It was Tom Peters’ book, published during the stock market crash of 1987, that explained how and why companies must learn to thrive on chaos. He wasn’t wrong.
Generating growth is challenging and many sectors are living with the reality of delayed contracts and significant drops in demand. To add to this, according to PWCs UK CEO Survey, many sales leaders will be enduring a virtual management environment for some time to come.
Without the chemistry of physical interaction between sales leaders and their teams, sellers can become blinded and get lost in the fog of a sale. This can lead to behaviours that hamper forecasting accurately, creating barriers to effective pipeline management.
Forecasts based on unqualified data from sellers, about the size and likely conversion of opportunities, lull sales leaders into thinking their pipeline will deliver both the forecast and the target, only to be left short. This could be partly due to sub-standard aspects of the sales management process:
There’s no shortcut; remote opportunity management requires greater planning, a rigorous and ongoing contextual assessment of opportunities and continuous inspection. This doesn’t place too much burden on your sellers; they too do not wish to waste their time on deals they will lose.
There is an old saying in pipeline and opportunity management that ‘what you measure can be improved but what you inspect gets done’.
Never has it been so crucial for sales leaders to put structure and a sales process management ‘wrap’ around how they wish to operate. The desired outcome is far more likely to be achieved if these are in place and followed robustly.
The sales review process must involve the right datasets for inspection and reporting:
This will ensure win rates increase because sellers spend time on the right deals, thus increasing available selling hours for the best opportunities.
Key to achieving this is developing leaders as effective team coaches and in identifying the root cause of issues, using problem-solving and careful planning around key outcomes to rectify them.
Good qualitative data about each opportunity must be reviewed with sellers, in a structured way, during regular 1-2-1s.
This ensures leaders are able to sanity check what sellers are telling them by asking for facts about what the prospect is doing or evidence that something has happened. Leaders must play the role of devil’s advocate and delve deeper into what the seller believes to be true.
If sellers were to qualify opportunities alone, they might find themselves whizzing down the checklist saying ‘Yes that’s OK, I can do that no problem there, I’m sure I can handle that’ and so on. But real purpose of qualification is about identifying all the hurdles to be crossed.
Sales leaders should openly take the attitude of ‘Convince me that we should bid. We only win one in three sales, so statistically we are likely to lose this one unless you can convince me otherwise.’
As long as both leader and seller are fully aware that this exercise is part of the sales process which ensures that the effort is well justified and the real hurdles are identified, then excellent results follow.
Managing the process in this way (not just the outcome), also ensures sellers know what data will be required for reporting and inspection during reviews.
Gaining answers to the following questions is a good place to begin the review process in order to develop a plan. All plans should identify the key phases of the sale and include what needs to happen from the customer’s side to move the sale forward.
If there are answers missing, can a plan be agreed that helps sellers find them? If there are answers that could become showstoppers to winning the sale, can actions be agreed to address them early on?
Tools can be deployed that provide qualitative, granular and forensic tracking of the opportunities within the pipeline. This ensures that the process for inspection chosen will be embedded and sustained. Such tools can be integrated into your existing CRM.
If your organisation requires assistance in developing more rigorous opportunity management review and inspection practices, our Pipeline Performance Review Workshop is a great place to start.
These virtual sessions provide sales organisations with a clear understanding of the challenges that are creating barriers to achieving forecasting accuracy, and provide guidance on the appropriate datasets and reporting so critical to achieving it.