Sales Process Design: What would Apple do?

This week, on January 27, Apple is set to reveal its much anticipated tablet device. Already whole industries are in a flurry about what this might mean. As reported in the New York Times, "Because the tablet is said to create a new digital reading experience, offering publishing companies a kind of do-over, many media types see the tablet as a life preserver in the midst of the tall waves." Apple manages to continuously innovate, and where others launch prototypes products and await feedback, Apple delivers final products and let buyers votes with their purchasing dollars. Then they continue to invent new approaches to solving particular related applications of their products. I wonder what the business consultants, or the sales effectiveness industry can learn from Apple.

Take, for example, the iTunes Genius. As expected from Apple, using Genius is easy. Click on a song in iTunes, and iTunes Genius will do two things: First, you’re immediately presented with a suggested playlist from your own music library. This is automatically generated based on the attributes of the ‘seed’ song you selected. Next, it looks through the iTunes library and suggests songs you might like to purchase that have similar attributes to the song you’re currently playing. What’s happening here is that Genius is applying objective science to what had traditionally been a subjective exercise. It’s not dissimilar to Amazon’s "We got recommendations for you" approach. Apple can deliver intelligent results because it has a lot of data about songs, genres, and so on – and the accuracy of its recommendations is very impressive. This got me thinking about what an Apple Sales Process Genius would do.

Consider what might happen if Apple had all of the data gleaned from ‘watching’ all the sales transactions in your CRM system; or to extend this a little further, what if it analyzed all of the data from all of the sales processes in all companies using all CRM systems. Surely, it could learn a lot, and determine what works, and what doesn’t. Maybe the Apple Sales Process Genius could automatically design a sales process that would work for your company, depending on your average sales cycle, deal value, industry, buyer profile, deal volume, pipeline structure, close rates, quota, product complexity, and so on.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of sales processes designed by experienced and ‘not so experienced’ sales consultants. Sometimes the results are excellent, and other times – well, I’m not sure the customer got a lot of value.

There is, of course, the on-going debate about whether sales is art or science, and I believe the consensus is that both aspects apply, but that science will win out over time, ideally when the practitioner brings some art to the engagement. What we do know is that we can learn from experience, and sometimes it is a little frustrating to see how little technology is applied to mine data, uncover trends, or learn from experience. There are too many instances where it seems as if the wheel is reinvented, everything starts from a blank canvas, and the value delivered to the end customer is sometimes questionable, and often disproportionate to the fees charged.

So, what do you think? Do you think it would be possible for a mythical Apple Sales Process Genius with access to a data-bank of sales processes, a history of winning or losing deals, or a library of sales process transactions, to automatically design a sales process for your business? Do you think it could get ‘most of the way’? Or, is there a better way?

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