Recently, an article by CEB executives on the Harvard Business Review website pushed for a more creative approach to B2B sales. The arguments are familiar: well-informed customers, changing buying behaviors, and increased pressure on prices all contribute to the demise of the traditional sales machine. The conclusion: Leaders must abandon their fixation on process compliance and embrace a flexible approach to selling driven by sales reps’ reliance on insight and judgment.

I understand where this is coming from; I am on the record as listing The Challenger Sales as one of the best business books I have ever read. But isn’t the goal of great CRM software to bring order and process to the chaos of B2B sales?

I think the solution is don’t over-engineer your sales process. It has to be flexible enough for your sales reps to feel guided, but not constrained. Based on that idea and my experience with SalesClic for Salesforce clients, here are a few areas of sales pipeline management where less is more.

1. Pipeline stages

When the number of stages in your sales pipeline exceeds four or five, it usually becomes more difficult to explain the specificities of each stage. In this situation, there are two consequences:

  • Your process becomes inward-looking (focused on your internal requirements) instead of outward looking (aligned on your prospects’ challenges)
  • The number of “exotic movements” in your sales pipeline (opportunities jumping stages or going back and forth between stages) increases, and the accuracy of your pipeline statistics decreases

2. Validation rules

Validation rules are crude enforcement mechanisms -- the opposite of the flexibility noted in the HBR article. They tend to generate frustration and, because of their negative impact on adoption, paradoxically decrease data quality. I think they should be left to “hard” requirements, like compliance or documentation, where their legitimacy cannot be disputed.

3. Activity metrics

Activity metrics (e.g. number of calls, number of demos) are  traditional sales management tools. Their effectiveness for complex sales has always been dubious, but in an environment that favors creative and adaptable sellers who challenge customers with disruptive insights into their business, it is reaching new lows.

My advice: if you do it, do it well, and run the rigorous data analysis on your Salesforce database that will surface solid correlations between specific activities and the outcome of your sales process. Otherwise, refining your team’s understanding of the challenges facing your prospects at each stage of your sales process will be more profitable than monitoring “dumb” volume indicators.

About the Author

FCEO of SalesClic.