Soon after starting my sales career I became aware there was a staggering list of things I needed to learn. The biggest challenge I faced was securing appointments with owners of small businesses. In retrospect I’m not proud to admit that my objective when making initial calls was to see if I could get a second call with prospects. My logic was that a follow-up probably meant the first call went reasonably well. I lacked the wisdom and experience to understand the difference between sales activities and progress. I had no concept or a sales process.
CRM is everywhere and yet there are some salespeople as inept as I was that are required to provide input into the system.
I’m trying to imagine what entry a seller would make after getting a buyer to agree to a second meeting. Sellers are under pressure to get a number of prospects in their pipelines. In my experience as a sales manager, once “opportunities” entered the pipeline the ones that didn’t close stayed much longer than they should have. I believe it’s incumbent upon vendors to provide measurable outcomes for calls so that managers can determine if milestones are met and that opportunities in the funnel are qualified.
Almost regardless of the type of skill, a standard process or approach gives people a better chance to succeed. Assume you’re playing a round of golf and after a few holes start slicing badly. A friend you’re playing with has the cell phone number of one of the most famous teachers in the world and offers to call him to see if he can remedy your slice. Oddly enough because the best instructor has never seen you hit a ball, you’d be better served to call the driving range pro you’ve used. At least he or she has an idea of what your swing looks like.
Process provides structure and allows people to understand if they’re succeeding or failing.
I wish I had known a few basic milestones earlier in my sales career:
- Buying cycles begin when buyers share goals/admit problems they’re willing to spend money to achieve/address.
- A champion will provide access to Key Players (the people sellers have to call on to sell, fund and implement their offerings).
- An opportunity is qualified if a buying committee agrees an evaluation of a seller’s offering is warranted and is willing to negotiate an agreed to plan of activities that leading up to making a written recommendation (usually a proposal).
- The first milestone provides sellers a sanity check and is a derivative of one of the core concepts of CCS®: No goal means no prospect.
The other milestones are objective and allow managers to grade opportunities based upon buyer actions (is the seller getting access to Key Players and can a sequence of events be put in place?) rather than seller opinions.
With no offense intended, having sellers grade pipelines is analogous to allowing inmates to run the asylum. Sellers less than YTD will often reduce the bar for qualification. Their primary motivation in “forecasting” is to convince their managers everything will be okay moving forward. Better to give sellers a more realistic view of their pipelines after being graded by their manager.
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