I’ve held some interesting conversations recently with sales leaders about instilling sales process. Specifically, they asked how much process discipline is “the right amount”. The idea is that there’s such a thing as too much, or at least some amount that passes the law of diminishing returns.

The levels of sales process rigor

Before we talk about “how much” let’s establish some definitions. “A lot” to one sales leader may be “a little” to another. There is also a wide range; it’s important to establish the major break points along that range – in enough detail that a sales leader can accurately place their organization. Finally, it would be great to correlate some sales results to different outcomes; after all, what point is identifying how rigorous your process is if it doesn’t make any difference?

The Four Levels

For decades, CSO Insights has conducted authoritative research into sales performance. Over that period, they have developed a meaningful breakdown of the major “levels” of sales process rigor. More importantly, they have correlated those levels to sales performance outcomes (more on those later).

There is an informative white paper that describes the so-called SRP matrix; (contact me for a copy) I’ll summarize below. The white paper doesn’t help you decide where on the matrix is best for your specific situation, though. That’s why I’m writing this article.

The levels of process CSO Insights has established in their research:

  • Random Process
  • Informal Process
  • Formal Process
  • Dynamic process

This table defines those four, and has detailed some of the identifying characteristics:

4 Levels of Sales Process-table

Which level are you, and which should you be?


It’s easy to conclude that your company should work its way to level 4. Is that true? Maybe.

Here’s my advice:

Don’t do more than you can handle or less than you need.

If you are on level 1 or 2, an immediate jump to level four is seldom realistic.   I often counsel such clients to bite off manageable chunks…think in terms of “journey”, understanding that there will be no “poofamiracleoccurs”.

Generally, higher levels of process correspond to better outcomes, but world-class performance is found (decreasingly) at lower levels as well. More on that later.

Add a Critical Variable: customer relationship.

Will my Sales Performance Outcomes improve?

As stated above, CSO Insights has found that there is a relationship between process rigor and sales performance outcomes. It doesn’t stop there: CSOI finds that there is an interaction with the type of customer relationship your sales force is able to achieve combined with of process rigor.

If we define relationship level using the scheme in the table below:

4 Levels of Sales Process-table
Once again, the top level shouldn’t always be the goal. Certain selling environments better match a specific level. Customers often place a ceiling on relationships: a major retailer may aggressively push suppliers down toward “commodity” status in order to maintain negotiating leverage, only allowing certain suppliers a temporary ascent for a specific strategic initiative.

Combine Sales Process with Relationship for Better Insight…

…and then combine process rigor and relationship into a matrix, we get:

CSO Relationship - Process Matrix

The color codes, green, yellow and red, correspond to sales performance outcome clusters: all of the same-color combinations of process/relations group together.

CSO Relationship - Process Matrix RESULTS

What do I want?

It’s no surprise to anyone that you probably want the performance outcomes associated with group 3. It’s also apparent that companies achieve group 3 status with simply an informal process. How?

Bob Miller, one of the founders of Miller Heiman, once told me that few companies genuinely achieve the status of “strategic partners”; it’s exceedingly rare (although it can still be a worthwhile stretch goal).   Doing so with minimal process is usually the result of a world-beating value proposition that speaks for itself…the problem is that technical and other differentiation usually has a shelf-life, and you better plan for what happens when your product alone doesn’t dictate terms in the market.

It’s also important to remember that while sales process level is in your company’s control, relationship level is limited to the highest level your customer wants it to be. Moving up relationship levels requires some skilled collaboration.

What does it all mean?

“So”, I hear you saying, “bottom line it for me. How much process and what kind of customer relationship should I try for?”   The answer, like the answer for all great questions is “it depends”. Here are the major considerations:

  • What is my technology/differentiation: is it valued in the market? How widely understood is that value in the market? What are the options for any required education?
  • Where does my product/service fall on the spectrum of “commodity—-custom”?
  • How does my customer prefer to buy my product/service?
  • What is my company’s competitive strategy: Is it one of operational excellence, product differentiation, or customer intimacy?
  • Is my go-to-market/sales strategy in alignment with my corporate strategy, and do I want my sales people to be viewed as order takers, solution sellers, or trusted advisors?
  • What is my sales culture: What is my organization equipped to handle? Are we “willing”, but need outside expertise to help with execution? Do we have the stomach for the change management we’ll need?

Weighing the factors above will help you figure out an appropriate place on the SRP matrix for you. In my next post, we’ll start talking about how.

Please share your thoughts below, or contact me if you would like to talk in more detail.

To your success!

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