Need proof of the value of a checklist? In a study funded by the World Health Organization, eight hospitals deployed a simple 19-point checklist to help doctors and nurses avoid errors.

Check List SiriusDecisions

The list focused on basic safety measures, such as requiring that all members of the surgical team introduce themselves, counting instruments and sponges used during surgery to verify that none were left inside a patient, and ensuring that patients receive antibiotics to prevent infection.

The checklist was credited with a 40 percent reduction in deaths and serious complications from surgery, and the study authors concluded that if all hospitals used the checklist, they could save tens of thousands of lives and $20 billion in medical costs each year.

At SiriusDecisions, we’ve studied and written at length about the value of aligning the sales process with the customer buying process. A typical sales process includes a series of stages through which B2B buyers pass before making a complex purchase and correlates to the actions a seller takes (e.g. analyze needs, qualify, identify solution, propose solution) to manage opportunities through the pipeline.

But that’s not nearly enough. A best practice sales process goes beyond the high-level stages and includes knowledge inflection points and observable outcomes associated with each stage. An observable outcome, similar to a checklist item, is a measurable, verifiable and specific response from – or an action taken by – the buyer.

Here are a few examples:

  • Did the buyer verify that there is budget available?
  • Has the buyer provided access to all decisionmakers?
  • Has the buyer provided decision criteria?
  • Did the buyer schedule a followup meeting for a demonstration?
  • Has the buyer provided resources to assist with a detailed design?

You might think that following a sales process, complete with observable outcomes, would be an ingrained habit by now, especially for senior-level sales reps. But with complex selling situations and the pressure on reps to demonstrate results, it’s all too easy to skip critical steps.

Sales operations should evaluate sales process stages and observable outcomes every six to 12 months, and then consult with sales leaders to build or update these outcomes as sales process stage progression criteria within the sales automation tool.

The need for precision, consistency and repeatability isn’t limited to doctors and surgeons. Best-in-class sales organizations apply discipline and rigor to each sales stage, carefully crafting observable outcomes to avoid critical errors, wasted time and misdirected company resources.