Sales process for the starving masses, part 2

Earlier this week, I described an exercise from Michele Rochon, a business development and marketing professional in the engineering industry designed help instill process into your selling program. This cake-baking exercise provides your sellers a real understanding of how to address customers’ needs and sell successfully. Be sure to read part 1!We left off just when it was time to:

Populate Flip Charts

From here the group can populate the flip charts for the next three steps your sales process: Example (1) make bid/no bid decision (2) define your offer and (3) develop a win strategy. The facilitator should encourage the teams to absorb the judges’ preferences and adjust their approach to position themselves for a win. Watch as competitiveness and ideas begin to flow.

Preparing the cake batter is when the real fun begins. Give them only 15 minutes so the teams feel the pressure to organize fast. Require them to “buy” their ingredients and record costs so that they can price their cakes to make a profit, also a critical step in the sales process.

Baking and Wrap-up

If you can bake the cakes in your office, it reduces time and logistics. A nearby bakery might be willing to help. If you are working in a hotel conference room, the hotel staff might be equipped to help. If any participants live nearby, they can also be recruited to volunteer their home ovens. Ovens can also be rented from caterers or appliance suppliers, but they will have to be set up by someone with some electrical know-how.

The 30 to 45 minutes it will take for the cakes to bake is perfect for wrapping up the sales process discussion. Identify the final steps, including: Example (1) planning the proposal, (2) developing proposal, (3) presenting proposal, (4) negotiating and (5) implementing.

Use of Analogy in Adult Learning

In the ideal Solution Cake session, you will see teams managing their win via conditioning the judges, careful pricing and extras in presentation (icing, whipped cream, candies or a glass of milk). The exercise by nature encourages forming an analogy, something that has been used in adult learning since the beginning of time, from parables to case studies. With analogy, there is a source and a target. By recognizing similarities between them, we better understand and assimilate learning of the target. In this case, the cake baking is the source, and proposals are the target.

By compressing the process into approximately two hours, the technique produces an interesting effect. Participants see a distilled flow of work and begin to understand what value each step has, from planning an effective customer interview to a successful Red Team review. They witness decision-making, planning and execution in condensed terms along the same unbroken progression, thus learning how tasks flow into each other to produce a predictable result. Understandably, this demystifies the need for sales process standards and reduces the fear of using them.

Entertainment, emotions, and Memory

Don’t underestimate the entertainment value of this exercise! The friendly competition with colleagues creates an emotional experience that amplifies learning potential and retention. Enthusiasm and excitement will build at about the same time the teams begin interviewing their judges and begin to feel pressured to manage their win. As the facilitator, you must keep this momentum going; the more laughter, the better. This makes the steps more memorable and creates pleasant mental associations a dry flow chart could never produce. After a session like this, do not be surprised if you catch people smiling when planning deals. They are remembering the fun they had baking the “Solution Cake.”

“Memorable” is a key word in this technique. Looking back on our professional lives, we can recall few details of our formal learning experiences. An emotional experience solidifies memories inside our minds. In this case, we are creating a positive memory, for which your “starving masses” will most definitely thank you.

The experience will prove highly valuable for both senior and junior participants. The veterans will see things in a new light; the young-uns will have the mysteries unraveled in a fun and humorous way.

Fun is the Name of the Game

Your Solution Cake facilitator should be prepared to respond to challenges on the fly. You do not want to spoil the fun by eliminating any of the teams for missing the deadline. Fun is truly the name of the game. Depending on the number of people participating and the details of your session, you may have to provide extensions in the time limits. The pressure of time and its similarities to the sales process will be felt even if you make these concessions.

Have the judges provide a public debrief of their award decision, complete with each team’s performance according to their evaluation criteria. This can coincide with an entertaining wrap-up celebration and dining on the spoils at the close of the business day.

The Process Initiative Guillotine

In the path to business development maturity, a company must formalize its sales process (and yes, must also endure change). How effortlessly the change is adopted and how well it is received are functions of specific learning efforts within individual business units.

Why not make it fun? Your people need some good news for a change. Try letting them eat cake. It might actually spare your flowchart the guillotine, where dry process initiatives go to die.

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