The Sales Process: An Ultramarathon


This past weekend I was fortunate enough to stumble upon an incredible documentary on Netflix called “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.” (If you run at all, or like any kind of extreme challenge, I highly recommend this). By the end of it, I was inspired to meet the challenges in my life head on - whether it was running, personal goals, or the huge task of defining our sales process at Coalmarch and executing it efficiently.

I also noticed that there were so many parallels between the sales process and the race - all of which people attempted to conquer, and subsequently failed at. So what is it that allowed some people to succeed at the race and others to fall short? The same things that result in a successful sales process for one company, and one that misses its mark for another.

Accepting the challenge 

The Barkley Marathons, to provide some background, are a 60 hour grueling ultramarathon. While typical marathons are 26.2 miles across ¼ of a day, this two and a half day race is an extreme version of one in just the amount of time it requires - time without sleep. If that wasn’t challenging enough, this ultramarathon takes place in the hills of Tennessee, and if completed, is the equivalent in distance and altitude changes of climbing up and down Mt. Everest - twice.

While creating a sales process isn’t as physically challenging as a 100 mile race in 60 hours, it is still a grueling undertaking. It’s often time-consuming, full of roadblocks to overcome, and something that takes away from the actual time that could be spent selling. However, committing to defining the process and following it will not only save you time in the future, but it will allow for much easier sales team growth, and a consistent way to measure crucial KPI’s for your company.

Mapping out success 

The Barkley Marathons start by allowing the selected runners to create a map of the course before heading out. While the path, a circular run, is simple on paper, each runner chooses a different way of completing it. Some prefer one obstacle to another, some choose to go around, up, through, etc. In the end each runner makes it from start to finish, but by many different paths.

The sales process follows a very similar method when you create yours:

  • Determine what the end goal is or where it is - is it the sale of a product, a demo, a contract?
  • Dive deep into all the ways to get to that goal, what could go right, and what could go wrong?
  • Begin by creating a flow chart of your ideal sales scenario and include details about what occurs in each phase
  • Add in everything from your list of what could go wrong, and the appropriate reaction to each scenario
  • Take a step back and look for ways to proactively avoid “what could go wrong” - are there actions you can take ahead of time to prevent drop offs? Add these into the process!
  • Keep it simple by combining scenarios, if a few things end in the same place (like a drip campaign) condense the outcomes to simplify your process
  • Test it, update it, test it again - how accurate is the process you’ve defined? Update it until you’ve closed all the gaps and plugged all the holes
  • Implement it! Now you’re ready to put it into action, if you’re working with a team, walk them through it, process it out in checklists or a software like Forgely, and sit back and watch it work (just kidding).
  • UPDATE IT! The most important step is to update it - the weather in the Tennessee Mountains can be hot one year and freezing the next, runners need to adapt to these changes to be successful - as do you! You need to stay on top of your process, making sure to update it as changes occur. 

Holding yourself accountable 

Accountability is crucial to the success of your new sales process, just as much as it is to finishing the race. During the Barkley Marathons, runners must remove the 35th page of various book that are left around the course. In order to move onto the next cycle of the race, the pages must be counted and reviewed by the judges. While your sales process is a bit more complex than removing pages from a book, the reasons behind this method are a direct parallel; each point along the process is equally important to it’s overall success, miss one, and you will not be successful. 

So how can you hold yourself accountable? Here are a few tips on how you can hold yourself, and your team accountable:

  • Processes. Processes. Processes. Document everything, so if people (including you) don’t follow the process, it’s clear that you missed a beat.
  • Create a way to document a misstep in the process - you can write someone up, create an incident, or pass it up to your manager.
  • Find a software that mimics your processes - and don’t fit your process into the software, find one that works with the process you have!

Achieving the impossible 

If you take the time to map out your road to success, and ensure that every point along the way is met, you’ll end up with more sales in less time, and happier customers and clients. Just like finishing the Barkley Marathons, completing this process gets easier the more you do it - but each time will be different. Keeping an open mind, being willing to change as needed, and holding yourself and everyone accountable will continually improve your process, and sales!