mouse in maze hunting cheese

New year, new challenges?

As you start a new year, and reflect on the old; does your business feel the same?

When we last looked at this topic we asked “Did someone move your cheese?

The question was inspired by a book; Who Moved My Cheese, written by Dr. Spencer Johnson first published in 1999.
mouse in maze hunting cheese
In our earlier article we explored two areas where many businesses are suffering imposed change; the way they define and present their propositions and the way they take those propositions to market. While both issues are still very important as they continue to cause problems for many businesses this article explores some additional “cheese moving” forces that are impacting on business performance and productivity.

In the book, the mice handle the unexpected change in different ways and basically two of them stubbornly keep returning to the same place hoping the cheese will be there while the other two, aptly named sniff and scurry, immediately go looking elsewhere.

Problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set that created them

Albert Einsten

The message for any business; you must be in a permanent state of anticipation, ready and willing to adapt and ready to quickly embrace change as soon as the need is foreseen.

Let us assume your proposition and the way you take it market is working well but performance is still below expectations e.g. fewer new customers, less repeat or add-on business, longer sales cycles, or completely stalled decisions. Two key areas that are often found to contribute to these problems are your sales & selling processes and the way the sales pipeline is populated and managed. It can be difficult to spot these issues especially if your processes and pipeline management approach have been in place for a while and they used to serve you well. If change is slow, like the trees in a wood, it can be difficult to spot when you are inside the wood.

It is also the case that the change is often externally driven; someone has moved your customers’ cheese, which again makes it difficult to spot unless you employ a rigorous account management approach which focuses on the relationship as well as the work you are doing for the customer. This is a topic in itself that we will look at in a later newsletter.

Sales & Selling Processes

The question I am usually asked is; what is the difference between sales and selling in this context? Basically, the sales process is used to create and build a relationship with a prospect or customer while the supplier deploys the selling process when pursuing individual deals with a prospect or customer.

Here are a few pointers on what makes for good sales and selling processes.

Selling process:

Many would typically expect this to come after the sales process, but maybe if you first look at how you are going to close deals based on how your customers will buy, might that provide better information for designing your sales process?

“Begin with the end in mind”

Stephen Covey

  • The essence of a successful selling process is that it aligns with or better still mirrors the buying processes used by prospects and customers. There are two aspects to this; the generic buying processes used in your industry and by the sort of companies that become your customers and then the specific buying process used by each individual customer. As an example of generic buying process, consider how an owner managed business with 10 employees might go about it compared to the approach that a multi-million pound turnover global enterprise might approach it.
  • The selling process must be flexible enough to work with the whole gamut of customers and customer types you want to trade with.
  • The selling process is sometimes characterised as being a series of techniques and even tricks. If this is an indication of how sales people behave then it is easy to see why some get such a bad press. Executed properly a selling process is like any other professional discipline being built from a series of connected steps with rules that govern the progress across the steps leading to a predictable outcome.

Sales process:

  • Needs to be completely joined up enabling the evolution of a customer relationship to proceed smoothly. This is especially important where different departments are involved; web design & digital marketing, PR, marcomms, tele-marketing, sales enablement, etc. There was a time when these functions would have been under a single manager but this is often not the case which can lead to a silo mentality when what is required is absolute cooperation. The need for cooperation and joined up thinking becomes even more important when some of the functions are undertaken by external companies or contractors.
  • Needs to be fully integrated with other functions that are not directly associated with the sales process, but do have a contribution to make, such as; finance, logistics or technical support. All elements of the extended sales team need to have the same level of information and understanding of the strategic objectives so they can “sing from the same hymn sheet.”
  • Needs to be fully integrated with the selling process. One of the most common complaints that we hear is “they don’t understand what we need/do” and this is made by marketing people about sales people and also the other way around. If , for example, a decision is made to attend a trade show all too often marketing see this as their project which can mean they do not involve the sales staff until the 11th hour when it is realised they will need to follow up on people who visit the company stand at the show.

All elements of the sales and selling processes should seamlessly mesh into the business, with someone given responsibility for ensuring it all works as a single entity – the trouble spots are often at the interfaces so this would be the starting point for exploring performance weaknesses.

Pipeline – population and management

The sales pipeline should provide a reliable and accurate indicator of two key things; how many suitable prospects and opportunities you have moving through your sales funnel and how many of them you convert in a timely manner into profitable business.

This enables you to fine tune your targeting such that the pipeline can provide the essential source of reliable forecasting information enabling you to predict future revenues. If the prediction shows revenue below target for the next quarter you have time to look for additional business to fill the hole. Knowing with reasonable confidence what revenue will be each week, month and quarter facilitates more cost effective resource planning; cash, people, materials, external partners, etc.

Unreliable pipeline information is the most common complaint we have been hearing from our prospects over recent years and here are a few clues as to the cause of the problem and also a few suggestions to start fixing it:

  • The information in the pipeline should be in a consistent format, based on consistent objective criteria used by all sales people. Sounds simple but few do this well.
  • The information in the pipeline should be supported by; details of the product or service quoted for, the quote calculation, the competitive position, the decision date and criteria, and the win strategy. None of this should be down to gut feel; any assumptions need to be challenged.
  • We suggest a process of quantification is used as the basis of the formula used to calculate probability. What this marks is a move from the qualitative information used when developing a contact relationship to the factual information required to generate a reliable forecast.
  • All items in the pipeline should be the subject of regular scrutiny in a one-to-one review between the sales person and the sales manager. If there are doubts e.g. as to the decision date, the sales person should be tasked to confirm with the prospect; in the knowledge that the sales manager may reserve the right to also contact the prospect to discuss the opportunity. All too often decision dates are put as the last day of the month which typically means the sales person hasn’t done the work to really know. The decision date must be linked to a specific event, such as a board meeting, not to the sales person’s hopes.
  • A useful quick way to test an item in the pipeline is to ask three questions; Why, why now and why you. Good sales people ask these questions of themselves and their prospects but the sales manager should ask them as well.
    • Why; do they have the need or want, what is the problem they are trying to avoid or solve, and what benefits and value do they want to gain from making the purchase?
    • Why now; is there a sufficiently compelling reason for them to definitely make the purchase now? One of the most common reasons for stalled deals in sales pipelines is that the prospect does not have an imperative to make a decision; the pain isn’t bad enough so it feels less risky to do nothing.
    • Why you; can they fix it themselves, is there an incumbent supplier in place, who are your other competitors, and do you have something special or at least different which matters?

Everything in the pipeline should stand up to the rigour of an evaluation against the SMART formula (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-based); of these Agreed is the most important.


To ensure you can recognise when the cheese has been moved (for you or your customers), you need to periodically review the way you are monitoring your business, your market and your customers. You must ensure your sales & selling processes and pipeline management system provide you with pertinent leading indicators; it is much less painful to dodge the pothole than to repair the tyre after you’ve hit it.

The entire sales and selling operation should be systematically focused on business as usual and in particular delivering on the business plan for the current period. This enables identification and assessment of minor and major changes required to deliver on the current and future business plan.

Two final points to take into consideration:

  1. Keep it simple! You will all have seen horror stories of sales people who spend just 20% of their time actually selling and while I think 20% is very much the exception I frequently observe 60% to 70% which means three sales people are as productive as two would be with better designed systems and processes.
  2. I haven’t mentioned; CRM, ERP or any other computer based systems. While such tools can make an invaluable contribution they often exacerbate a bad situation. The introduction of such tools should be applied to existing processes that actually work in order to make them more effective and efficient. But, all too often, the introduction of a CRM does little more than computerise an inadequate set of generic processes.
    Similarly, using the introduction of a CRM as a means to impose sales and selling processes rarely works; shoehorning an artificial view rather than reflecting the way the sales operation actually functions. This leads to the oft observed situation where sales people see the CRM as an unhelpful administration burden on top of a very busy day or week doing the real job.

If you would like a high level view of how your sales and selling operation is performing try our free assessment.


Do you use compelling events to drive sales decisions?

Previously we have written a number of articles about an issue that is currently a problem in many business sectors and that is prospects who delay making decisions, or become un-contactable, once a proposal or quotation has been submitted. This can happen in any type of businesses but seems to be hitting those selling B2B the hardest.

The solutions that we have proposed in the past focus mainly on changing how the process of engagement is conducted from the very first point of contact with a new potential customer. Whilst this is the only effective way to bring about a long-term and permanent solution the use of ‘compelling events’ will in some cases help to move an opportunity that has become stuck.

The most common compelling events involve the use of time or money to get the prospect to “act now”. While both have a place they are often used in a very unsubtle way which risks doing more harm than good. So, in this article we have provided some tips as to how this powerful tool can be used to unstick some deals and if applied rigorously to new opportunities it will help to avoid the sales pipeline log-jams of the future. This will help you to gain some certainty about if, when and how a prospect will make a decision and in some cases whether they will make that decision in your favour.

Viewed as a buyer

For suppliers to understand how to use compelling events to smooth decision making it is necessary to first understand decision making through the eyes of the potential customer.

A compelling event is quite simple in concept; it is something that prompts the prospect to make a decision. At a high level decision making falls into two main areas; to satisfy a need or to satisfy a want, for example, you need to insure your car and your house but although people say “we need a holiday” this is in fact a want driven decision.  Need based decisions are driven by the head while wants are driven by the heart. However, in most cases, there will be a mix of head and heart even though one will dominate.

So, taking the insurance need above, if your insurance expires at midnight tonight you must make a decision during business hours today; time becomes the compelling event. If however money is the compelling event, early research will be required; to obtain several quotes and then drill down into the detail to make the final decision. When getting down to the fine detail of the similar quotes the heart may start to play a part in the decision making as you choose between known and less well known providers and their ‘specials’.

The holiday is mainly about satisfying a want so is driven by the heart but as you close in on the final choice, money will become a factor and the head will get involved.

While the examples above could apply to a business they are more typically personal buying examples.  A common business issue requiring a decision could be about a new website; do you need or want a new website?

  • If the website is delivering less and less good enquiries and it is a key route to market for you then you need a new website.
  • If the website is still functioning well but you feel it is looking a little dated then you may want to replace it.

Note the hard fact of falling levels of enquiries = need whereas “feeling” that the website looks dated = want; head and heart.

Viewed from the seller’s point of view

Simplistically this is a mirror image of the buyer’s view point and the concept really is quite simple. Find out what really matters to the buyer, satisfy it and it will increase your chances of getting an order when you want it to happen. The point to emphasise here is what matters to the buyer? Sellers make offers that they hope will be compelling but all too often the offer is driven by the seller’s need rather than the buyer’s. “If you buy by X date we will give you an extra 5% discount.”  The seller wants the order by X date but does it matter to the buyer?  Will 5% incentivise them to make a decision now when they do not really need what you are selling at this precise point in time?

The problem here is that the inducement is focused on the monetary aspects of the transaction and will have the effect of destroying any work that has been done to build interest in the value of what is being offered.  Even if the decision is delayed for another two or three months the supplier may still feel obliged to give the extra 5% but they have not gained what they needed; an order now!

Useful examples of compelling events

Time: most effective when you know what matters to the buyer and this should be established as early as possible in the engagement process.  This gives you the opportunity to discuss timing with them as a part of the complete negotiation and they might agree to a timescale to suit you. Calling them today looking for an order by the end of the month can only ever look desperate.

Could you resist the opportunity?

Could you resist the opportunity?

Time can be useful in a number of ways:

  • If you genuinely have limited stock “buy now while stocks last” can work.
  • If what you provide is seasonal then timing is important.  No point taking an order so late that the Christmas cards get to the shop on Christmas Eve!
  • If what you are selling will save them money, has a safety implication or could prevent an expensive problem occurring then the sooner they have it the better.
  • If you can provide a solution to accommodate an impending regulatory or legislative change, they have a limited window in which to decide.
  • If you know they are running out of stock they have a real need to make a decision.
  • If you know their current supplier contract is up for renewal, regardless of how happy with that supplier they claim to be, this is a great time for you to propose your solution.

Money: most commonly used through a discount offer but as with time, calling a few days before the end of the month and offering a discount for a decision is transparent and looks desperate.  If you do offer a discount it must be tied to something that you need or want and if it does not happen you must withdraw the discount offer – I know you won’t want to but you must!

Money can be very useful to create a compelling event:

  • If you are able to demonstrate through, for example, the RoI that will be gained by buying your proposed solution then the buyer will have some tangible evidence as to the value of what you will deliver.  If what you sell reduces energy costs then the sooner they have it the more they can save.
  • If you genuinely have a price increase coming along in the new year you should share this with the buyer as they may wish to buy ahead to save money.
  • Discount can be useful in some businesses but in others it will have little effect; but beware as there is always the risk that it can damage your brand and also any case you might have built up based on the value of what you do.

Problems: Understanding the problems your prospect has will provide the raw material for building your case around a compelling event.

  • If the company has breached a regulation such as Health and Safety and what you provide would have prevented this breach they will be interested.
  • If buying your solution now will help them defend their case with the H&S Executive they will be interested.
  • If the business has lost money due to a production failure that your solution would have prevented they will be interested.
  • If the company is suffering high levels of staff turnover, and you can help them reduce this, they will be interested.

It is important to note that the examples above are generic as this will be read by people from a cross-section of business and industries types.  This technique is at its most powerful when used by a supplier who really knows what makes their industry tick and what really keeps their customers awake at night.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the supplier must take the actions to create the feeling of ‘compulsion’ in the prospect.  A useful technique for this is the SPIN® approach to selling.  In effect SPIN® is a specific application of the structured questioning approach where the mnemonic stands for Situation, Problem, Implication and Need-payoff.  By asking the sequenced questions you will be exploring the situation the prospect is wrestling with, help them define the associated problem, help them to realise the implications of not resolving the problem and finally you demonstrate the value you will deliver by satisfying the need.

Within the above process; around the ‘P‘ and ‘I‘ stages, you will be able to demonstrate your industry knowledge and perhaps even introduce new ideas they had not considered that will make working with you even more compelling; you are an extra brain on their problem!

Thank you for reading this, but don’t let those queries slip away unanswered, or for a deeper discussion on researching your prospect to create compelling events, feel free to get in touch.

(Photo:   Kakakrokodil, Flickr)

Article produced for Talk Business News November edition

Sales Performance Improvement

When something is not right, the pain points we recognise first and seek to address are often only symptoms.

  • Are the sales team are struggling to meet their targets?
  • In the search for new customers are marketing initiatives generating the response you need?
  • Do you find sales training effects are short-lived or negligible?
  • Do the new sales people you recruited live up to their promise?
  • Are you losing more deals to your competitors?

Individual symptoms, addressed in isolation can give short term relief but rarely provide a lasting result.

Performative recognises that while a remedy for the immediate pain is a priority, a holistic approach, diagnosing the root causes of under-performance would enable them to be addressed in the most appropriate sequence to assure sustainable improvement.

So how will it feel once we have completed a programme for you …

  • Customers will be happy and communicative at multiple levels, giving you advance warning of upcoming opportunities.
  • Your senior management will be able to identify and focus on strategic activities.
  • Sales management will have the tools to be in control, avoiding unpleasant surprises.
  • The sales team will be motivated and operating in harmony with the business goals.

arising from …

  • Your proposition, target markets, routes to market and collateral will be consistent and your outbound sales and marketing activities will be sharply focused.
  • You will have a defined end-to-end process from the initial identification of targets through the evolutionary cycle from suspect to prospect and eventually to customer, resulting in more closed deals.
  • Contacts and opportunities with least potential will be weeded out early; sales activity will be focused on contacts with the greatest potential.
  • Your staff will be fully familiar with the process and supporting tools, and understand the methodology sufficiently to immediately adapt to varying scenarios and customer needs.
  • Key customer account and new business activities will be balanced to achieve your business goals.
  • Your pipeline will be a known quantity, providing objective measures of business potential.
  • The pipeline will provide meaningful KPIs giving advance warnings of problems.

“Performative have unquestionably helped us to become better focused and more structured in all aspects of our selling activities. This has enabled us to accelerate the growth of the company with certainty which is a great foundation for planning and investing in our future.  Throughout the period of involvement with Performative we have found them very supportive and responsive and they have provided advice on a diverse range of topics. They are a great partner to have. “

If this is how you’d like your organisation to be, contact us now!

Customer engagement for win-win deals

Customer Engagement

If your customers are slow to make decisions and your pipeline forecast is forever moving, we can help you.

If your sales force are submitting bids with a low uptake so you feel you are just providing free consultancy, we can help you.

Markets are changing and customers have more opportunities for research before they buy, consequently the sales force has different challenges in order to engage with customers. Gaining insight into your Customer’s world and thereby understanding how you can deliver greater value than your competitors can be key to how you approach your target market.

We have helped companies in various sectors re-focus their propositions and markets for greater customer engagement, leading to more new and extension business. This also assisted the sales management to obtain more reliable forecasts.

“Working with Performative greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.” MD, Mobile Technology company.

Feel free to call us for a confidential discussion.

New Year: New Broom?

Be SMART with your resolutions.

Be SMART with your resolutions.

Although not my habit I know a lot of people like to make New Year resolutions so I thought I would start this newsletter around this theme.

How was 2012 for you?  I have asked a lot of people this question in recent weeks and almost all of them said something like; tough, tight, difficult, delayed, etc.  I found it interesting to hear business people, almost universally, admitting that things have been tough where their normal habit would be to put a positive shine on whatever had really happened.  So, it seems that there is now a general acceptance that the prevailing economic climate is the new normal – none of us like it but we have to accept it.

On asking additional questions I found a number of common themes and three particularly interested me:

  • A common complaint was that after what appeared to be a positive first meeting, where the prospect expressed apparent interest in the solution being discussed, nothing then happened. No response to follow up calls and no follow-on meeting. The supplier may have sent a proposal or quotation but still could not get a response.
  • Many people also reported having a sales pipeline full of great prospects but none were making decisions.
  • The buying process used by most prospects has become convoluted and drawn out.

These points interested me partly because they are real show-stoppers for anyone in B2B selling and hence are really important to solve which is why I have chosen as the main topics for this newsletter; handling objections and influencing prospects’ decision making.

A thought for you to kick-start your year – “If you keep doing what you have always done you will keep getting what you have always got”.  We have referred to this well-known quote on a number of occasions and we repeat it here as it could be the reason people are not making decisions, not getting back to you or the buying process they are using seems convoluted to you.

One quick example; if you have sent a proposal because that is what you have always done when the prospect reaches “Stage-X” in your selling process you need to ask yourself whether this is still (if it ever was) the right thing to do.  Perhaps prospects now expect something different from suppliers and therefore your proposal may fit your selling cycle but it does not fit their buying cycle.  You need to understand what the prospect expects; content, timing and sequence.

So for those whose resolution is to go on the offensive and drag yourself out of the gloom, read on

Choosing metrics to manage performance

If you cannot measure you cannot manage but if you measure the wrong things you will manage the wrong things.

In a previous newsletter we wrote an article “Pipeline or a pipedream – they may be in your pipeline, but are you in theirs?”  Distilling this to our key message is; when measuring progress in selling situations, what matters is where you are in the prospect’s buying cycle not where you are in your selling cycle.  Sorry to be blunt but; it does not matter where you think you are, only the prospect’s view matters in this regard – they actually KNOW where they are which is of course also where you need to be!  A key role therefore for sales people is influencing the prospect’s buying process but this is a topic for another day.

Meaningful, not just available

Meaningful, not just available

If you accept the premise that position within the prospect’s buying cycle is what matters then you must build your performance measurement system around it.  You must measure the progress being made by your company and your proposal as the prospect moves towards the point of decision.  Once you are using metrics that tell you where you are in the prospect’s buying cycle you have the means to proactively change the outcome and manage your performance.

I have seen many useless metrics in my time but by applying the following three simple rules you will avoid the trap of meaningless metrics:

  • They must measure progress (forward movement) not just activity
  • Rather than just measuring how busy people are they must measure productivity
  • If you consider a sales process has; inputs, outputs and outcomes, your metrics should mainly focus on measuring the outcomes if you really want to know where you are positioned.

Consider some examples of common metrics:

  • The number of times a tele-sales person picks up the phone.  Were they able to gather useful business information, or were they chatting with a mate (because they think you want to see them on the phone)?  This is just measuring activity and is only an input to the process – it tells us little of any value.  Consider instead measuring how many meetings resulted from the calling that then led to a follow up action – you are now measuring; productivity, progress and position.
  • The number of meetings attended.  Again, this is still just measuring activity so for it to become useful you need to measure the outcomes from the meetings rather than how many there were; e.g. how many led to a follow up action.  Also ask yourself; how much time and expense did the trip consume and did the prospect gain a positive impression of us and our capabilities? If the meeting leaves the prospect underwhelmed, it has probably done more harm than good.
  • The number of proposals sent out.  This is very useful if the prospects wanted the proposals but if they were triggered by an arbitrary stage in your selling cycle it is usually a waste of time and will probably do more harm than good.  You need to ask yourself “Does the proposal address a time-bound need that the prospect has and does it present a value-based solution which would trigger them to act?”

You will observe an emerging trend here that for metrics to be of value they must shine a light on where you are going rather than just providing a dialogue on where you have been.  Consider the simple test that good metrics will inform you about your; productivity, progress and position.

Feel free to contact us for a more detailed discussion.

Characteristics of useful metrics

They must:

  • Be qualitative not just quantitative e.g. the number of calls made should be replaced by the number of qualified appointments (that meet pre-determined criteria for an appointment) created from the calling activity.
  • Inform you as to the likely outcome from the current event
  • Provide a contiguous journey through the prospect’s buying cycle
  • Deliver accurate information about timings such as; when the decision will be made
  • Provide you with a reliable forecast of future business
  • Provide information on useful conversion ratios e.g. meetings leading to a next action, or conversations : appointments : proposals : orders (CAPO)
  • Be based on a company designated system rather than the whim of an individual sales person
  • Inform you about your; productivity, progress and position
  • Give you early indication when things are not going to plan.

If your current approach to metrics isn’t helping you to manage performance why not try some of these ideas for a fresh approach.  Happy to talk on the phone if you have anything specific to discuss.

Looking past the symptoms to uncover the root causes

One symptom, but many potential causes

One symptom, but many potential causes

What you see on the surface is often nothing more than a symptom of an underlying problem or possibly a problem that has its origins in an earlier stage of the process.  Reacting to symptoms only ever delivers a short-term fix.

Revisiting the “Pipeline or pipedream” theme once again we look at the oft expressed issue “Our problem is that we have loads of bids in the pipeline but no one is making a decision”. This is not the real problem; this is a consequence of the problem. The problem lies beneath the surface and will likely consist of any number of factors such as :

  • You have sent a proposal for something you want to sell but the prospect does not want to buy or they do not realise they have the problem your proposition will solve.
  • You have identified a want in the prospect but in their mind it is not backed up by a need.
  • The prospect does not have the authority to buy.
  • The prospect does not have the budget to buy.
  • The prospect does not think what you are offering delivers enough value to justify the price which also means the prospect will perceive too much risk in going with you.
  • The prospect is very happy with the current supplier whom they trust and like.
  • There is a competitor unknown to you who has submitted a better proposal.

So, have you sent a proposal without understanding the key facts about the prospect and their world?  Are they in a position to make a decision?  If only this meant the decision will take a long time to be made it might be a manageable situation.  Unfortunately sending a proposal to the wrong person, for the wrong thing, at the wrong point in their buying cycle and almost certainly at the wrong price damages your chances for ever.

This type of damage is difficult to repair not least because the prospect probably won’t tell you it has happened and it typically exposes things that the prospect does not want to admit; they overstated their authority, they used you as a stalking horse to put pressure on the incumbent supplier or, in plain language, they did not tell you the whole truth.

In summary the “problem” that you have lots of bids stuck in the pipeline is a symptom of the real problem which is; you sometimes send proposals to satisfy a need in your process rather than in response to a prospect who has a problem they want to solve and who is getting ready to buy.

So if you problems are really only symptoms, any fixes will only have a short lived effect. You need to drill down deeper to find the root cause and then look for a solution at this level.

It can also be the case that the root cause of the problem will be found at an earlier stage in your process.  Consider the scenario where a supplier does a lot of work with companies in a particular industry sector.  This often leads the supplier to position themselves as “specialists” to that business sector; but people who clean offices in the City of London work in a lot of banks but it does not mean they know anything about banking.

If a company thinks it has an area of specialisation and focuses its marketing effort to generate leads in that sector, this will filter through as meetings for sales people with companies in that sector.  However, when the sales person meets the prospect, it will be quickly established that the supplier is not an industry expert and the mismatch in expectations will lead to a loss of credibility which in turn means the prospect will see the supplier as “ordinary”.  The supplier may still offer to provide a proposal, the prospect may be too polite to say no to the proposal but is unlikely to be saying yes to what is proposed.  Result – a lot of things stuck in the sales pipeline.

To summarise; when considering problems that have a negative impact on your selling performance ensure you are looking at the real problems rather than their easier to see consequences.  In looking for the real problems drill down but also look back.  Each time you think you have found the problem, test it – test it to see if there is something else further back or further down before expending effort fixing what might only be a symptom.

Pipeline or a pipedream – they may be in your pipeline, but are you in theirs?

I have lost count of how many times I have heard; “we have got lots of great opportunities in the pipeline but no one is making a decision”. This leads to the obvious question; they may be in your pipeline but are you in theirs?  In other words, you think they should be excited by your proposal and what it offers them but were they in a position to make a decision when you decided to send your proposal?

Read our case study on how a globally acquisitive business brought consistency and accuracy to their sales pipeline

Read our case study on how a globally acquisitive business brought consistency and accuracy to their sales pipeline

Too often proposals and quotations are presented because the supplier feels that their selling process has arrived at that stage.  However, the proposal or quotation should only be presented to the prospect when they are the right point in their buying process not when you are at a particular point in your selling process.

Your sales process should be built around qualification and quantification profiling that tells you what buying state the prospect and the opportunity are in at any point in time.  Knowing where the prospect is in their buying cycle enables you to accurately plan and execute your next action and you will be pushing against an opening door.  This can then provide a reliable means to calculate probabilities which in turn provide a dependable source of forecasting information (timing, value and likelihood).

Some tips to implement this approach to pipelines;

  • Your actions must be based on the status which is a direct reflection of where the prospect is in their buying cycle.
  • The qualification and quantification rules must be consistent across all sales people, territories and regions.  Most sales people will have their own approach to probabilities, e.g. “I feel this one will drop”, but you need a system that provides dependable leading indicators as to future potential business.
  • Apparently contradicting the previous point the evaluation approach should allow both objective and subjective inputs but the objective appraisal should dominate.  If the sales person feels strongly that something will happen then they should be challenged to justify their position by providing tangible evidence.
  • Some may argue that sales people are individuals and depend on their gut feelings and experience.  We have already discussed experience.  There is nothing in a systematic approach to selling that prevents the sales person being an individual in fact the process means they do not have to spend a lot of time on the day-to-day leaving them free to be creative and inventive with their solutions.

If you have a rigorous process you have a pipeline. If you do not it may well be only a pipedream.

Global Mailing

The Outcome:

Performative’s work assisted Global Mailing to define and articulate its market proposition and refine its selling operation to exploit its unique position.

“It has helped us to refocus on our current products and also to look at new markets and we are working as a board far more efficiently.”  Director, Global Mailing

The Challenge

“Global Mailing is a company with an approachable human face that passionately believes in the creation of close working partnerships between customers and suppliers. By maintaining professional and straightforward communication, we continually address customers’ specific requirements, and are able to respond quickly and effectively should any unexpected demands present themselves.”

Global Mailing has a well-established international mailing business, but was promoting low price as its key differentiator.  The company wanted to grow and asked Performative to assist in analysing and addressing the issues that were preventing this from happening.

The Performative Solution

A series of structured steps enabled Performative to help Global Mailing achieve its objectives:

  • A Sales Maturity Assessment (SMA) provided an initial view of sales capability.
  • A Win-Loss review exercise proved a valuable method to uncover Global Mailing’s true differentiation as viewed through the eyes of its customers.
  • A Market Focus Review (MFR) built on the findings of the Win-Loss review which was used to develop the market proposition.
  • Work with the Executive team included business planning around the new proposition and creating a robust forecasting mechanism to enable annual revenue targets to be set.  The work with the Executive team also served to improve the effectiveness of the board and to support the creation of a three year strategy and business plan.
  • The new business plan was mapped into a sales action plan that included:
    • Creation of clearly defined and equally valued territories with an associated re-structuring of the sales team to reduce tension over prospect allocation.
    • Focus on key customer types to build knowledge of customer business to improve service and loyalty.
    • Development and implementation of a Sales Handbook covering all relevant and important sales steps and processes, in particular:
      • Pipeline creation and management.
      • Introduction of the CAPO ratio – Calls : Appointments : Proposals : Orders –  to refine forecasting accuracy and aid sales activity planning.
    • Assistance with sales recruitment to supplement the team.