When a rep pursues a sales opportunity there are four possible outcomes:
- They can win and win quickly
- Win but the opportunity takes a while to close
- Lose quickly
- Lose slowly, after investing considerable effort, energy and time
Surely everyone would agree that those opportunities that stay in the funnel for months if not years only to have the customer say the heartbreaking words "we went with someone else" or "we've decided to hold off for now" are extremely painful - losing deals slowly is the worst possible outcome.
How Do We Avoid this Painful Result?
To avoid this outcome, we must start with an understanding of the mindset of a typical sales person. Optimistic sales people can be a real blessing to a sales manager. Frankly, I can't imagine how any pessimists in their right mind would seek a career in sales. They would quickly give up after a few "no thanks" from their prospects.
Ironicly, optimistic sellers can also be an absolute curse. Too often these overly optimistic sales people are very good at convincing sales leaders and other internal resources that they have a terrific chance of winning business, when in reality they have no chance at all. At times, these people are more adept at convincing their company to invest resources to pursue an opportunity than they are at convincing prospects to buy their solutions.
In addition, overt pressure from sales management to keep the funnel full can actually cause sales people to hang onto every opportunity, even if they realize they aren't going to win. So, to avoid falling victim to excessive optimism, sales leaders must inject a dose of reality into the opportunity analysis.
Getting the Information You Need
Consider this; nearly every time an opportunity is lost, it's for the same basic reason: There was some piece of information that was missed or misinterpreted. Most often the information was available much earlier in the process.
Unfortunately, the optimistic sales person may simply have failed to uncover the information. Often this information is missed because the seller doesn't know EXACTLY what information they need to fully qualify an opportunity and EXACTLY what questions must be asked in order to elicit this information.
Sellers and sales leaders must realize that every minute spent chasing after an un-winnable opportunity is a minute taken away from finding new opportunities or better preparing for other opportunities we can win. While ignorance is bliss, all those minutes chasing after unqualified opportunities add up and can make the difference between exceeding a target and missing it.
At its simplest level, qualifying an opportunity means determining if your solution is a good fit for the prospect and if the prospect is a good fit for your solution. Every sales organization should have a sales process/methodology that defines all the information a sales person needs in order to qualify every opportunity. The opportunity analysis shouldn't rely on "gut" feelings the sales reps have following what they believe were "good" meetings.
In addition, the sales process should provide sellers and managers with all the tools necessary to collect and analyze this information in the most efficient manner possible.
While no sales process or selling methodology will help your people win every opportunity, the RIGHT sales process will help sales people FULLY qualify every opportunity every time, allowing them to avoid the worst possible outcome: The long, slow (painful) goodbye.
Some closing questions to get you thinking:
- What percentage of deals in your pipeline are wasting your time and costing you money?
- Do you have a process to honestly assess the quality of deals in your pipeline?
Tony Lannom is Sales Director at AXIOM Sales Force Development. He works closely with Sales Leaders, Sales Trainers, and Sales Operations teams help sellers and managers to implement a radically different sales training approach that drives top sales performance.