Processes are an incredibly important part of any business. Intentionally designed or not, they are the driving force of almost everything we do. So we thought we'd take a moment to look at how we define a great process and show you some examples and advice for how you can design your own!
The 3 Criteria of Good Processes
First, a good process has to be documented - you must be able to write it down or perhaps draw it in a simple, easy to understand manner. This way it can be shared and your whole team can understand it and be on the same page. This is critical. Remember, processes are created to make your business more efficient, more scalable and to create more accountability. Being able to quickly and easily share a process with your team is key to making this happen. If it can't be simply written, read and understood, it isn't a successful process.
As a bonus point to why you should document your processes - if you are ever planning on selling your business, documented processes are key to providing potential buyers a road map of how they can evaluate your operations and continue your success.
Second, it must be made up of quantifiable steps. The best way to think about this is to think about a checklist - which itself is a very simple example of a process. In a successful process you must have some way to measure whether you have accomplished what you set out to accomplish. For example, we met a business owner that had an issue with incoming leads being lost - a bad issue! Among other issues, part of the problem was that there were no quantifiable steps for anyone to follow when a lead came in. Simply by creating a short series of quantifiable steps: a list of information to collect, a place to input the information, and a way to distribute the information to the sales team; the problem was solved and the process for dealing with incoming leads was created.
Lastly, a process must have a degree of flexibility. This may seem counter intuitive - but a process that is too rigid will breakdown and often at the worst times. The idea behind flexibility is that if a team member doesn't have some wiggle room when something doesn't go exactly as predicted then the process fails and then no one knows what to do. A very common example that many businesses face is when they have technical difficulties – the wi-fi goes out or the computer freezes. Often this is where a team member get a chance to shine and really make a difference – this is why you hire people and not machines! Purposely creating some flexibility in the process keeps things moving forward even when things aren't going exactly to plan.
Let’s dive into a quick example of how implementing processes can turn around a business. We are going to look at a real world example of a failing sales team.
A Simplified Real World Example
Here's the problem - the company was getting a lot of leads and setting a lot of meetings, but their close rate in those meetings was very low and they were spending a lot of time and money trying to close clients. When asked about their sales process, they responded, "we do whatever it takes to get to delivering a pitch as quickly as possible". Let’s take a look at what's wrong here based on our three criteria.
First, is it documented? Kind of. Not much to document. The whole process was literally, do whatever it takes to deliver a pitch. So, while we wouldn't call this documented, we also can't say its wholly undocumented, so let's move on and see if there's a bigger issue.
Let's skip to the third criteria - is it flexible. Yes. Definitely. It doesn't get much more flexible than “do whatever it takes”.
Which brings us back to the second criterion - is it quantifiable? That's a big NO. Often, when a pitch happened that was worse than if it hadn't and it all boils down to not having quantifiable steps in a well documented sales system.
Here's how the company implemented processes to solve the problem.
They started at the beginning (close to the beginning at least!) at the point where there was an actual lead. Previously, whoever first got their hands on that lead was to immediately begin the sale as quick as they could, however they could. And that's where they created their first documented, quantifiable step - funnel the leads to the appropriate sales team member.
No need to go into too much detail here. In your company you might break down sales by perceived size of the lead, customer industry, location, etc, or maybe you don't have a whole team, but in the future you want to, so consider how you might break leads into categories (remember, scalability is a part of why we develop processes and even sole proprietors want to create processes).
Once the lead was in the right hands, they created another easily quantified goal, establish contact and set up a "Introductory Call". There is some flexibility in here, contact could be established via email, phone, text, "whatever it took", but an Introductory Call needed to be set up and became an essential part of the sales process. If a potential customer couldn't find a time, then they were simply told to reach back out when they could. This is weeding out uninterested parties, cutting down on the time and money wasted on bad leads.
The Introductory Call was to discuss exactly what services/products might be utilized and collect some necessary information - budget, timelines, etc. They created a very simple spreadsheet into which the sales rep input the answers and "scored" the call. If the call scored high, an in-person meeting was scheduled. If it scored low the lead was politely referred elsewhere.
Already, these three simple steps (1. Funnel Leads, 2. Introductory Call, 3. Score Call for In-Person Meeting) cut away bad leads and ultimately saved time and money, improving the company's bottom line.
With an in person meeting scheduled, the sales rep then took the information collected during the Introductory Call, did some due diligence and presented the information to the manager at a weekly "Briefing Meeting" devoted only to discuss new leads. Since the information was all formatted and everyone knew the steps of the sales process, the manager could quickly assess the needs of each sale and delegate duties for the upcoming client meetings appropriately in a short, efficient meeting that didn't take up too much of anyone's time.
The process goes on a few more steps through the close of the sale, but already you can see how much this improved the sales process. They created a very simple, one page document with bullet pointed steps and an illustrated diagram. A new hire could read and understand the process in under five minutes. They had created quantifiable steps that were easy to follow. They worked some flexibility into the initial contact methods, and they purposefully worked in flexibility in the introductory scoring sheet and by insisting on going over leads with the sales manager they created an opportunity to jump the sale out of the standard process if the sales manager thought it warranted special attention.
The results were dramatic and potentially saved the company. Far fewer pitches were given - but every pitch cost money, so significantly less money was spent on sales. With fewer pitches to develop, the quality of the pitches created by team members increased.
Ultimately, after a few months of work, the company increased their rate of closing, spent less money on sales, became more profitable AND had a process in place for new hires to follow easily.
A few quick additional outcomes of creating this process: accountability, if a sales rep was not successful, it was easy for the manager to see if they were following the steps and analyzing if it was a “people issue” or a larger issue within the business; improvement of interaction between departments - collecting the right data, in the right formats improved billing, customer service and was the start of an eventual company wide data management system.
But perhaps the best side effect - it greatly improved morale of the sales team. They no longer felt like they were "winging it" or left out to dry if things didn't go well. Having steps to follow and a process to work made them feel like they weren't at fault if something didn't go just right and it also reduced the number of times they were exposed to bad leads that were destined to fail. Being "forced" to work with the sales manager and accept some oversight didn't make them feel micromanaged, but rather confident that they had company support and were headed down the right path.
The ripple effect throughout the company was huge. They ended up developing similar processes for every department and eventually, the owner was not only more successful, he was able to work less, take vacation and not be the keystone to solving every little problem.
If your are interested in working some processes into your business, we recommend starting small - create a morning checklist, develop a standardized phone answering script or an end of day check out form. And have fun with it! You can inject your tone and brand into everything you write and do.
Let us know what you think!