One thing the most proficient salespeople instinctively and intuitively do on a consistent basis is to focus on the right deals. They seem to have their own built-in or hard-wired qualification system for accurately and effectively assessing their sales opportunities.
Clearly, they don't chase every deal placed in front of them. They can quickly examine 10 deals, determining which ones they should focus on immediately and which ones can be placed on the back burner.
Every salesperson believes her deal is one she can win, provided she has access to the right resources. But how can a salesperson consistently evaluate all of the deals she is currently pursuing? Using a common language and a structured, repeatable process for analyzing each sales opportunity makes it easier for the salesperson—as well as the entire sales organization—to answer that question.
There are three compelling questions that should be asked in each sales campaign to qualify the opportunity. These questions, and the corresponding underlying criteria, should be examined at multiple times during a sales campaign. They should certainly be asked near the beginning of a campaign to determine whether a real sales opportunity exists, and should be pursued by the salesperson.
They should be asked again whether there's a significant change to the customer's business profile or to the competitive landscape during a sales campaign. It might also be appropriate to pose the questions yet again if there is a major change to the profile of the sales organization (i.e., the introduction of new solutions).
So without further adieu, the three compelling questions:
1. Should we pursue this opportunity? Is there a project or application associated with this opportunity? Is there a corresponding budget, and has said budget been approved?
Do we understand the customer's business drivers, business initiatives, and compelling reasons for the customer to implement a decision, or is the customer simply gathering information?
Developing an in-depth understanding of the customer's business, their key customers, and competitors are important components of this compelling question.
Since time and resources are limited, it's important to determine whether the opportunity being pursued is a genuine opportunity—worthwhile of our investment in both time and resources.
2. Can we effectively compete for this opportunity? Solution fit is but one component of whether you can be competitive in a sales campaign. Are there enough internal or external resources available to compete successfully for the business? Are there existing business relationships established with this customer?
Do we understand the formal and informal decision-making processes, and can we impact those processes? Does our solution offer specific business value that enables us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors?
Knowing how our company, as well as our solution, relates to the specific sales opportunity can be key to winning the deal. Being able to realistically contrast that information with that of our competitors is another important factor.
3. Can we reasonably expect to win this opportunity? This compelling question is the most important one…and also the one most overlooked in sales campaigns. Many opportunities are lost even if the salesperson has the best solution, the best delivery, and even the best terms and conditions.
This question deals with how well the salesperson understands the customer's organizational structure that reveals the inside support necessary to win the deal. Do the most powerful people in the customer's organization want us to win? Do we have credibility with the customer's key players?
Most importantly, is there political alignment with the key players in the customer organization who either affect or are affected by the buying decision? And what facts support these assessments of our customer relationships?
Contrasting these factors with those of our competitors can have a significant impact on our decision whether or not to continue pursuing a sales opportunity.
Examining each of these three compelling questions at multiple times during a sales campaign can be compared to an airline pilot examining his pre-flight checklist. No matter how many times a pilot has flown a certain plane, she meticulously examines that checklist prior to each and every flight. She clearly doesn't want to be surprised in the midst of a flight, and doesn't leave anything to chance.
It may only take a few minutes for a salesperson to examine those three compelling questions and some of their underlying criteria. Most assuredly, it's time well spent.
Stephen J. Bistritz, Ed.D., is a published author and lecturer in the field of sales, sales management, and selling to senior executives. He can be found online at www.sellxl.com.