Here is one helpful way to think about “opportunity creation.” You begin the process by scheduling a meeting with your prospective client, ideally because you are certain you can improve their results. Let’s call the client in this role a “target.” After that meeting, you schedule a follow-up meeting to further explore change and, if you are on top of your game, you ask your contact to bring in a few other decision-makers or decision-shapers to start building consensus.
Now that you have moved your prospective client from target to qualified, you have advanced one opportunity and created an empty space in your pipeline where your target client used to be. Instead of only focusing on that sales conversation, you need to immediately refill the empty space by scheduling a meeting with another prospective client or targeted account.
While you are prospecting, you also have your follow-up meeting with the first prospective client you met with. That call goes well, and you advance that sales conversation out of discovery, leaving space in the “qualified” box. If you’ve done the work of replacing the opportunity that was sitting in the target space and have engaged them in a meeting, that second prospect moves into “qualified,” again leaving “target” empty.
Too Few Opportunities
There are a lot of reasons salespeople fail to create the opportunities they need, including the lack of an effective plan, an outdated approach, or a simple (but result-crushing) lack of self-discipline.
If you are completely honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that once you have created however many deals it takes for you to be comfortable, you let up on prospecting. You tell yourself that you are busy pursuing the opportunities you already have in your pipeline, leaving no time to prospect, even though you have plenty of time to open the web browser and share your feelings about The Queen’s Gambit or your prediction of how soon Michigan will fire Jim Harbaugh (the answer is soon, very soon).
If you want to build more consistent results, pay attention here. The problems most salespeople create for themselves start by failing to backfill the spaces they leave in their pipeline when they move forward with a prospective client. The longer that space remains unoccupied, the more variability you are going to have in your results. Let’s assume your average sales cycle takes about ninety days. When you wait four weeks to replace an opportunity that has moved forward, you have all but ensured a down month. Repeating this mistake makes your results look like a sine wave.
In sales, we tend to do bad math. Let’s assume you win a third of the opportunities you create. When you win a deal, you might think that you need to replace it with one new deal, but your math would be off by three hundred percent. By ignoring the odds that you’ll lose two of the deals already in your pipeline, you underestimate the amount of work you need to do when it comes to prospecting, nurturing your dream clients, and acquiring first meetings.
In other words, you need more deals than you might believe. Enterprise sales feature relatively long sales cycles and big deals, but the same logic applies to smaller sales. In that case, you might need to schedule four first meetings, then replace them with four more first meetings as the first set of deals move forward—or fall off.
Remember the Navy SEAL saying: slow is smooth and smooth is fast. You can only create consistent results in sales by consistently doing the work necessary to produce those results. Inconsistent results are largely the natural outcome of inconsistent efforts.
The Conveyor Belt
What you want is something that looks and feels like a conveyor belt, except for the inconvenient fact that the sales conversation shares none of the linearity of a machine. Some opportunities you put on the conveyor are going to move slower than others, doubling or tripling your workload at a particular stage. Maybe that’s happenstance, or maybe it means you are having trouble moving the sales conversation forward, an issue worth your time and attention.
Another complication is that some opportunities are going to force their way off your conveyor belt. When circumstances change, sometimes your prospective client defects, ending the process. Meanwhile, you may also recognize some major problem and remove the opportunity yourself—perhaps not permanently, but at least for the time being. Whatever your particular conveyer belt looks like, though, you have to create new opportunities to keep things moving and reach your goals. You also have to keep your existing opportunities tracking towards a successful result, by gaining the commitments that move deals forward.
Beating the Clock
Time is a variable in sales success. Once time has passed, there is no way to recover it. You should not populate your future with regrets about how much time you wasted. Once you have given up a month by failing to prospect and create new opportunities, you might try to push other opportunities to try and make up for your over-confidence, your bad math, or your general sloth. But those deals are not going to move any faster than your average deals: you won’t get through a ninety-day deal process in thirty days.
The way you really beat the clock is by using time well, building your future results by consistently doing the work you need—and when you need to do it.
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