Hi, and welcome to a new post for the blog. It’s been feeling pretty autumnal here lately. If, like me, you like to get outdoors as much as possible it’s definitely time to dig out the winter coats, gloves and hats ready for the cold spell that’s probably just around the corner.
One thing that warmed me up this week was having the chance to do a Sales workshop with an amazing group of business ladies in Somerset. So many brilliant minds and amazing businesses, each with value to add to the market. I was pleased to be able to give them some ideas on how they can get even better sales results and I know so many of these businesses are going to win lots of new business in the coming months!
Another thing that starts to happen this time of year is people in sales often start to sweat a little about hitting their annual target. Or, to be a little more positive, about whether they’ll hit their stretch target or personal earnings goals.
By this time in October, it’s all about hoping that you’ve got enough prospects in the pipeline to deliver all the business you need by the middle of December. After that, we all know nothing useful will be getting done until January!
It’s at this time of year that I see some salespeople start to become pushy, trying to force sales through more quickly in order to get the business written.
Why are they doing this? It’s usually either because they didn’t do enough work in building a prospect pipeline earlier in the year, or they did put the work in but didn’t understand or appreciate the length of their own sales cycle. This was something I went into in detail for subscribers in this week’s Saturday Sales email.
Understanding your sales cycle is key to avoiding crunch times around sales quarters, half-years and full-year ends. Your hard work might not pay off if you haven’t planned your prospecting to take into account the closing cycle that’s personal to you, your company, and your industry.
This can lead to that panic pushiness I spoke about, and that tends to lead to one of two results. First, you’re sacrificing profit (and/or commission) by using a price drop to get the sale done. Long-time readers will know how I feel about offering discounts or lowering your price in the face of objections! If you’re a recent subscriber, check out this video from last year on how you can deal with a prospect who says “I can’t afford it”:
Second, and more worryingly, a sudden change in approach to a more aggressive or pushy one risks putting the prospect of you entirely. That’s a real risk for salespeople who enter a slight panic mode because the person they’ve come to know and have built rapport with won’t be who they see in front of them. Not good.
So, how do you analyse your prospect pipeline to see how long it might take you to convert them into customers, avoiding running out of options when key deadlines are approaching?
Here are 4 things to consider:
When that lead came in did you follow up straight away, or was it languishing in your “to call” pile for a while? Statistics show time and again that those salespeople who reach out to new leads quickly are received more positively.
If you know that you perhaps left this one for longer than you should have, you might want to downgrade them in terms of likelihood to convert to a sale before your deadline.
This is a measure of how long it takes a prospect to warm up to you and what you have to offer. Now, this can be a widely variable number across your prospects for a whole host of reasons, but by taking an average and lengthen it out you create a worst-case scenario.
By adopting this “worst-case” scenario it will usually mean that you have been overly pessimistic and will overachieve against plan rather than the other way around.
Have a look back at your last couple of years of activity. For each sale, count up how many interactions and meetings you needed to close the deal. Average that out over all the clients and you will have a much better understanding of exactly how much work (and how much time) is needed to go from lead to client.
You should know this for every prospect in your database if you’ve been asking the right questions from day one. It’s vital for your pipeline planning that you know the level of urgency for all your leads.
If you haven’t found this out early on – which you should have, naughty! – then you can try asking questions like:
“How long in advance are you looking to make a decision to make sure of a successful implementation?”; or
“What things are driving the timeframe for deciding on when to begin this project?”
In order to hit targets, you need to be in control. Now, you can’t necessarily control when all your prospects will sign up (or even if they will!), but you can take control of your own numbers and plan accordingly.
Whether we like it or not, sales is a competitive sport! And like the best competing athletes, it’s all about finding things that can give you even a slight edge over your opponents. By measuring all the numbers I mentioned above you are putting yourself in control of your pipeline. That will give you the edge over other salespeople who are simply hoping that the leads they have just got will convert into sales in time.
Does this resonate with you? What tips do you have for building a fruitful sales pipeline? Have you ever missed a target because your pipeline didn’t produce what you thought? What will you do differently next time?
I’d love to hear from you about this. Remember, if you have any questions on pipeline planning or any other sales topic, please do get in touch with me by email via firstname.lastname@example.org or through any of the social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube – just search for ‘jameswhitesales’.
Don’t forget to let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like me to cover here or on YouTube channel, too.