By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®
Having auditable milestones helps to reduce the degree of subjectivity in grading pipelines. Whether using an Excel spreadsheet or SFA to forecast, the opinions of salespeople who are under pressure to show sufficient activity is—in many cases—the input.
The major reason CFO’s require sales forecasts is because they need to know top-line revenues in order to predict and achieve earnings. Their objective in forecasting is significantly different than that of a salesperson with a thin pipeline attempting to show their manager an adequate level of activity and progress to keep the manager off their back. As long as salespeople forecast, this will be an issue. To allow for this, the vast majority of CFO’s discount the forecast they receive from sales.
By enforcing objective, auditable tasks, your sales management can make assessments independent of their reps’ subjective input—and CFO’s can be more confident of pipeline accuracy. A good SFA solution goes a long way in providing the functionality to automate task management, ensuring your entire sales organization is held to the same series of tasks according to sale type.
Some examples of auditable tasks might be:
A site survey done by a support person
A call made by a professional services consultant
A formal cost vs. benefit
A meeting with a specific title or titles within a prospect
A credit review
A prospect visit to a reference account
A demonstration of your offering
A quote sent to the prospect
The creation of milestones tailored to different types of sales provides organizations a road map of sales cycles. Adding a higher degree of milestone auditability minimizes the importance of seller opinions as to how qualified or real a given opportunity is. A test would be to have multiple managers assess deliverables from a particular opportunity to see if everyone arrives at the same conclusion as to the stage in the sales process.
Cloning Your Best Salespeople
Most companies have a small percentage of salespeople that consistently achieve or exceed their assigned quota. These superior salespeople are naturally customer-focused and are comfortable calling at high levels because they understand executive buyers are most interested in hearing how the offering impacts business results.
The best salespeople intuitively understand the steps required and the titles they must call on to maximize the chances of being successful. These sellers require minimal coaching from their managers.
Overall top-line results could be dramatically improved if there were a way to share their best practices with the rest of the sales organization.
Having Your Average Reps Emulate Top Performers
In sharp contrast, the majority of salespeople struggle to achieve their quotas year in and year out. These traditional sellers have a tendency to lead with the features and benefits of their offerings and are most comfortable calling at lower levels, where buyers are most receptive to product-centric sales calls. Traditional sellers often rely upon internal “champions” to sell their offerings up to top management. These are sellers that require more hands-on coaching from their managers.
Intuitive sellers only need a compass while traditional sellers need a map and directions. With clearly defined sales stages, your managers can coach less intuitive salespeople through sales cycles. If stages can be defined to approximate those that customer-focused sellers execute, best practices can be shared. Road maps help to maximize the chances of succeeding for two major reasons:
They define the ultimate objective so there is an overall plan. This differs from sales cycles whose direction changes on a call-by-call basis.
Defined steps allow managers to coach traditional sellers on a step-by-step basis.
The other major benefit is that over a period of time, your managers can assess where blockages occur in each seller’s pipeline. This helps determine potential skill deficiencies such as business development, need development, getting access to power, controlling sales cycles, closing and negotiating. Based upon past difficulties, managers can make joint calls or strategize with a salesperson at the specific point or points in the sales cycle where they’ve had difficulty.
To go a step further in attempting to clone the behavior of top performers, map selling skills and techniques to achieving defined milestones and strive to help your salespeople more consistently position their offerings.