One reason sales organizations fail to reach their goals is because they lack opportunities. Sure, their pipeline meetings may sound like they’re swimming in deals: each salesperson recounts all the deals they’re working, updating the status of each opportunity. You might even think that success is guaranteed. But if you came to the next week’s meeting, you’d find each salesperson updating the very same deals they updated a week earlier. In that case, you can be confident the salesperson has not created any new opportunities.
Double Dipping on Opportunity Creation
Sales Managers that focus pipeline meetings on those status updates struggle to meet their goals because they allow a salesperson to take credit for the same deal more than once. Let’s say your salesperson proudly announced that they had acquired a meeting with a very large prospect, their dream client. Their first meeting was very powerful, as the salesperson captured the contact’s attention and scheduled a follow-up meeting two weeks later, when the decision-maker can bring the rest of her team. It's all very exciting, and it bodes well for the future.
A week later, when asked about their pipeline progress, the salesperson offers up that they are pursuing the same very large prospect that they mentioned a week earlier. Since they are not meeting until the following week, they have no update. So, you give them a pass. This is double dipping, taking (and more importantly, giving) credit for creating the opportunity twice.
It is risky, at best, to allow a salesperson to hide behind their single big deal, avoiding doing the work of creating additional deals. It enables bad practices, ones that harm the individual as well as introducing additional dangers that might cause you to miss your goals.
As a Sales Manager, you want to be positive and appreciate the big opportunities your salespeople create. You also want to be supportive and do whatever you can to help ensure they win these high-visibility, high-value, must-win deals. However, you are not providing good leadership by allowing the salesperson to use their large deal as a get-out-of-prospecting free card.
The Primacy of Opportunity Creation
Different sales organizations have different sales cycle times, some longer and some shorter. Regardless of the time, there is a starting date and ending date. A deal that is created in January may close at the end of March. March deals may close at the end of May. There are certainly industries where it is difficult to create new sales opportunities, so it sometimes takes months or entire quarters to create a new potential deal. But for most sales organizations, a week is enough time to schedule a meeting and create opportunities.
Weeks without new opportunities create a gap in the future, one where there is nothing to win because there were no opportunities created. That’s just the time-based nature of sales. Sales organizations often miss their goals not because they aren't good at selling, but because they don't create enough opportunities within a certain period.
The mistake many leaders make is believing that there is nothing more important than winning deals. They look at the pending deals in their CRM and convince themselves that meeting their goals is just a matter of winning most of those deals. While winning deals is critical, opportunity creation is even more important, and not just because you cannot ever close a deal that you didn't first open.
The big deal that looked like it was all but certain to close may be lost when the company decides to pursue a higher-priority project. Or the main contact may leave the company for a new opportunity, the initiative dying as soon as they turn in their name badge to Security. When a deal dies, regardless of the reason, you can't replace it immediately because you put off creating a new opportunity. Creating opportunities now, even when it seems like you don’t need them, means winning them in the future.
A Better Pipeline Meeting
A better pipeline meeting starts with each salesperson sharing the new opportunities they created over the prior week. Only then should they share any forward movement on their existing opportunities. This recognizes the primacy of opportunity creation, the only hedge you have against lost deals, stalled deals, and the unexpected.
Selling can be broken down into opportunity creation and opportunity capture. Some significant part of a salesperson's week must be dedicated to opportunity creation. Sales roles come with more autonomy than many other roles, which is why discipline is necessary. There is always something in the inbox or some task that might take time away from prospecting, especially for salespeople who won’t pick up the phone.
In the end, you can count the creation of an opportunity only once. You can only take credit for capturing the opportunity once, as well. Once you have created an opportunity, you have to move on and create another.