Happy New Year to you all. Let’s be honest - for many of our customers and clients, 2012 is shaping up to be a tough year. A year in which they are going to be reluctant to spend money unless they can see a clear return. And, just as many of us are having to rein back from seasonal over-indulgence by going on a diet, I’m going to suggest that your most important New Year Resolution must be to Fight the Flab in Your Pipeline…
Over time, most sales pipelines progressively clog up with opportunities that are never likely turn into sales. They divert attention and resources from other more valuable opportunities, and they hide the fact that your pipeline isn’t as healthy as it first appears. But you can understand why many sales people are reluctant to remove them from the mix - because it will make the “headline value” of their pipeline seem smaller.
But if those deals are really never likely to convert into sales, they simply serve to hide the fact that your ability to achieve your revenue targets is at risk - and if that is true, you are far better off confronting the ugly reality and doing something positive about it than you are hoping that some form of miracle might happen. Here are a handful of questions that you need answers to for every opportunity that is currently sitting in your pipeline:
1: Can Your Prospect Monetise Their Pain?
At any time, any “prospect” will be able to identify - with or without your help - a number of issues or needs they would like to see addressed. They may be very happy devoting their time to investigating potential solutions. But unless the problem is so significant that they cannot afford not to deal with it, they will almost certainly end up deciding to stay with the status quo. If your prospect cannot monetise the pain - and the impact on the rest of their organisation - they are unlikely to be able to build a strong enough business case to get the project approved. No matter how much they happen to like your solution.
2: Have You Identified All The Stakeholders?
It’s rare for any significant purchase - even for a project that has a powerful sponsor - to be made without the approval of what is often a large group of stakeholders. These will include everyone that has a vested interest in the problem, everyone who has to give technical approval, everyone that has to agree the need to spend money, and everyone that has a potentially competing project that they regard as having a higher priority. If you haven’t identified all these stakeholders, you may struggle to get the consensus required to get your proposal approved.
3: Have You REALLY Identified Their Decision Process?
Getting selected and agreeing terms - as many sales people have discovered to their cost in the past year - does not guarantee that you will ultimately receive an order. I’ve found that even many of the project champions within prospect organisations are unaware of the extent to which their preferred proposals are going to be scrutinised, through which approval loops they are going to have to pass, or how even a positive decision might be delayed as a consequence. Even if your champion is confident they understand the process, you should encourage them to check again. Hope (or ignorance) is not a strategy!
Is Your Project REALLY a Priority?
In the current economic climate, it’s inevitable that many otherwise attractive projects will be denied funding - even if they have an apparently strong return on Investment case. Unless your project is associated with one of the handful of “must do in 2012” initiatives identified by the CEO, it will always be at the mercy of other ways in which your prospect could use the funds - including keeping the money in the bank. So if you’re not supporting a declared corporate priority, beware.
Is There a Truly Compelling Reason to Buy?
I’m adding this fifth question for completeness, partly because it’s been part of most sales training methodologies since they were steam-powered. But unless your prospect has not only identified a monetisable pain, but also either a critical (and non-arbitrary) date by which it must be addressed or a rapidly accumulating cost of inaction, you should not be too surprised if the project slips.
As an old mentor of mine once said (or something like it): “One of the great benefits of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by a long period of worrying”. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you are not worried by what 2012 might bring, then something is wrong. Better to confront the grim reality and then take positive steps to deal with it.
I hope that you find the exercise useful - and not too painful. But once you’ve gone through the exercise - you might like to think of it as draining the swamp - the opportunities that remain should all be highly closable without the need to fall back upon sales heroics. And you’ll have a much better sense of the characteristics of the new opportunities you ought to be looking for. Let me know how you get along.
One Last Thing
If improving sales and marketing alignment is important to your organisation, I hope that you’ll join me for my upcoming BrightTALK-sponsored webinar on “Sales and Marketing Collaboration - from Vision to Implementation” on Tuesday 10th January 2012 at 10:00am UK Time. Even if you can’t attend, registering will give you access to the recording. I hope to see you online.