Do you wish that your sales people were better at closing? Or that their sales forecasts were more accurate? Are you frustrated that apparently well-qualified opportunities end up with the prospect deciding to do nothing? If so, you’re not alone. I hear these complaints all the time.
These sound like classic “bottom of funnel” challenges. But when I take a closer look at many of these situations, more often than not the real problem lies elsewhere - not at the bottom of the funnel, but at the top. When sales people repeatedly struggle to close opportunities, the issue often lies with how they started the sale, and not with how they are trying to close it.
It’s not how well you close, it’s how well you open
Don’t get me wrong. Sales people need to be able to close. It’s an important skill - but it’s not enough, and no amount of closing skill can compensate for the failure to qualify the opportunity accurately, or for the inability to influence the buying decision process from an early stage in the cycle.
Losing to “no decision” is particularly galling. Being defeated by the status quo is just as unproductive as being defeated by a conventional competitor. Inertia is just as powerful an enemy as the organisation you’re wrestling with for market share.
You can expect your prospects to be asking themselves “why should I change at all”, “why should I change now” and “why should I change to you”. Here are a handful of strategies that could enable you to swing the odds in your favour:
Your prospect must have a compelling reason to do something
You can engage prospects in conversation about issues that are interesting to them. You can get them to evaluate your solution if it appears to address an important issue. But unless they have a critical reason do actually do something, odds are they will stick with the status quo. Have you established a compelling case for change?
You need to engage a sponsor who is a mobiliser, and not just a talker
It’s easy to assume that you’re on the right track if you are engaged with a helpful, supportive sponsor. But unless your sponsor has the power, authority and respect necessary to successfully catalyse change within their organisation, chances are the decision will be to “do nothing”.
You need to be positioned as the least risky of all available options
It used to be said that “nobody got fired for buying IBM”. Today’s more common sentiment is that “nobody got fired for not sticking their neck out”. Buyers have become more risk averse. If you’re going to win, you need to emerge as the least risky of all their available options, including simply staying as they are.
Continuously re-qualify the opportunity
Even if the opportunity initially looks promising, you’ve got to coach and encourage your sales people to continuously re-evaluate each sales situation. Is the prospect’s need critical? What are the odds of them doing anything? What are the chances of doing it with us? And - last but not least - will the effort be worth it?
If your sales organisation embraces this discipline, you’ll probably find that a lot more deals drop out early in the sales cycle. The total value of your pipeline may even seem to go down. But your revenue potential will have risen, perhaps dramatically. Well-qualified, well-managed opportunities will close naturally, and at a predictable time.
And because your sales people will be opening up and managing opportunities in a much more effective, they (and you) will be fretting a lot less about their closing skills. You might like to start by identifying your idea customer profiles, and embedding this into a progressive approach to opportunity qualification.