The harsh reality is that not all sales qualifications are equal.
Why is it that so many B2B sales forecasts look more like fiction than reality? Why does “top opportunity” slip and slide month to month, then disappear completely? An erratic sales forecasting can be a sign of poor business-to-business strategy and superficial qualification. This results in failure to reach key decision-makers or influencers that can make things happen.
The more critical the service or solution offered to business, the more complex the sales forecasting problem. People who make or influence the selection of suppliers will have more to lose if they make a wrong decision. However, there are proven methods to make sales forecasts more accurate and to develop a more robust strategy to sell that will lead to improved sales performance.
To improve sales performance, eliminate superficial sales qualification.
Qualification, as many salespeople call it, is nothing more than an attempt to gather the information that is more customer-focused than self-serving. It is not surprising that senior decision-makers and influencers may not see much value in interacting with them. What is the value of such salespeople for busy executives who have a significant business problem to solve and a business case to support it?
Too many salespeople try to bully prospects and customers by setting their own goals (targets, pressure from bosses, commission payments, etc.). Talk too much, and they will keep their targets, pressure from bosses, commission payments, etc., at the forefront of their minds. A salesperson’s desire to “layout their case” is often more important than the need to fully qualify an opportunity. They are more comfortable presenting, proposing, and demonstrating than listening and intelligently questioning. Salespeople can benefit from carefully selected coaching that encourages them to “probe and hear” rather than forming barriers.
Multi-layer sales qualification is essential for winning strategic clients. It allows you to get inside their heads and understand their thinking, which can help you gain mind-share in a politically complex environment. A weak business-to-business sales strategy and approach is the cause of poor sales forecasting reliability and defies attempts to improve sales performance. However, it is possible to improve your sales performance with the right coaching and guidance.
It is essential to get close to the “power base,” key influencers, and decision-makers in order to sell the business to business products or services that are of business-critical value. These individuals are the ones making vendor selection decisions that could affect their careers. They seek out potential suppliers who will support their business case and not just those who try to push the prospect’s problem into any solution. Professional salespeople are more inclined to work “top-down” and to qualify well to build their credibility and knowledge at the top. These behaviors support reliable forecasting, and even more importantly, they can be consistently applied to increase sales performance.
The Foundations of a Successful Sales Forecast Dashboard
It is common to try to drive sales opportunities down from the top-level forecast. This is a severe mistake. Although sales forecasts are a tool that can be used to track the progress of sales, they cannot be used alone. Good account planning, profound qualification, the ability to communicate at senior levels, and excellent negotiation skills are essential for reliable sales forecasting. These solid foundations should be used to drive sales opportunities upwards. Salespeople can win client mind-share by engaging in sales coaching to increase their sales performance and forecasting accuracy.
Account planning is essential to ensure more accurate sales forecasting. It must be realistic and up-to-date. This will allow you to identify weaknesses and exposes that need to be addressed in order to protect your company’s position. A good account plan can only be as effective as the intelligence and credibility that is gained from senior engagement and qualification. Salespeople need to be challenged constructively on a regular basis in order to build “trusted advisor” relationships that allow them to take more control of the sale. These account reviews can have significant benefits if an external facilitator is used.
Salespeople are naturally optimistic, which can often work against them when it is time to determine where they stand with any sales opportunity. They may wish for the best but fail to properly qualify. They need to learn to ask hard questions from prospects early on. Genuine contenders will respect them for asking the tough questions, while those with hidden agendas may get annoyed (often a good test). Multi-layered sales qualification is valuable because it can quickly determine if an opportunity is real and what steps are necessary to close the deal. Multi-level sales qualifications can be used to build trust and credibility with senior-level advisors if approached with the right mindset.
One Note about CRM
I don’t believe that CRM is the solution. Although it can make data retrieval easier, filter data, and provide management reporting, it is only as good as what it holds. The CRM system will not be effective if the business-to-business sales strategy and sales qualification are not met. Sales forecasting software and CRM must be based on a solid foundation of account planning and a well-planned sales strategy. This is the main focus.
The Bottom Line: Reliable B2B Forecasting Methods…
Too often, prospects are sold to by a salesperson who is too eager to sell their products rather than take the time to understand their needs. This can be fixed, and reliable forecasting will become possible, as well as increased sales. Failure to address this problem will mean that even the most accurate sales forecasting tools won’t be able to help you. Intelligent prospects and customers don’t want to be sold to. They want “contributors providers” or trusted advisors who will help them solve the business pain (the “pain behind the project spend”)
Sales forecast accuracy is not 100%. There will always be external factors, such as a merger or acquisition, that cause spending freezes, sudden disappearances of critical players, and so on. It can, however, be improved by consistent, pragmatic sales coaching provided by someone with relevant experience.
My opinions may seem harsh to some salespeople, but they are not always wrong. This is what I have seen after ten successful years in sales, followed by ten years of leading B2B sales teams that sold business-critical solutions and other services at the CXO level throughout Europe. While there are many ways to improve your sales skills, not all salespeople are able to do so. Sales coaching is a way to identify the most valuable salespeople and those that are unlikely to return sufficient returns.