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It happens all too often in sales teams. The manager outlines on a whiteboard the revenue that’s expected to come in for the month and each team member gives a quick overview of what activities he or she has planned.
And that’s as far as it goes. The weeks pass. Deals aren’t closing and the manager has no insight into why. Some members of the team are open about what they’re doing, and the challenges they’re facing. Others are less so.
This is a team that’s stumbling along without a clear idea of where it’s going; how it’s going to get there; or what to do about the potholes along the way.
Why? Because it has no clear and measurable process to pull leads through its opportunity pipeline. It can’t effectively manage its activities, ensure accountability and cut through to the root causes of problems.
To avoid this situation, you need processes that provide clear insight into the status of opportunities in the pipeline and next steps for each one. Teams with formal processes that are monitored and measured are far more likely to meet their sales goals.
Step 1—Define clear steps in the sales process
An effective process begins by establishing and documenting a series of concrete, measurable steps.
The steps will vary depending on your organization’s industry and product focus, but here are three common terms business‑to‑business companies might use.
Initial contact — In this phase, your reps present the company’s offerings and the prospect acknowledges that you are a viable vendor with whom there is a good fit.
Preliminary proposal — A draft proposal is created and presented to the prospect.
Final Proposal — A final document is approved and signed by both parties, accepting all terms and conditions.
Step 2—Score leads as they move through the pipeline
Next, apply a score to each step in your process, indicating the chances of closing a sale. For example at the proposal stage, you might score the lead as follows.
Will win — Customer has given verbal agreement and a purchase order is in progress.
Could win — Still in negotiation; we are clearly favored.
Doubtful win — The lead is interested in a competitor’s offering or is lukewarm for some other reason. More time will be required.
Step 3—Communicate continuously with your team
Communication begins with speaking the same language. Many companies introduce a sales methodology but fail to establish common vocabulary when tracking and ranking opportunities.
When we say a common vocabulary, we mean there can be no room for exceptions, subjectivity or theories about how every situation is different. Otherwise, you can’t generate a credible forecast across people and products.
Use common terms both in written communications and during regular meetings to monitor progress and reinforce accountability and transparency. Speaking the same language is the only way to nip problems in the bud, make corrections mid‑course and determine if goals will be attained.
Are my reps making enough calls? Are they following up with warm leads quickly enough? Are our proposals failing due to price or some other competitive factor?
It’s too late to wait until the end of the month or the quarter when confronted with missed sales targets to find answers to these questions.
Many teams choose to publicly track progress on a whiteboard or in a weekly email. Sales people tend to be extroverted and competitive. It’s amazing how motivating it can be to hold them accountable. But do this in a positive way that drives team spirit. Always praise in public, criticize in private.
It should be apparent that developing and instituting a structured approach for guiding leads through your sales pipeline has nothing to do with selecting, using or optimizing a CRM platform to support your sales team. CRM applications can play an important role, but a team must first adopt an effective methodology and agree to common terms.
By defining what needs to be done at each step, your team will be able to better identify and qualify leads; find more opportunities for repeat business; negotiate and close more sales; and establish an after-sale process to ensure customer satisfaction.