Core processes – how I learned their importance

Before we founded 3XO, I used to work at a company called Symbioosi Partners, a spin-off from a sales management research group at Aalto University. We wanted to encourage companies to implement development initiatives based on what was proven to work, combining practical business experience with results from university level sales research. It was my first job after graduating and completing my master’s degree and therefore a great opportunity to learn. Symbioosi was eventually dissolved voluntarily by its partners' decision. We did a lot of great work for about a few hundred customers and had lots of fun doing it.

One thing we offered our customers at some point was: “making sales a competitive advantage”. At first, it sounded like an amazing idea. We ran the idea in our discussions with potential customers. We were taken by surprise; we had great difficulties finding interest. It sounded great and people cheered, but practically no one wanted to do anything about it. People preferred the same trainings and consulting services as before. The idea of making sales a competitive advantage was too radical. Or was it… at the time I didn’t understand how someone could pass on the idea. How could you afford not to make sales your competitive advantage?

Later I figured out what making sales a competitive advantage actually would have meant for the companies. It would have required many of our technology driven customers to make sales (one of) their core process(es). They simply didn’t see the rational in that. But why not?

The next time I ran into the concept of core processes was at the Nokia headquarters during its last moments of greatness, while I was participating in a leadership program. I was told that their core processes are logistics and product development. I remember reflecting on what we had done at Symbioosi and thinking how different the US companies seem to be in this aspect, talking about the importance of sales, design and customers. I felt like I didn’t quite understand the concept and importance of core processes. There was something missing.

Later, I volunteered to be in charge of a project where our goal was to increase project profitability and strengthen the way project management was perceived. We quite quickly concluded that the actual problems were elsewhere. The problems were not in project management for the most part – the problem was actually that sales was considered the core process. It was a sad result to come to, especially in such a sales oriented organization.

So, what was the problem? Most of the customer interaction and naturally the value creation happened during the project delivery phase. And on a company level, sales to new customers was too often prioritized over the delivery (and sales) to existing customers. This created problems when it came to account leadership, and the hand-over between the sales and project phase, which led to what seemed like unorganized project management. It probably seems like the problem was in project management after all… but it wasn’t, because there was no way the recurring issues could be fixed on a PM-level.

The reason is that once you have defined a core process (or it had just formed over time like in the case I described before), it is the basis on which you prioritize actions, communication, decision making, and resources on a company level. It can also mark the definition of your culture and values. In daily life, this means that there are always people ensuring a successful completion of the core process related actions, with a possible cost or downside to other activities. It also means that all other processes are managed and organized to support the core process, if needed. In the case above a project manager was bound to support all sales actions, even though she would be deeply involved in running critical projects – often making long hours even longer and tired eyes less focused on doing a great job.

What your core process is or should be boils down to your strategy and how you believe you can be as successful as possible. Every process cannot be your core process; maybe you can have 2 or possibly 3. Everything cannot be the most important. You need to decide what you believe in and understand how you deliver value. Thus, you also must choose what is less important. What can be done with lower priority and what that means. Lack of understanding is bound to cause the perception of incoherent and inept management.

So, should sales be your core process? Maybe it could. Especially in a world were customer experience and customer centricity are more important than ever. What I am saying is that you need to be very aware of how you deliver value and results to customers. You need to know how you get the results that pay peoples´ wages and generate value to the owners. If the core process does not support the execution of your strategy and most important operations… your company is broken.

What if sales would be your core process?