There are few things more dispiriting than investing months of effort in a long and complex sales campaign and then coming second to a competitor. Unless, of course, it’s losing to your prospect deciding to do nothing at all.
Whilst losing late in a sales campaign can perhaps never be completely avoided, the risk can certainly be reduced through better qualification, better sales execution, and by focusing on your prospect’s buying decision process.
It Takes Longer to Lose Than to Win
I was reminded in a recent blog by Mike Drapeau of Salesbenchmarkindex that it takes longer to lose a deal than it takes to win - a fact borne out by some of the excellent research done by Donal Daly and his team at the TAS Group.
All the while, these losing deals are soaking up resources that could be far better spent on finding and winning other more promising deals. The opportunity cost to the sales and marketing organisation is truly stupefying.
Look for Reciprocated Commitment
One of the key signs that a deal is going nowhere - despite other appearances to the contrary and the misplaced hopes of the sales person - is the lack of reciprocated commitment, or of clear evidence of buying intent.
By reciprocated commitment, I mean that the prospect does something - takes an observable step forward in their buying decision process with you - as a result of your sales activities. Shouldn’t every sales activity have the objective of advancing the buying process in some tangible, observable way?
And if, despite your repeated efforts, there is no observable evidence of real progress from the buyer, shouldn’t this signal the need to re-evaluate your deal strategy or re-qualify the opportunity? Just don’t leave it too late, or confuse your sales activities with true progress in the buying decision journey.
Invest in Qualifying
Some of your sales people may exhibit a tendency to rush ahead through the qualification and needs analysis stages and “get on with the selling”. But empirical evidence collected by the TAS Group shows that more thoughtful qualification and requirements identification results in shorter sales cycles and higher win rates.
You cannot afford to leave this to the whim of your sales people. My observations of some of today's most consistently successful sales organisations are that they invest in identifying the common characteristics of their most valuable and promising customers, and apply systematic and robust qualification criteria.
Perhaps most important, they positively encourage their sales people to qualify out bad deals rather than passively discouraging them from doing the opposite in order to keep the "headline value" of the pipeline high.
Reflect the Buying Decision Process
There’s little or no value in managing a pipeline whose key stages are primarily related to sales activity. If you haven’t already made the transition, I urge you to use observable evidence of your prospect’s progress through their buying decision process as the basis for pipeline management and sales forecasting.
This isn’t as challenging as it might appear. Most B2B buying decision processes pass through a handful of clearly observable milestones. If you look carefully, you can find the evidence you need to place the opportunity at the right place in the pipeline - and form a well-informed opinion of whether and when the deal is likely to close.
Respond to Motivations and Concerns
If you study the typical buying decision process, you’ll also uncover predictable patterns of concerns and motivations within the prospect’s decision making team at each step along the way. By anticipating and addressing the concerns that may be holding them back, and by finding ways to reinforce the motivations that are driving them forward, you can significantly improve your sales effectiveness.
Your top-performing sales people may be doing this naturally already. But they aren’t the problem, or the opportunity - that lies with enabling the remainder of your sales people to benefit from implementing these best practices.
Something to Think About
What proportion of your current pipeline is made up of deals that you are destined to lose? How can you avoid benefiting from hindsight when it is already too late to do anything about it? And what patterns of success can you identify, and what steps could you be putting into place to reinforce them, and make them a part of the way your whole company goes to market?
Best Practices Checklist
Are you selling complex, high-value B2B solutions? I've captured many of today's best go-to-market practices in a 20-point self assessment checklist. You can download it here. Please take a few moments to complete it. I'm sure you’ll find at least one idea that could help you drive better sales performance.
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