Should a business or government agency need to visualize a solution model for a some aspect of their business, there is a good chance that resulting diagram will take the form of a flowchart. They are an invaluable tool when charting a sales process – they give you the opportunity to visualize and understand the process, and also serve to highlight any issues or bottlenecks that might occur throughout the workflow. As an example of how ubiquitously intertwined flowcharts are with business process, here are a number of synonyms that may also be used:flow chart, process flowchart, functional flowchart, process map, process chart, functional process chart, business process model, process model, process flow diagram, work flow diagram, business flow diagram.
In its most basic form, a flowchart consists of a series of steps that act as a diagrammatic representation of a simple problem or process. Each step is represented graphically by a box – most commonly a square (representing processing steps or an activity), or a diamond (representing a decision). These boxes are linked by arrows that indicate the direction of the workflow.
A flowchart doesn’t so much represent the flow itself; rather, it focuses on the controls that govern the flow.
In practical terms, individual algorithms, workflows or processes can require a specific approach when designing, documenting or analyzing a flow chart. This has resulted in a widened selection of boxes and icons to cater for more niche controls and commands, and several flowchart variants stemming from the ‘classical notation’ style (the basic style outlined above). For instance, you can make a flowchart ‘cross-functional’, by introducing swim lanes that divide a process into organizational units. You also need to decide on your chart’s perspective – is it from a managers, system analyst, or customer’s point of view? A workflow diagram connects multiple processes, and allows you to define execution responsibility.
Flowcharts can be subdivided even further in accordance to what type of process they describe: Decision flowcharts, logic flowcharts, systems flowcharts, product flowcharts, process flowcharts, program flowcharts, document flowcharts, data flowcharts.
The Sales Process
For most commercial organizations, the sales process is inherent to its existence and ability to create profit. Although each company will achieve this aim in its own way, the core selling process remains similar throughout – a potential buyer or prospective customer exchanges money with an organization in return for goods or services. Despite this rather simplistic definition, there exists huge scope as to which approach is taken. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the sales division to be the largest within a corporate structure, employing a team of salespeople, analysts, and the sales managers, who are in charge of sales division operations.
Sales operations is an umbrella term for all the processes and business activities that a key to running a sales division. The sales operation team is responsible for its smooth and efficient running, and to act as a liaison between other parts of company structure, such as IT, Legal, HR, Finance, or Marketing. There is a continual focus on sales process engineering, which is the analysis and refinement of a sales process in order to increase its efficiency or to identify problems within the workflow; other benefits might include the ability to standardize customer response into the form of a process, or as a platform to conduct buyer and seller risk management. A sales process itself is defined by strategy, sales targets, quotas, forecasting and demand; some theories also ascribe to a generic framework to build your process around – Rich, Spiro and Stanton identify 8 steps that make up a sales process in Management of a Sales Force (12th Ed. p. 66). They are as follows:
• Prospecting/initial contact
• Pre-approach – planning the sale
• Identifying and cross questioning
• Need assessment
• Meeting objections
• Gaining commitment
The ideal method with which to represent these step-by-step processes is through the flowchart medium.
Charting The Flow
The practical applications of sales process flowcharts are numerous and wide ranging. At sales level, you might map the process of customer interaction, from first contact to sale. Or a system flowchart, that depicts the flow of actual physical elements or company resources. A program flowchart can be used to process map a software system for an online shop. For a manager, a sales process can generate key performance indicators that allow senior management to discern the effectiveness of a process, and take corrective action if needed. The main aim is ongoing quality and margin improvement, process refinement and study of effectiveness. To take this concept even further, there are a number of ‘doctrines’ that some practitioners will apply to business process mapping.
Six Sigma is not only a set of tools and techniques to assist with your sales process diagrams, it is more like a doctrine for the whole company to follow. It shares the main ideals of process analysis and refinement, but adds focus on financial return, emphasis on strong leadership, and a rule to only ever make decisions based on verifiable data and statistical analysis. Following a similar pattern is ISO 9001, which represents a quality management system with a strict set of guidelines. Now adopted round the globe, it has become the de-facto quality standard for business, and its application is routinely assessed by a third party. What both of these systems do is apply process mapping theory to every aspect of an organization; flowcharts provide the flexibility with which to do this.
As you can see, a simple premise like a sale process flowchart can culminate in an almost endless array of options and elements, not to mention the constant need for updating and refinement.