Problem: Roger was in a bind. Every month his five sales people reported the “pipeline” of business that they thought would convert into sales for the next month. He then summarized the report for the president of the company. At the last meeting the president told him that his report was “bloated with deals that just seemed to roll over each month” and that “he’d better get it right next month, or else.”
Analysis: Salespeople tend to be an optimistic group. When they hear a prospect say, “Great presentation. Give us a few days to think it over and get back to you,” they often believe that they have a good opportunity that deserves to be in the pipeline. Many sales people want to avoid a “no” at all cost and have convinced themselves they have a solid prospect even when they don’t. Salespeople often do an inadequate job of getting prospects to share the implications of their problems, their budgets, and decision-making process. This combination of optimism and inadequate qualifying causes salespeople to revert to chasing and pestering prospects, leaving those futile (“Could you give me an update on where we are?”) voicemail messages.
Solution: First of all, a “no” is an acceptable outcome on a properly executed sales call. A salesperson has to be willing to accept a “no” when the prospect is not qualified or when their offering does not fit. At the end of a qualifying interview with a decision maker, a salesperson should be able to ask this commitment question; “Assuming I came back with a solution and you had the conviction that it was the right solution for your problem and it fit the budget that we discussed, what would happen then?” If you get a positive response you can put it in the pipeline. If you get any other type of answer, you’ve still got work to do.
In summary, here’s what you need to keep a prospect in your pipeline:
- The prospect has convinced you their problem is important enough for them to fix – and you know you can fix it.
- They have an adequate budget to address the problem, are willing to spend it – and you can resolve the problem within their budgetary constraints.
- They have a date that is important to them to have the solution in place – and you can do it in that time frame.
- They are committed to taking action if you can demonstrate that you have the right solution.
- You have a date for a presentation to get a decision.