Being in sales requires being an optimist. Regular rejection and the pressure of hitting your numbers means you have to believe in what you are doing. Keeping your salespeople optimistic is a must and relying on their predictions of sales revenue requires some filtering.
I’m a big believer in monthly or weekly funnel reviews. A funnel review is a formal meeting between the salesperson and management that reviews, deal-by-deal, what is in the salesperson's funnel. As an executive, you may not want to sit in on every review every month, but it's important that you understand the quality of the data being put into your forecasting system. Bad forecasting data is just as bad as no forecasting data at all.
Your goal in the funnel review is not to beat up the salesperson, or to challenge what they say. Your role is to observe, ask questions and make your own judgment on the predictions made by the salesperson. Keep notes, make predictions using your own judgment, and keep optimism alive.
Here are my favorite questions to ask:
“Why is the customer going to buy a solution?” – Listen for a good business reason to make a purchase. Increased revenue decreased costs or some forcing action like regulations or competition. It is always easier to do nothing than to spend money on a new solution, there must be a business reason to go to the effort. If you hear “because they want it”, that may be true, but why do they want it? Try to get past the soft or emotional reasons and down to the hard truths. If you can’t get a good business reason, then this deal is probably not going to happen.
“Why are they going to buy from us?” – If you have established a good business reason for the prospect to purchase then you want to determine how we are positioned to win versus the competition. This question should bring out the strategy that the salesperson is using and identify the weaknesses of the competition in the deal. Look for solid strategies, not “because they like me better”. If you can’t get a good strategy out of the salesperson, then you or other managers may have to help guide the strategy to a win. The farther down the funnel a deal is, the harder it is to implement a new strategy. You will have given the competition time to sell their advantages and your weaknesses. Try to catch these kinds of deals early.
“Why are they going to buy in the time frame you predict?” – This one can be the toughest to predict and control, but you must ask the question. If there is a budget that has to be spent, or a project segment with a definite due date, then you’ve got a great driver for getting the deal closed on time. Usually this is not the case. While there may be a timetable laid out by the customer, remember that these are seldom followed. If the reason for the time frame is weak, you need to come up with a strategy or impending event to drive the deal to close on time. Sometimes this is a price reduction for a given time frame, sometimes it is offering additional products in a time frame. Find out what is important to the customer and see if you can work a deal that trades off what they want for the timing that you want.
Nurturing the Optimistic Salesperson
Back to the optimistic Salesperson. Everyone is trying to do the same thing, sell more stuff in the time frame predicted to meet or exceed revenue projections. You are there to help that salesperson succeed so my final question is always:
“What can we do to help you?” – Sit back and listen. You may hear product issues; strategy help or competitive insights. These are the things that your optimistic salesperson thinks are keeping them from reaching their (and your) goals.