Sales is simple. So are most sales problems.
I am often brought into companies that are not achieving the desired level of new business sales success. Members of the sales team are not acquiring enough new accounts or new pieces of business from existing customers. While everyone is happy to offer a bevy of complex theories as to why that is the case, I usually just start by asking my typical handful of questions:
Tell me about the strategic thinking that went into selecting target accounts. Can I please hear your “sales story?” What type of proactive telephone calls are we making to prospects? How many? How is that working? How are initial face-to-face sales calls structured? What types of probing questions are we asking? How strong are our case studies (client success stories), and how well versed is the sales team at using these case studies in a conversational manner on sales calls?
Once we get a handle on some of the basics, I begin observing the sales team and asking questions about the pipeline and the level of new business development activity. And you know, almost every time, I find something astonishing:
Little Effort = Little Results.
A whole lot of salespeople struggling to develop new business spend very little time proactively pursuing new business. Brilliant observation? Maybe not brilliant, but painfully true. So aside from not having a solid list of target accounts, a compelling, differentiating sales story, or good sales technique on the phone and in person, most struggling reps also don’t spend anywhere near enough time proactively prospecting!
Here’s reality: No one defaults to new business development mode. Unless you are a dedicated new business hunter with zero account management responsibility, and sometimes even in those cases, the likelihood is that you are not investing enough time working the front-end of your pipeline – trying to put new opportunities into the top of your sales funnel. Too many salespeople live as prisoners of hope to the precious few deals in their pipeline. Instead of continuing to work the process, they hope and hope those deals will close. Hope is neither a good strategy nor a recipe for new business sales success.
One of the most effective ways to avoid the prisoner of hope trap and create a balanced pipeline is to intentionally segment time across accounts and opportunities in various stages of the sales cycle. That sounds a lot fancier that it really is. For simplicity’s sake, I ask reps to divide their accounts/opportunities into three categories:
- HOT – these are deals that have been proposed and they’re imminent or darn close to imminent.
- ACTIVE – these opportunities are in progress or in play; you’ve been working them, they are real and progressing; the customer has needs for which we likely have a solution; your goal is to move them up to the HOT category
- TARGETED – these are targeted accounts (could be prospects or existing customers) where you are committed to proactively pursue new opportunities; you haven’t yet gotten past an initial conversation; your goal is to identify an issue or need, create a dialogue, begin qualifying the opportunity and then move it to the ACTIVE stage
1/3, 1/3, 1/3
My stupidly simple formula: Divide your time and attention evenly across accounts/opportunities in all three categories. Only allow yourself to commit a third of your time to HOT deals. Intentionally carve out an additional third of your time to work those opportunities that are ACTIVE, but not yet hot. And, most importantly, force yourself to spend a full third of your time and focus on your TARGETED accounts.
In almost every case I see, the salesperson is spending way too much time and energy on the hot end of the pipeline at the expense of working targeted accounts to uncover new opportunities. A balanced effort produces a balanced pipeline. You will be amazed at the good things that will happen when you commit to investing a full third of your calendar, heart and mind into pure new business development efforts.