It’s the start of a new year, with new goals, new challenges, and new opportunities. Each sales team is unique ... but every team leader in every industry is, we believe, likely to be interested in the answer to a critical question about the year 2020: What can we do to improve closing ratios and margins this year? Here are three proven strategies to consider from the Sandler leadership playbook.
Strategy #1: Work with your team to do a better job of qualifying what goes into the pipeline. If there is no common standard for what, exactly, constitutes a qualified prospect, that means different people on your team have different ideas of what is (and isn’t) a “live” prospect. If you face such a situation, then you as the leader face a major problem, one that causes countless sales teams to underperform. As the new year dawns, your mandate is to make sure your team is not one of them! Here’s how. Only project income from opportunities where it’s crystal-clear that a) that the buyer believes there is a pressing problem you can solve, b) an appropriate budget is available to solve that problem, and c) a viable, mutually agreed-upon decision-making process in place for determining whether the deal will move forward to either a “yes” or a “no” outcome. That’s what a qualified opportunity looks like. Once you have this set of standards in place, you and your team will have a much better sense of which opportunities are worth investing time and energy in – and which aren’t.
Strategy #2: Work with your team to do a better job of cleaning out and/or moving what is already in the pipeline. The fact that something enters the pipeline as a qualified lead doesn’t mean it stays qualified forever. Salespeople are very good at coming up with justifications for leaving inactive leads in the pipeline. This skews projections and slows down the process of replacing dead leads with live ones. If someone has been in the pipeline for a while (i.e., for a period beyond your average closing cycle) and is not easily closing, assume the lead is no longer qualified. Take it out of the pipeline. If it’s really moving forward, the buyer will be amenable to setting up a clear, time-driven decision timeline for a “yes” or “no” answer. (See Strategy #1.) Until that happens, the salesperson is responsible for replacing this unqualified lead with enough traffic to generate a qualified replacement. Remember: Closing those buyers who have a pressing business problem we can solve, and have the money to pay for the solution, and are willing to share their decision-making process with us, is not cheating! It’s how professional selling is supposed to happen.
Strategy #3: Avoid the use of discounting and impending events to close business. “What if we take 20% off this published price?” is a terrible way to do business. So is “This offer is only good until the end of this quarter.” Both these tactics erode your margins, and both send not-so-subtle signals of desperation that are the exact opposite of what a true sales professional communicates. Worst of all, both of these tactics tell the members of your sales team that what they’re selling isn’t really worth what you’re charging! Accept that these are bad business practices, period. There is nothing wrong with creating urgency in the sales discussion, of course. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. The right way is to identify the personal and organizational pain connected with letting a pressing problem go unsolved … then attach a real-world cost to inaction on the buyer’s part … and finally figure out the timeline for change the buyer is willing to commit to.
Now is a great time to make major positive changes in your process. Implement these three strategies consistently, starting this month. If you do, you will find that, at the end of the year, your team’s closing numbers will reflect the positive changes you and your team have made. Hold yourself – and your team – accountable to goals this year with SalesAccountability. Check out this blog post to learn more.