Six sticky sales situations (and what to do about them)
There are a handful of common sales challenges that, ironically, despite the fact that nearly every sales organization has them, few actively work to find or implement a solution. Why? Some of these challenges are so universal, so consistently held, so timeless even, that there’s an all-to-common assumption that these “sticky situations” can’t ever be completely solved, and simply need to be worked around.
So let’s challenge that assumption. Below are six particularly sticky sales situations, that vex the most sophisticated and successful sales organization worldwide (let alone the rest of us). In each, we’ll attempt to outline solutions or alternatives to make progress where process in the past has eluded most of us.
1. You don’t want to micromanage your sales team, but also wonder if what they’re doing is really working
The problem here is simple – even if you’re running an inside sales team, you don’t necessarily want to run their entire day. But as you walk the floor (or think about your reps on their own in the field), you see and hear activities that either represent potentially missed opportunities, or (potentially worse) wasted time on activities that aren’t moving prospects toward a close.
The solution to this isn’t easy, but you likely have the tools and data to find it already. Work with your operations team (or borrow a financial analyst from your CFO) and look at every metric and variable you have collected from past sales. Force yourself to find the correlations, the consistent relationships between activity and results. I bet you’ll find statistical reasoning behind why some activities should be more closely watched and required, and why other activities (though historically valued) aren’t doing anything to move your qualified opportunities along.
2. Your reps share positive forecasts, but you’re not sure you can believe them
A board member, after reviewing a sales pipeline that had more holes than good Swiss cheese, looked up and simply said, “well, somebody’s lying to somebody!” Your sales reps want to look good, and also want those deals to close. Even with strict qualification criteria in place, most reps (and even their managers and leaders) want to believe their opportunities are going to help make them money. This can lead to incorrectly interpreting customer behavior to assume it means progress, when in fact it does not.
Chatty prospects are not qualified prospects. At least not just because they’ll take your call. So what are you listening to? Are you paying attention to the prospect’s words, tone, body language and other subtle signals that they may, or may not, be ready to move forward? Have you asked the hard questions about timing, budget and resources that can tell you exactly whether you’ve got an immediate opportunity or something that needs more marination? Pull attributes from your correlation analysis highlighted in the first step above, and narrow your qualification criteria even further to help reps qualify better, but also give yourself (and those pesky board members) more confidence in your sales forecasts.
3. Nobody updates the CRM system regularly
I have yet to meet a sales organization where this is not a problem. Yet the answer is relatively simple. Let me explain. Most CRM systems are set up to help managers and executives, not the reps. They require input on too many things, descriptions and updates that nobody really reads, and the tracking of activities that aren’t making a real difference. So while managers feel they want or need this information to stay informed, the reps know it doesn’t help them sell and resist doing anything.
So what if you turned this paradigm on its head? Design a CRM strategy and implementation plan that’s entirely focused on helping the reps sell. If you do this right – require exactly the right input and information, so that reps are more focused on opportunities that are ready for their attention, and spending their limited time more efficiently to maximize their earning potential – you’ll significantly increase CRM usage and adoption. Plus, if you’re tracking the right things anyway, your forecasts and visibility into what’s working and what matters improves significantly as well.
3. Reps waste time on activities that lead to nowhere
Inside sales teams love to track dials and talk time. And there’s a lot of literature out there outlining why these and similar metrics are a waste of everyone’s time. Study after study has shown that a small percentage of sale activities are what leads to true performance, deal velocity and pipeline conversion. So why do we continue to resort back to the basic activity metrics that everyone – reps, managers and executives alike – don’t believe anyway?
Because, without an alternative, it’s often all we feel we have. How to improve this? Find a better activity metric that actually means something. Take the 10-minute call, for example. Instead of tracking volume of calls and hours on the phone for inside reps or appointment-setters, track how many 10-minute-or-longer phone calls they have. If you keep a prospect on the phone for 10 minutes, it means they’re engaged and working with you. Many of those prospects may still fall out of your long-term pipeline, but at least you’re watching, tracking and prioritizing a metric that means something.
4. Sales managers require and capture meaningless data, and ignore critical data
In addition to requiring information from your reps and in your CRM systems that has little to no correlation to deal velocity or qualified prospects, too many sales organizations also fail to recognize or track the information at their fingertips that actually and more directly implies customer intent and interest.
For example, did the prospect articulate an urgency to change? How many CRM systems capture a fact like that? What if you captured it on a scale of 1-4, so that the 3’s and 4’s you know were worth prioritizing, and the 1’s and 2’s needed further convincing (and therefore probably aren’t going to close this month?) Find the right buying signals for your market, and make sure your organization is both tracking them and prioritizing activity based on them moving forward.
5. Sales meetings are painful and take too long
You’ve been in these sales meetings. Someone projects the sales pipeline on the wall, and you spend the next 30 minutes (or longer, much longer) talking about each deal. Is there a rhyme or reason behind what questions are being asked? Are you consistently looking for and commenting on the true buying signals for your market, and your target prospects?
Pipeline review meetings could be much shorter, and much more productive for everyone, if you were focused on the right metrics, the right customer behaviors, that actually and consistently lead to better mutual outcomes on both sides. Forget the activities. Stop the wishful thinking. And focus on the right questions and data that will move your deals forward more successfully in far less time.
What about you? What are your sticky sales situations, and how can you use some of the same focus areas above to improve your precision and execution?