Ideas for improving the efficiency of your sales process

Growing up, our family home featured that classic poster with a dove and the quote “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If not, it was never meant to be.”

Classic 1970s hippie sentiment, but also with much relevance to the modern B2B salesperson.

It’s an issue that plagues the CRM pipelines of B2B sales teams, deals that languish for weeks or even months, barely progressing. In complex B2B environments like tech or manufacturing, long sales cycles are common, but deals should still make a steady progression through your sales pipeline.

Deals that fail to progress erode confidence in sales visibility and forecasts, and sap sales resources, but are often loved by their owner, who can’t bear to close the opportunity as lost. As the saying goes, it’s time to set them free, because if they are truly yours, they will come back.

Why do deals get stuck?

From the inside it’s because salespeople are natural optimists. We have to keep driving forward and chasing opportunities. Writing a deal off is anathema to this mindset.

There is also the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy, where sales have invested a lot of time over an extended period on an opportunity. They can’t bear to write off this effort, and hope for something magical to happen and progress it.

From the outside, it’s because the fundamental elements of a deal that will close haven’t been established. The prospect need hasn’t been matched to your solution adequately, the delegated authority approving the deal isn’t sufficiently onboard, there is not enough urgency to get it done, a budget hasn’t been identified.

The larger and more complex your sales deals, the more complex these elements are, but having them ticked off is key to deals progressing. Sales deals are bit like a bicycle; they need forward momentum or they will fall over.

You know those deals where momentum is wobbling. The ones where the prospect is ‘ghosting’ you, or where meetings are constantly getting re-scheduled, the prospect is ‘not ready’ or doing further evaluation, or waiting for some more budget.

How do you address this, and free those that you love?

Reduce the emotion, increase the rationalism. A B2B sales playbook is a good place to start, i.e. agreed criteria for what makes a good fit opportunity for your business and the key ‘plays’ that will shepherd it through to a conclusion.

These plays are the stages a deal with typically move through, e.g. discovery / scoping / proposal, and what actions are associated with each stage e.g. establishing budget, demo presentation, identifying decision-maker, scoping document, proposal and quote.

Playbooks are about building the intellectual property (IP) about how your organisation sells. Tech companies especially can be world class at documenting product IP, but less formal and structured around the sales process, which is equally crucial to commercial success.

Especially in complex B2B tech sales, the process will be sophisticated. Too many organisations leave this IP residing in the heads of talented, ‘unicorn’, salespeople. Growth comes from agreeing and documenting best sales practice so it can be shared and executed by a sales team.

Designing and managing your sales pipeline is a crucial element of improving sales performance. Key is having a ‘bridge’ between each stage, which is a concrete action your prospect will commit to. For example, to move from a discovery phase to a scoping phase, a demo has been conducted with key decision-makers.

Focussing on bridges helps drive momentum through your deal stages. It moves your thinking from the internal, i.e. I want this deal to close to meet my monthly target, to focussing on what makes sense for the prospect’s timetable. And if a prospect won’t commit to the next action, it’s time to start thinking about opening the door of the birdcage.

Sales progression is also about good sales meeting cadences, where you review and agree pipeline actions regularly. Focussing on barriers to progressing deals, and honest discussions about whether a deal is stuck need to be conducted regularly. This also has the benefit of improving the sales pipeline visibility and confidence in your sales forecasts.

Will cutting a deal from your pipeline mean they are lost forever? It shouldn’t be so, as your CRM can be set up to manage prospects outside the active sales pipeline. A closed lost deal should go back into your pool of prospects at some point, to be nurtured by marketing for further sales opportunities. You may have set them free, but it doesn’t mean they disappear for ever.

Setting deals free is about improving sales conversion and overall efficiency, but it’s also about recognising the value of salespeople. A sales process should be balanced, where you are seeking to create value for prospects with a solution, while they are willing to invest time, effort and money to obtain that solution. If prospects don’t respect this balance, and aren’t willing to invest at least some quality time, don’t waste your time.

Set them free.

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