Revolutionise your sales: Sales Process Engineering

Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 69 we spoke to Justin Roff-Marsh, a renowned author, thought leader, and founder of Ballistix, a sales management and marketing consultancy.

Ballistix specialises in Sales Process Engineering, a radical approach to the management of the sales process. Justin is also the author of “The Machine: A Radical Approach to the Design of the Sales Function,” a groundbreaking work that challenges conventional sales practices.

Justin is a prolific speaker and his Solution Design Workshops have benefited hundreds of companies across the globe.

In this chat we spoke about how Sales Process Engineering can change the game for small businesses.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Justin Roff-Marsh on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by Justin Roff-Marsh, Founder of Ballistix.

As someone deeply immersed in the intricacies of how businesses grow and thrive, I’ve come to recognise a common issue across industries and locations: the misalignment of their sales function. This insight led me to explore Sales Process Engineering (SPE), an approach we think is crucial for modern businesses to build sustainable growth. This is a perspective I’ve honed over years of observation and intervention.

Sales Process Engineering explained

Understanding Sales Process Engineering starts with a fundamental question: What do we mean by “sales”? In my view, “sales” should be deliberately understood as the pursuit of new business, including new accounts and new categories of business within existing accounts. This clarity around what sales actually entails is crucial for every business, especially for small businesses where resources are limited and every decision can significantly impact growth. However, we don’t often see this definition being used today.

One of the most glaring problems in almost every business, regardless of size, industry or location, is that their salespeople are too busy to do what they’re ostensibly hired to do: sell. This isn’t a failure of motivation, training, or management. It’s a design problem. Most businesses are designed in such a way that, if they achieve some level of success, their sales teams inevitably become too busy to sell. This issue is a growth killer, especially for small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that can’t afford to squander their sales potential.

Addressing this issue goes beyond putting your salespeople into a room and giving them a pep talk or buying them new CRMs. It requires Sales Process Engineering: a radical redesign of the customer-facing, front of house (FOH) aspects of the business.

Introducing loose coupling

As the leader of the business, before you worry about investing in salespeople, you need to first make sure you think of the sales function as distinct from the rest of the business. This is where I advocate for “loose coupling” between sales and the rest of the organisation. Think of a modern bicycle with a free-wheeling gear set: you pedal to build momentum, but once you’re moving, the bike keeps rolling even when you stop pedalling. This is how your sales function should interact with the rest of your business if you want to get sustainable growth. Your sales efforts should generate forward motion (growth), without being so entangled with operations that every operational hiccup brings your growth to a halt.

Reimagining revenue responsibility

In most businesses, especially small businesses, this loose coupling doesn’t exist. In fact, there’s a tendency towards tight coupling. The salespeople are involved in non-sales tasks like processing transitions, designing solutions, and managing customer accounts, and before long no one is doing any selling and growth stops. With tight coupling, the salespeople are made responsible for revenue which is a flawed approach.

SPE suggests a pivotal change. Operations should be viewed as the source of revenue, with sales only focusing on winning new accounts. An account is an annuity that results in a steady stream of revenue. The revenue doesn’t come directly from the salesperson’s endeavours, it comes from the annuity. A salesperson’s job is to go win more annuities. Until you restructure your FOH so that the sales function is loosely coupled with operations – so salespeople have nothing to do with business after they’ve won it – your organisation will not continue to grow.

Practical steps forward

For SMEs, structuring the business to support growth without getting stuck at revenue plateaus is crucial. So, how can a small business ensure the sales team is loosely coupled with operations? It doesn’t mean to go out and employ 20 people. Your sales function might just be one person whose sole purpose is to go out and hunt for new business, whether it’s you or a dedicated salesperson. By virtue of being the business owner, you tend to be a good salesperson, so in my own practice, I’ve often advised small business owners to hire a competent executive assistant to manage the day-to-day operations, freeing them to focus on sales. If for some reason you’re not the salesperson, make sure one of your first hires is somebody who focuses exclusively on hunting for new business.

Be aware of the fact that there’s a strong gravitational pull back to operational activities. It’s so tempting to get involved in the onboarding of the new account that you’ve won or the resolution of a problem that’s just emerged. But, you have to have incredible discipline and then some. If you’re the salesperson, give your executive assistant permission to wrap you on the knuckles every time you’re tempted to do something involved with operations. You’ll need to build a team that can function without your sales team in the office or on the tools and continue to do so until the business gets to the point where it’s throwing off significant profits. Whether it’s $3 million, $5 million or $10 million, you need to get over that hump before you stop.

Ensuring organisational connectivity

While SPE emphasises a sales function focused on acquiring new business, this doesn’t mean sales should be isolated from the rest of the organisation. It’s not that they don’t communicate, it’s that the processes are not tightly entangled. There’s still plenty of communication going on, as the sales team can leverage the various expertise within the business, such as design and technical teams, to craft compelling solutions for winning clients. It’s a balanced interaction that supports sales efforts without entangling the salespeople in operational tasks.

We like to say that the litmus test is if your entire sales and marketing function goes skiing for a month, does the business continue to operate? Does the business continue to generate revenue unaffected? If the answer is yes then you’re fine because, remember, salespeople should not be responsible for revenue.

Changes in the sales landscape

The sales landscape has changed and it has become more difficult, but not for the reasons many assume. The buzz around new technology, CRM systems, and AI is loud, but these aren’t having a real material impact. The true game-changer, often overlooked, is the transformation in the way customers go about buying.

Historically, sales were transactional, one-on-one interactions. This direct, transaction-by-transaction approach to sales defined the mid-20th century. I always like to remember Ray Kroc, known for expanding McDonald’s and pioneering fast food, who drove around the US selling milkshake machines from the trunk of his car – that’s what sales used to look like. Today, however, especially in B2B contexts, most transactions are programmatic – automatic and repetitive. If your usual printer goes out of business and you desperately need someone to make business cards for you, the printer you choose for your next set of business cards will likely be your printer moving forward by default. Sales now are programmatic, where they assume a continuous relationship rather than a series of individual purchases.

This shift towards programmatic purchasing has profound implications for sales and how businesses engage with customers. You don’t need salespeople to focus on them. In fact, if you have salespeople focusing on transactions, they’re slowing them down. When a company chooses your small business for a service, such as printing business cards or landscaping the office, it’s no longer just a one-off transaction. Your business is expected to become integrated into the customer’s operational routine, to replenish supplies or provide services without the need for constant renegotiation or intervention. Because transactions are now programmatic, what we should be doing is focusing salespeople on establishing those relationships, not managing those relationships.

Rethinking customer relationships and subscriptions

Understanding who truly constitutes your customer is another facet of this evolving landscape. For services used infrequently, like landscaping or plumbing, sometimes your real customer might be the one referring business your way, not the end user who engages your services sporadically. This means you should also shift your focus towards nurturing those referral relationships, perhaps even reimagining your services as subscriptions or annuity-based engagements whenever possible.

The move towards subscription models, even in industries traditionally dominated by one-off transactions, allows you to build stable, ongoing relationships. Whether it’s incorporating landscaping costs into ongoing lawn care services or adopting a flat-fee model for staffing needs, the goal is to transition towards predictable, consistent engagements that benefit both you and the customer.

Sales Process Engineering is crucial for businesses of any size looking for sustainable growth. After looking at modern buying behaviours, it’s clear that success hinges on enabling your sales team to concentrate on securing new customers while your operations team focuses on managing them. Reflect on whether your sales function is primarily focused on growth activities or if they’re distracted by operational tasks and managing existing accounts. Embracing change and simplifying the sales process is key to fostering growth in today’s dynamic market environment. Ask yourself, how can your business redesign its sales function to meet these modern demands effectively?