A corporate salesperson was telling me about his pipeline, and explaining all of the opportunities that were stalled. Nearly every one had what he thought were insurmountable problems. He was perplexed, frustrated, and in his mind, his career at a new company would be short-lived.
We sat down and talked through every sales opportunity he had listed. In his case there are 4 deals he considers to be “qualified”, and quite a few deals that have not gotten to the qualified stage.
He currently has a whopping 6 deals that he feels are beyond “qualified” – he has received cues or even verbal indication that his company has been “selected”. Unfortunately though, none of his qualified or selected-stage opportunities have fully come to closure – he does not have signed agreements in hand.
We spoke, and what began as his frustration for customers not being ready to do business with him turned into frustration he had with himself for not doing some basic things.
He hadn’t asked enough questions to know if his “qualified” and “selected” stage deals are really legitimate, well-qualified opportunities. (Selected means that he’s been told by the prospect that they will work with him.) One great question to ask here is, “What other options do you have if we don’t move forward?” If they have one or two other seemingly do-able options you will learn right away that you may be less likely to move forward with this opportunity. ASK GOOD QUESTIONS.
Know what stage each of your deals is at. This sales rep was not consistent in his reasoning as to where each of his sales opportunities were. Within a couple minutes he was moving Qualified deals back to Unqualified simply because he doesn’t know all the answers that he needs in order for his deals to all really be qualified. It's very important since different things need to be done at different stages. Be consistent in your rules about what actually IS a qualified buying (or selling) opportunity and how you know it consistently. BE RIGOROUS ABOUT WHAT QUALIFIED MEANS.
These days a pipeline shape doesn’t truly mirror the customer’s buying experience and some say it should look more like a cloud, oval, or mind map. Whichever method you subscribe to, you must know that you need many more potential opportunities than actual “deals done”, since not everyone you think will become a buyer through you and your company will. Optimism aside, you need to be talking to more people and working with more companies than most sellers realize. How do you know how many deals you should be working on? Do the numbers. (Seriously, drop me a note and I’ll reply with an easy formula). Regularly look at how many potential opportunities there are, and whether they are very early, somewhat early, moving forward, qualified, they’ve selected you, or they’ve actually signed the agreement to work with you. If you are working some of these and not others, you’ll have problems with either too many early stage conversations or too many teetering toward obscurity once qualified but not moving forward. WORK MORE DEALS THAN YOU NEED. SPREAD YOUR EFFORTS OUT.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the "Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012" and one of "20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management". Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for tips and strategies in selling.