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Opportunities or Pipe(line) Dreams?

Sales Training Article: Opportunities or Pipe(line) Dreams?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

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sales training workshopIn my first sales management job, I took over an office that had finished 27th out of 28 districts the previous year. I quickly discovered I had a fairly inexperienced team and that things would go much better when they worked on qualified opportunities. Inexperienced or inept sellers took comfort in having pipelines that consisted of lengthy lists of “opportunities.” One of my primary responsibilities was helping sellers be more selective about accounts they focused on.

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My biggest challenge was helping them understand the difference between activity and progress. They seemed to believe any prospects willing to talk with them were likely to buy. They felt each call increased the likelihood sales would close. I frequently asked two questions to do sanity checks on transactions they wanted to forecast:

  • Why would the buyer spend the money you are asking for now? – Unless or until sellers had uncovered value to show payback it was hard to believe purchase decisions were going to be made.
  • Have you had access to the person that has or would have to authorize the funding to pay for it? Unless or until sellers had access to higher levels, it was difficult to predict with any degree of certainty that sales would be made.

Verifying that sellers have established value (ideally documented and agreed to) and gained access to Key Player levels are ways that sales managers can assess whether sellers are being wise in allocating their precious and expensive time. If sellers didn’t have good answers to the questions, it became clear they had work to do whether by themselves or on calls where I’d accompany them.

In today’s environment, sales managers should ask similar questions when outside salespeople begin pursuing inbound leads from Website visitors. The good news is that early on sellers haven’t invested a great deal of time and will be less defensive than if they’ve been working a lead for some time. In further qualifying nurtured leads, establishing value and gaining access to Key Players are necessary to justify pursuing and forecasting leads being followed up on. Doing quality control at the top of funnels decreases the chances of missing numbers later.


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