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    Sales opportunity management: 6 disciplines you must have

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    If you are involved with complex business-to-business sales, the new reality is that you are facing buyers who are more educated than ever and who involve more stakeholders in their decisions. Simply put, selling has become more challenging.

    With this new reality in mind, the way you sell is becoming increasingly important. The days of simply informing about your solutions no longer adds value. You need more skin in the game before buyers will give you their trust.

    The way you manage sales opportunities has always been important and is growing more so in a time when how you sell is becoming one of your most enduring differentiators.


    1. Qualify – when to create an opportunity?

    Considering the resources you spend on winning an opportunity, you need to decide what criteria must be met before you initiate a sales opportunity. Often, sales opportunities are created prematurely, causing sales people to spread themselves too thin and spend too much time on low priority opportunities. They may even be spending time with opportunities that can never be won, because there’s simply no opportunity there in the first place – just a person who wants some free education. Be diligent when you qualify. Ask the tough questions. You might be better off focusing your sales resources on larger deals and overinvest time with them to increase your likelihood of winning a few of those instead of many smaller ones.

    2. Understand the buyer

    "Sales opportunities are often created pre-maturely, causing sales people to spread themselves thin and fail to spend enough focus on opportunities that should be prioritized."
    George Brontén

    In order to take a sales opportunity from start to finish, your sales people need to identify the buyers; their decision teams; their buying styles and processes; motivations to change; business objectives; time schedules; and competitive landscapes. To be able to get all this information, you’ll first need to build rapport and establish trust. Your sales team must coordinate discussions with everyone involved, including an increasing number of people on both sides of the table. It takes a lot of effort – and this is not even a complete list.

    3. Uncover the perceived risk for the buyer

    One thing that sales people often underestimate is the buyer’s perceived risk in buying your solution. While it may be “just another sale” for the sales person, it might be the first time the customer has invested in a solution like yours, or they may have made similar investments in the past that failed to deliver the promised results. The level of perceived risk will increase the complexity of the sale. Failing to confront these risks will become costly.

    4. Visualize your opportunity insight

    As the sales manager, you need to be able to quickly determine the state of each opportunity. Expecting sales people to keep all of these parameters in their heads is not a good idea; nor is using Excel or traditional CRM systems where an opportunity is just a list of activities with an estimated closing date and a value. In traditional CRM systems, you’re looking through a straw, when what you really need is a wide-angle view. With an opportunity-specific system like you can capture, visualize and create rule sets to make sure that you’re on track and have the right deal strategy in place.

    5. Measure deal progress, not just activity levels

    Once you have a structured system in place, you will be on top of each opportunity and be able to create the best individual deal strategy and coach accordingly. Good opportunity management includes having a clearly outlined process with the right milestones and progress indicators to ensure that each deal is moving in the right direction.

    6. Disqualify– when to stop spending resources?

    With this structured opportunity process in place, you can create rules that proactively alert you when important milestones are missed, or when sales people forget to identify the right people, for example. I previously wrote about 8 reasons to walk away from deals, and here’s a quick summary:

    • Poor customer fit
    • You are being used as quotation fodder
    • Not getting access to the right people
    • Underestimating the power of the status quo
    • Not being informed about their buying process
    • Deadlines and milestones are constantly slipping
    • No trigger event or motivation to change
    • Competition has created the rules of the game

    Review opportunities and collaborate

    Each sales person needs a coach that he or she can bounce around deal strategy with. In larger deals, you’ll have a team of people involved and a lot of time and resources will be spent. Making sure that everyone involved understands the landscape in each opportunity is paramount and can be what makes or breaks a deal. I’ve come across multibillion dollar deals that have been lost because of poor collaboration and coordination of communications between internal and external stakeholders.

    Pipeline and opportunity hygiene takes discipline

    If your sales people have created a sales opportunity prematurely, or they’re getting stuck in one or more of the above problems, sales managers need to be disciplined enough to coach them to send such opportunities back to nurturing. As humans, we have a tendency to cling to things we have invested time and money in, even when it is not rational. Psychologists call this the “sunk cost bias.” Identifying when sales people have rose colored glasses, and removing unqualified opportunities, is a very important task that requires discipline. The upside is that you will free up time to spend on well qualified sales opportunities instead.

    George Brontén
    Published May 27, 2015
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn