80% of lost sales opportunities are the result of either poor qualification or the lack of an effective sales process. But the answer isn’t to make up the numbers by chasing more deals. Because when organisations pursue low probability opportunities, sales costs go up and win rates decline...
The figures come from “Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig - a highly recommended read for anyone involved in selling high-value products or services with a complex and lengthy sales cycle. But the principles of good qualification apply to any B2B sales process.
The authors suggest five questions that must be addressed before any opportunity can be regarded as qualified. Insisting that your sales people have the answers to all five before they invest your organisation’s resources in pursuing any opportunity could help to dramatically improve your sales performance - and your sales forecast accuracy.
Qualification Isn't Rocket Science
Like so many good practices, these questions aren’t rocket science. But you might be surprised to find how many of the opportunities in your own sales pipelines don’t have complete or satisfactory answers to all of them. I encourage you to ask them at your next pipeline review.
Hopefully, the answers won’t prove too uncomfortable. But it’s better to know now that an opportunity has a low chance of success rather than at the end of a long, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful sales cycle. And you can task your sales people to deal with the “don’t knows” while they still have the chance to influence the outcome.
1: Have You Uncovered the Real Issues?
What problems is the prospect trying to address - or what results are they trying to achieve? And how would they prioritise these issues against all the other things they are aiming to accomplish? You have to start with the end in mind. If you don’t know what your prospect is trying to achieve - in their language, and in their terms - you have a vanishingly slim chance of selling them a “solution”.
2: Where’s the Evidence?
How does the prospect define the problem? How would they describe the symptoms? How visible is the evidence? And how would they measure the success of any attempt to address the issues they have identified? If you haven’t been able to identify the evidence that the issue is real and keenly felt, the case for change is going to be weak at best.
3: What’s the Impact?
What would happen if the issue wasn’t addressed, or if any solution was postponed? How painful would it be if the status quo were allowed to continue? What would be the consequences of a failure to address the issue? If your prospect believes they can get away with carrying on as before, and avoid the need for change, they probably will.
4: Who Else is Affected?
In addition to the contacts you have already established, who else within their organisation (or beyond) is affected by the issues they have identified, or would be affected if the issue wasn’t addressed? How will they evaluate any potential solution - and what role would they play in the decision-making process? If you haven’t identified the other stakeholders, you’re unlikely to be able to address their concerns or to rely on their support.
5: What’s Holding Them Back?
Assuming you’ve got encouraging answers to the first four questions, you still need to answer the following before you can call the opportunity properly qualified: Why is it important that the organisation addresses the issue now? Have they tried to address the issue before? What were the results? What’s been holding them back - and what’s changed? And what are the constraints that might prevent them implementing a solution now?
The Best Salespeople Qualify the Hardest
Your top performers are probably asking these questions today. In my experience, the best sales people qualify the hardest - because they don’t want to waste their time (or yours) on unproductive opportunities.
It’s the middle of the road sales people - the ones that have unrealised potential to do better - that usually need the help. They feel (often in response to signals from management) that if they qualify an opportunity out, the value of their pipeline has gone down. They cling on to weak opportunities like a drowning sailor clinging to a life raft.
You can help them by insisting that they qualify every opportunity rigorously. You can support the process by insisting that they have answers to all five questions before your company allocates significant pre-sales resources to an opportunity. And you can send the signal that qualifying a bad deal out early is a good decision for all concerned.
It may make your sales people uncomfortable to start with, but they will thank you for it later. The results will be seen in shorter sales cycles, higher win rates, and increased profits for your organisation - and in bigger commission statements for your sales people. Now that feels like a win-win...