project is not in the mainstream of your business and has unique complexities,
  • Opportunity requires a significant commitment from your resources early in the sales cycle.

6) Resource plans

The services delivery staff should be developing a resource plan for each project as a prospect moves through the pipeline. To begin with, it will be ’shadow team’ with just position holders for staff, but as it moves higher up on the probability list is should become more and more real. Until the 90% level where the team may be fully identified and may be scheduled off current commitments.

5) Stand down

Just as important to this process is to ensure that there is a method to ‘call off the troops’ should a sales target move into left field. Situations like that are more likely in our current economic climate. As a services delivery guy nothing is more frustrating than to be working on a deliverable needed for a sales prospect than be told that it fell off the rails last week.

While there is no formula for all aspects of this process the items highlighted above have served me well in the past. Hopefully they might provide you some impetus to move on your own situation?

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