In this post I am going to examine sales opportunities. For many salespeople this can be a very touchy subject. This is especially true if you sell complex solutions that require a lot of support internally to even produce a proposal or quote. So what is the big deal? Once an opportunity is Qualified, Sales can get internal resources committed to supporting the Opportunity. Before that Sales is pretty much on their own.
There are many companies where the Sales Engineers or Specialists have to work both sides of the Opportunity. Most of the time this group does not report to Sales. On one hand, they work with Sales to develop Opportunities. On the other they work with the internal team to develop the solution and contribute to the proposal. How much time they spend on the solution and proposal development can be a moving target.
To me there really is a simple answer. Until or unless an Opportunity is Qualified, Sales (supported by their Sales Engineer or Specialist) should not have access to internal resources! That does not mean they cannot ask questions of their Engineer or Specialist or internal experts. It does mean they cannot get committed time and effort. A notable exception to this would be to review and comment on a request for proposal document as part of the bid or no bid decision.
So what are Qualified Sales Opportunities
This will vary from Sales Leader to Sales Leader but in my experience, the Sales team has to be able to answer at least 3 questions including
- Is there budget? Sometimes the customer is already spending for an existing solution. In this case, budget is not really an issue. Sometimes this is new spending that needs special approvals.
- What is their decision timeline? I was asked yesterday to present a technical proposal for something that will not be implemented for over a year and is not a complex issue. No way I can ask our internal team for support. I did ask my supporting Specialist to have a short chat with the customer on the technical considerations. With that info, I can provide a budgetary number for planning purposes only.
- Who are the decision maker or makers? The trend in larger companies is this is becoming more of a team or collaborative process. This happens more for large budget items or programs. This can be incredibly challenging to confirm. Sales ability to meet with and directly influence the decision makers is often limited or restricted.
So does it even matter? The short answer is yes it matters! The longer answer is it matters. In the absence of knowing which opportunities are qualified, there is no way to appropriately allocate sales or engineering or operations time to go after the most winnable business. If you overwork your internal teams chasing unqualified opportunities you are effectively speculating on your success. If you focus your teams on winnable business you are now stacking the deck more in your favour.
Talk to any person who supports sales in getting complex solutions developed and quoted. One of their most common concerns is spending hours or days on a project that never really went anywhere. To make matters worse if they find out after this was a ‘Hail Mary’ opportunity with little to no chance of a win, they get really upset knowing they could have spent more or better time on more winnable business.
So what is the Solution to this Problem?
Sales needs to do a better job of really learning what it is their customers need or want, by when and how they are going to decide and pay for it. In the absence of this information, Sales has to keep digging and use strategies and techniques to validate the opportunities. For example,
- Ask test closing questions. Ask the customer something like “if I can get you that solution for price x what else needs to happen for you to buy from me?” Gently force the customer to be more honest and transparent about their buying process and timelines with questions like this.
- Provide an order of magnitude or budgetary estimate to gauge the level of interest. These can often be done quite quickly without consuming key internal time or effort.
- Ask the customer for a ‘scoping’ meeting where both parties bring all the key stakeholders together for one meeting. Whether done in person or virtually or a combination of both this gets to the heart of the opportunity and figures out whether there is a need to go forward. In my experience with complex solutions, this really helps Qualify the opportunity and gets everyone on the same agenda and schedule at the same time.
How many Opportunities do you have in your funnel that are not Qualified? How much time and effort is being spent by your internal teams to support these Opportunities and how could that be better used? Take Action now to clean up your funnel; it will focus you on getting these Opportunities qualified and moving ahead and it will also gain you tremendous respect and support from the rest of the team.
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