Everything good that happens to a salesperson starts by meeting a stranger and engaging in a number of conversations. When sales organizations or salespeople struggle to grow their revenue, it is almost certain they are not meeting enough strangers or they are not effective enough in the conversation to create a new opportunity for the stranger. Even though you might record an "opportunity" in your CRM after a first meeting, the opportunity belongs to the client, as they are the one who experiences the better results they need.
Opening is the New Closing
Many years ago I recognized that most sales organizations were concerned about closing deals. But from my view, their pipelines provided them a false confidence, as they had many more deals than they needed and revenue potential far beyond what they would have needed to reach their goals. Yet, they were failing to reach their goals quarter after quarter.
With a closer look at the deals in their pipelines, it was clear that many of the deals were old enough to have a driver's license. Much of the faux opportunities hadn't been touched in a quarter. Some of the pipelines had been built on the idea that having 300% of the goal in the pipeline ensures success. Recently, a senior sales leader suggested he needed 800% of the pipeline to reach his goals.
You don't need 300% of your goal in your pipeline if your deals are real and progressing. When deals stall or die in your pipeline, they contribute nothing to your pipeline. A pipeline with 800% of the goal provides no better possibility and is certain to be exceedingly low in integrity.
It is difficult to believe that a pipeline with 3X of the goal requires the sales force to spend more time introducing themselves to strangers, but as counterintuitive as this might seem, it is what is necessary. Removing the deals that are timing out removes the false confidence that causes sales leaders to miss their goals. Keeping their lie of a pipeline is easier than requiring their teams to spend more time creating new opportunities.
The closing problem many sales organizations have is really a problem around opening.
Stalled Deals and a Lack of Progress
I regret to inform you that it isn't enough to meet strangers and have first conversations that you record in your CRM as an opportunity. There is a lie that we tell in sales that "time kills deals." Time does seem to lead to degradation and disintegration, but it is bested by a "lack of progress." It isn't the fact that time has passed that caused a deal to stall. It's the fact that there has been no forward movement.
Why do so many deals stall or die in the pipeline? The salesperson who acquires a meeting with a stranger returns to their office and immediately enters in their new opportunity, estimating its value in revenue, and putting in a close date that is certain to be the end of a quarter or the end of the year. Many of those first meetings with a stranger will be the salesperson's only meeting.
Why do salespeople fail to get a second meeting? The answer here is rather uncomfortable, but the truth is that a salesperson that doesn't create enough value for their prospective client in a first meeting isn't going to be given a second chance, as no one wants to commit to a meeting they believe is a waste of their time.
When a pipeline has more than enough opportunities and potential revenue and still misses their goal, you have a strong indication that the sales force lacks the effectiveness necessary to progress their deals. Let's call this idea "The theory of sales conversation competency,'' as selling is a series of conversations and commitments. Salespeople who are unable to successfully provide a client with the right conversations—ones they find valuable—will find themselves with a long list of deals that are no longer opportunities for the client.
Waste Not, Want Not
To improve your results, you have to reverse the order of the two discussions above. There is little reason to acquire new meetings with strangers only to disappoint them with a poor, value-destroying conversation that will all but ensure your contact joins the witness protection program to avoid another meeting. The history of the stalled deals is the result of an approach that creates too little value for the contacts who committed their time to the conversation.
The most important initiative for sales leaders is improving their sales force's effectiveness in the sales conversation with their prospective clients. Acquiring new meetings and stuffing your pipeline with non-opportunities may help you make the case that you have more than enough coverage to reach your targets, but there is no way to hide from the fact that you missed your goals—even though you had 800% of the goal.
By putting the effectiveness of the sales force above everything else, you create opportunities and ensure your sales force can progress, and eventually win the client's business. Instead of wasting the first meeting with a low-value conversation that eliminates a second meeting, you ensure your sales force is prepared to differentiate themselves and your company through the conversation while creating value for the client, preventing you from needing 800% of your goal to be confident you can reach your target.
Those who would interrupt a stranger should be prepared to make excellent use of their time, something that is prevented by a legacy approach to sales, something that doesn't seem to move the needle for decision makers.