Every quarter, about one-third of sales leaders fall short of their goals, according to recent industry research. If you have ever found yourself in this situation, you know how uncomfortable your life becomes.
If you want to avoid this situation, there are several things you can do to improve the likelihood of attaining your sales objectives.
First, look at your average sales cycle times and compare them against the opportunities in your pipeline. Identify the low-hanging fruit you can win in the near-term and dedicate the right resources to close those opportunities. For example, if your typical sales cycle is 2-3 months for average sized opportunities and 4-6 months or more for larger deals, you can easily determine if there’s enough in your pipeline to make up any missed production in the quarter.
If your pipeline is too light, you can expand your current quarter pipeline by:
- Closing opportunities slated for future quarters earlier, bringing them into the current quarter
- Finding more recurring or repeating business in existing accounts that can be closed this quarter
- Selling new offerings into existing accounts this quarter
- Closing more new accounts
- A combination of the above
Your First Focus
We recommend you first focus on your existing accounts. Sales cycles in existing accounts are usually shorter, and you should have more visibility into customers’ needs and where you can add value. It may also be easier from a financial, legal, and procurement standpoint if contracts and service agreements are already in place.
For your high-potential accounts, coach your salespeople to look beyond obviously defined needs and identify undefined needs which you can address. This can be accomplished more easily through a simple exercise called white space analysis. White space analysis enables you to clearly and quickly identify new high-value opportunities in accounts. Download our simplified White Space Analysis worksheet to get started. This tool helps you find new sales opportunities by mapping your portfolio of solutions to a customer’s critical business issues and initiatives, thereby making a vital connection between your solution and its potential for solving an urgent problem.
Simplified White Space Analysis
Developing Latent Business
Once you’ve exhausted the identification of opportunities in existing accounts, turn your focus to new accounts. Selling into new accounts is usually a longer and more difficult sale, especially if buyers don’t know you or your company well. Most of these opportunities will be latent in nature.
Latent opportunities are those where the buyer is either unaware of a business need that they should address, or they are aware but aren’t yet motivated to do anything about it. Your salespeople will need to move these buyers from a latent state to an admitted state and motivate them to take action. This approach is very proactive, and creates a competitive advantage by influencing the buyer’s vision of a solution to one that favors you and your capabilities.
Turning latent opportunities into active opportunities requires a segmentation strategy. A segmentation strategy can apply either at the account level in very large accounts or within a territory or portfolio of accounts. We recommend creating an ideal account profile and then sorting accounts into three simple categories: A’s, B’s, and C’s.
- “A” Prospects have the highest potential for new business, and should receive the most personal time and attention. “A” accounts are in a transition of some sort, or are being impacted by change, and thereby enable you to create a sense of urgency to act. These should receive the highest priority for attention. Apply the white space analysis and mapping tool on your “A” accounts to identify specific opportunities to develop.
- “B” Prospects are ones that do not have immediate potential for new business, but you have good existing relationships in place. Be opportunistic with “B” accounts by servicing recurring and repeat business as required, and leverage relationships to expand into new business units to create new opportunities, if possible. Optional: Apply the white space analysis and mapping tool on your “B” accounts.
- “C” Prospects are accounts that have potential, but awareness is low, for both the buyer and the seller. You’ll really need to use digital media and micro-marketing, as opposed to higher-touch methods, to stimulate interest. The goal is to eventually convert “C” prospects into “A’s”.
Qualify Opportunities Rigorously
If your sales team is under pressure to achieve a difficult goal in a limited period of time, the temptation is to try to be everywhere at once and close everything. The savvy sales leader knows that the best performing sales teams qualify buyers against their compelling reason to act, and their willingness to share their problems (“pain”) and to collaborate to find optimum solutions. The best prospects collaborate and share their timeline and budget expectations. A good sales leader is always confirming that buyers are aligned with sellers and collaborative next steps are identified throughout the buying process.
If you are behind your number, we can help you develop a plan to get you back on track quickly. Please contact us for a confidential discussion.
Steve Smith is a vice president and sales team leader at Sales Performance International. He has served clients in the sales performance improvement industry for over 15 years, including many Fortune 500 organizations, to increase and sustain year-over-year sales productivity, revenue and earnings growth.