It’s October already, the 4th quarter has arrived, and the end of the year will soon be upon us. If your organisation is involved in high-value complex sales cycles with multiple stakeholders, there’s precious little time left to ensure that you end the year on a high having beaten your sales targets and set yourself up in the best possible shape to carry the momentum forward to 2012. I’d like to suggest 4 things that you could be doing now if you’re to maximise your Q4 revenues…
1: Carefully requalify every single opportunity in your sales pipeline
Start by looking at every opportunity in your sales pipeline with a fresh pair of eyes. Challenge the sales person responsible for every deal. Ask them why they believe that the prospect is going to buy. Ask they why they believe that they are going to win. Question whether the deal is worth winning, and if it represents the best use of your resources. Take a look at my recent blog post for more details on the questions you ought to be asking.
Above all, insist on seeing the evidence. Don’t accept any woolly answers from the sales person involved and - above all - don’t allow them to confuse sales activity with true evidence of buying intent on the part of the prospect. Remind them that hope is not a strategy. You can’t afford to discover that the situation isn’t what you have been led to believe when it’s too late to do anything about it.
Be brutally forensic in your questioning. Your sales people might hate you for it now but they could well thank you for it later.
2: Pay close attention to sales velocity
It’s well proven that loosing deals spend - on average - significantly more time in each stage of the sales pipeline than winning ones. Deals that are “stuck in stage” for longer than normal have a disproportionally higher chance of being lost or ending in no decision. Careful requalification can help. But if you haven’t already done so, I strongly suggest that you systematically analyse the outcomes of every qualified opportunity since the start of the year.
Separate the results into wins, losses and “no decisions”. Analyse how long the winning deals took from first qualification to close, and how long they spent in each stage of the pipeline. Establish time-based benchmarks for each stage in the sales process, and pay particular attention to the open opportunities that are taking longer than these winning benchmarks to move through the pipeline. Insist on an action plan for every opportunity that appears to be stuck in stage.
3: Understand each prospect’s buying decision process
When you’re involved in a high value, complex sales environment with multiple stakeholders, you can’t “always be closing” - but you can focus on encouraging the prospect’s decision-making team to take the next step forward in their buying decision process with your organisation. The key here is to avoid confusing activity with progress. You must understand both the practicalities and the politics of the prospects decision-making process.
You may need to ask indirect questions in order to get the true picture. Don’t just ask who is involved in the decision - find out who else within the organisation is impacted by the problem that they are trying to solve. Discover if and how they have tried to solve the problem before, and who was involved in those previous attempts. Try and work out where the “emotional capital” lies.
But perhaps most important, if you’re trying to identify business that can be closed in the current quarter, make sure that the key stakeholders have acknowledged the consequences of failing to address the issue. Why else would they be in a rush to buy?
4: Don’t ignore your existing customers
Last, but by no means least, remember that it’s typically easier and faster to conclude repeat business with an existing customer than to find and win brand new business. Are you sure that your installed base programme is uncovering all the opportunities that exist within your installed base - not just the incremental add-ons to projects that you’ve already won, but also new projects that you could play a role in?
If your installed base management relationships are largely at the operational level, identify your top 10-20 existing customers and ensure that you establish executive-level dialogue with them this month. Allocate responsibility to your senior executives. Make sure the conversations happen. You’ll certainly learn a lot of valuable information from these discussions, and it would be unusual if you fail to uncover a number of new opportunities.
Focus, prioritise and win
At this time, perhaps more than any other, the key to winning outcomes lies in focus, prioritisation and execution. If you can put these 4 principles into operation, you’ll not only finish Q4 in great shape - you’ll be in the best possible position to have an outstanding 2012.
p.s. if you haven't already done so, please download a copy of my 20 best practices for B2B sales and marketing organisations check-list. I'm sure you'll find at least one actionable idea for growing your business faster in the coming year.