When we draw the sales process on paper or in PowerPoint presentations, it is always displayed as linear. It starts at A and proceeds through B, then C, then D. We often show the sales process as a roadmap, another linear way to show the steps and stages of the process we use to move from Target to Close. But the sales process isn’t linear, and the sales process is more like a GPS.

Have you ever been driving to some destination, relying on your GPS to give you turn-by-turn directions only to hear, “I’m sorry. Turn-by-turn directions are not available in this area.” Doesn’t that always happen just when you most need directions?

Your sales process isn’t linear. It doesn’t normally move from target to qualify to needs analysis to presentation to negotiation to close (or whatever stages you use in your sales force automation software). The map is not the terrain, and sometimes you go from qualified to needs analysis, to needs analysis again, to “my primary stakeholder took a new position” to “I’m starting over.” 

Your sales process is all of the outcomes and objectives you need to complete to move from one stage to the next, massively increasing the odds that you are creating value for your client and gaining the commitments that you need along the way. 

When you are using your GPS to guide you to a location, making a wrong turn causes your GPS to recalculate the route to get back you on track. The same thing is true of your sales process. When something happens, like losing your primary sponsor, budgetary changes, or new needs are identified, your sales process is there to remind you of what you need to do to move forwards. Your sponsor left? You need to go back to needs analysis with your new contact. Budgets changed after you presented? You need to go back to solution development to put together a new solution.

But remember how a GPS sometimes can’t give you the directions you need? That fact is also true of your sales process. Sometimes your sales process won’t speak to the obstacles you encounter. A new stakeholder enters the process, is adversarial, and has a long history of working with your direct competitor. The buying committee whose support you need has decided not to meet until the next quarter and you and your sponsor need to get your initiative started now if they are going to realize the greatest return on their investment.

Turn-by-turn directions aren’t always available. You have to be creative and resourceful in sales. But there is no reason not to let your GPS get you most of the way there when directions are available. 



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