A Leadership Mystery?

By David Szen on Nov 13, 2013

How do I help sellers identify which deals to focus on closing?

Talk to a sales leader in any business, and they share a few universal frustrations.  One is painfully clear. Sales leaders spend a tremendous amount of time trying to “help” sellers create focus on the right deals to close and getting the garbage out of the sales funnel. This leads me to an interesting question:  Why is this such a mystery? I carried a bag numerous times in my career. I handled smaller transactional clients under $25K per sale, and I handled strategic clients who spent in excess of $250K per sale. During that period of time, I always knew this for sure – If my boss walked in my office and asked me what was going to close in the next 60 days, I could tell him/her very easily. No sandbagging, no high hopes when I had no chance, and no deals left in the numbers knowing they wouldn’t close, only to push the deals out at the end of the quarter. Who does that help? I get paid on commission!

But wait! It is not that clear to others, and this quandary burns days and weeks of leadership bandwidth only to uncover that we have to “push” deals that were allegedly going to close. I ask a simple question – WHY?

My advice is all about making the seemingly complex simple.

Step 1 – Ask your sellers to analyze their funnel on their own first and create a couple of categories.

  • Category 1 – Deals you have full confidence in telling the CFO that they will come in, and he/she can plan on paying people from these deals all across the business.
  • Category 2 – Deals that have a better than 50% shot of coming in, but there is work to be done.
  • Category 3 – Deals that make you nervous, or you would prefer to never reveal these to the CFO.

Once the sellers do this, you will see a few very valuable things. You will now see how many deals they have, how they rank them and their ability to apply logic instead of HOPE.

Step 2 – Buckle up, because this step will take longer. You need a good 60 minutes, depending upon the complexity of your deals. I like to start with Category 2. I find that there are very few surprises in Category 1 and that I have already invested time in those pursuits. Naturally, we will discuss them since these are important deals, but Category 2 is where we find a few real gems!  Again, these are deals that the seller feels he/she has at least a 50% chance of winning with work left to be done. The key to all of this is the diagnosis questions you ask to help determine where the seller really is in the process and how to advance or exit. Yes, I said EXIT. Put your energy somewhere else if it’s not going to close. What should we be asking as sales leaders to find out where we have to apply focus. 

Diagnosis Questions:

  • What are the specific reasons why this deal is stuck for now?
  • What, that is in our control, could be done to advance the deal?
  • What specifically have you tried so far?
  • To whom are we aligned? (Decision makers)
  • Who, other than these decision makers, needs to be engaged in the process?
  • Have we met with all decision makers and influencers?
  • Do we even have access to all influencers?
  • Who ultimately signs on the dotted line? How do they buy? (Process, procurement, legal, etc.)
  • If the decision maker walks into the CFO’s office and says: “I am picking ______ for the following reasons.”  What are the reasons? Would he/she pick us?
  • Who are we competing against? What do we do differently or better?  To whom is the competition aligned?
  • What reasons, from the client’s perspective, would make them decide to do this in the next _______ weeks/months? What if they do nothing?
  • Have we seen any clear obstacles that can’t be dealt with?
  • If we met all of the requirements, would we be the clear choice?
  • What alternative solutions, if any, have been offered?
  • How often do we need to be in front of them in order to move this deal?
  • Are there any compelling reasons for this client to make this decision now?

Now, some of you reading this may have thought of 4-5 additional questions to ask that are highly relevant for your product/service or sales cycle. That is fine, and I am glad you read closely enough to find those gaps. The real key here from a coaching perspective is the technique. Do not lead the witness. Do not ask too many closed-ended questions. Give the seller a chance to thoughtfully respond.  Listen closely. Ask second and third layer questions along the way, and IF POSSIBLE, have this conversation face to face. You will learn more. 

Important Note: Repeat the exact same process for deals in Category 1.

Coaching the sales funnel is less about CRM, the forecast, the percentages, the multipliers, the required steps, the written sales process, and the science.  Coaching the sales funnel is ALL about using the science to drive the right coaching conversations and uncover the key reasons WHY deals are stuck. You can’t do this on email or in live chat on the CRM. It requires the human element of a good coach. 

Is the mystery solved? Indeed. The reason so many sellers don’t know how to report sales and potential wins is because they have not had a capable coach ask them the right questions to uncover what they KNOW and DO NOT KNOW. I guarantee you that you will find some gaps in knowledge, some misplaced hope, and some real reasons why a seller should pursue or exit.

So, spend the time coaching the human element of the sales process – not just updating the CRM.  People sell to customers. Talk to people!

David Szen

Written by David Szen

David Szen is a master facilitator and leadership development expert. As a Principal Consultant at Symmetrics Group, David has designed and delivered custom sales and leadership content for countless clients. He is most comfortable in front of groups or in keynote settings where his high-energy delivery style connects with people and brings content to life. David’s specialties include sales training design, leadership development, coaching performance management, workshop facilitation and strategic account planning. He recently co-authored the book The Multigenerational Sales Team with Symmetrics Group's founder Warren Shiver.

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