Sales leaders and managers demand their teams capture their activity and opportunities in the CRM. (This tool could probably be more strategic.) The sales leader desires to see every new opportunity logged as soon as the sales rep returns to their office. To ensure their success, sales leaders set goals around the number and the value of the opportunities salespeople need to create.
New opportunities are evidence that the sales force is doing the work, and managers like to see many more opportunities than their salespeople need to achieve their goals. More opportunities provide confidence that the sales team will win more B2B deals than they need. This is a false confidence. When sales leaders worry more about lead qualification than vetting opportunities, they fail to achieve their goals.
The Low Standard for Defining an Opportunity
Imagine a salesperson, Legacy Larry, who makes a cold call to a potential customer. The decision-maker agrees to a meeting because a pain point has reached a threshold, and the leader needs to make a significant change. This first meeting is the start of the sales cycle and will later show up in an opportunity stage in the sales process.
Legacy Larry shares the information the marketing team taught him to. Legacy Larry feels credible because he believes his company and its offerings are the best for every prospective customer. He continues by sharing a slide about the company's history and clients, something Larry believes is impressive. After explaining the company's "solutions,” Larry asks the client about their problem. This makes perfect sense to Larry because the client has a problem, and he has the solution. What could be more natural than that?
Larry's client explains that she has another meeting and politely thanks him for the helpful information. The client asks Larry to call her early next week to get back on her schedule. Larry returns to the office and immediately fills in all the prompts in the opportunity tab, choosing discovery call in the sales pipeline.
Larry's sales manager is happy to see the new opportunity, telling Larry he's doing a good job, and encouraging him to create more opportunities. Many sales organizations have low standards when defining a sales opportunity. This harms goal attainment. Most sales managers believe the largest challenge of B2B sales is creating enough new opportunities. The real challenge is having enough real opportunities.
A Meeting Is Not Sufficient Evidence of an Opportunity
Somewhere along the way, B2B selling became more difficult. The evolution of B2B sales is being driven by several external forces that create new sales challenges. Both buyers and salespeople are affected by these sales challenges, which include:
- The increase in the number of companies in every industry vertical (the commoditization of everything, including the salesperson)
- The internet and the availability of information (the consumerization of B2B buying and selling)
- New and disruptive business models that compete against traditional models (services overtaking products in the economy)
- The challenge of making decisions in a time of instability and uncertainty (the constant, accelerating, disruptive change that defines the 21st century)
- Competing priorities and the buyer's challenges of changing a pluralistic culture (the challenge of consensus)
Salespeople have been taught and trained that their offerings solve the client's problems. As you look at the list of forces above, how many can your product or service solve for you and your clients? There is another pain point that precedes the pain point your sales force is trying to address. That is the pain point of making change inside their company.
If the salesperson doesn't have a second meeting, you don't have an opportunity. You have a record of a salesperson's failures to acquire a second meeting. I would give you odds that the salesperson will not acquire a second meeting and that the client will not buy your product. Unless you have proof in the form of a client’s acceptance of a calendar invite, you can safely remove these deals from your sales funnel.
The Truth at Any Price, Including Your Pipeline
The truth at any price, even the price of your pipeline. The false confidence that comes from a pipeline with many opportunities harms goal attainment. When you believe deals are real without greater evidence that the client will make a change and that the salesperson will be part of that sales conversation, you may be disappointed at the end of the period.
The best strategy to know what is real and what isn't is to raise the standard of what is an opportunity. Any meeting that has not reached that level can be safely considered an opportunity. Here is one test to improve integrity: In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, the third commitment is the commitment to change. After gaining the commitment for the client’s time and the commitment to explore change, the third commitment shows you whether the client will make a change. These commitments are not sales stages, they are a set of commitments that ensure certain conversations are pursued, facilitating the buyer's journey.
The Root Cause of Low Standards Defining Opportunities
The reason sales leaders and sales managers accept low standards when determining what is and isn't a sales opportunity is that they focus on activity instead of sales effectiveness. The reason sales managers ask their teams to triple their revenue goal is because they are counting on their sales team to lose 67 percent of the opportunities they create. That's a hell of a bad sales strategy.
The better strategy would be one where you make sales effectiveness your number-one priority. Greater sales effectiveness creates a better sales experience. The modern sales approach uses value-creation strategies that help decision-makers gain the certainty they need to address the external environment and the internal challenges they face when making the changes that will improve their sales results.
Sales teams need to be trained to create value for their clients and to provide insights. They need to understand their client's current problems and the root causes of them, and be able to create an environment where the decision-makers can feel comfortable with the salesperson. This can only happen if decision-makers have the knowledge they need to decide for their business.
By raising the standard for opportunities and focusing on sales effectiveness instead of just activity, sales teams can create a better sales experience and help their decision-makers decide for their business.
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