By Jay Spielvogel, Venator Sales Group
Do your sales reps ever tell you the following story?
They meet with a mid-level plant, operations or production manager who is extremely interested in engaging your company to fix a cylinder usage issue or implement a new industrial welding application This person willingly shares information regarding their perception of the challenges the company is facing with downtime, waste and safety, and how personally committed they are to implementing a solution. The meeting ends with an agreement that your sales rep will send a proposal for the contact to run past their boss with an expectation that it will be a “rubber stamp” approval. The action item is for your rep to follow-up in roughly two weeks, at which point they should have the approval to move forward.
Unfortunately, after two weeks the prospect tells your rep they have not had a chance to speak with their boss, but they expect to have the opportunity to sit down and have the discussion within the next few days. Days turn into months, which inevitably turn into an endless cycle of following up, ultimately getting nowhere.
Sound familiar? The issue here is that the prospect who wanted to believe they would get the approval overestimated their own influence. Compounding the issue is that your sales rep was a willing participant who wanted to believe this as well. Unfortunately, this sales scenario seems to be the most common reason so many forecasted deals are clogging up sales pipelines with phrases like “contact went dark” as the explanation for the lack of closure.
So how do we address this problem?
- The first step in providing a sales team with a more critical filtering process begins by comparing experiences. On one hand, you could have an “influencer” who is capable of driving decisions up the corporate ladder, engaging key decision endorsers early on and methodically influencing a go-forward decision, while a more “non-influential” stakeholder downplays their manager’s involvement and mistakes the approval to research solutions with spending power. The greatest concern is their inability to define their manager’s vision, goals and potential objections. This becomes apparent when they plan to present the features and benefits that your company offers as justification for the cost, rather than focusing on the total cost of the issues and the return on investment.
- The next step is to incorporate a filtering system, otherwise known as opportunity validation rules, into the company CRM (i.e. Salesforce.com,, Hubspot, Microsoft CRM, etc.), ultimately impacting the sales rep’s mindset. Validation rules automatically verify that the opportunity stage and closing percentage entered into the CRM meets the standards you specify before the user can save the record and it bans non-compliant projections from being saved. It also gives a rep pause before indiscriminately sending a proposal to an advocate stakeholder.
An example of a milestone opportunity stage we use at Venator is called Collaborative Prospect, which is assigned to an opportunity with a 35% chance of closure. This is a stage where a rep is closely collaborating with a prospect, ensuring they are an influencer within their organization. The filters below act as a picklist within the company CRM where a rep is asked to review and choose one or more when updating an opportunity in the Collaborative Prospect Stage.
- Contact spoke with their manager about us and began paving way for an intro
- Main contact has experience influencing manager to spend money or make changes
- Influencer can clearly define their manager’s issues, concerns and vision
- Internal champion can articulate their manager’s possible objections
- Contact is focused on aligning our solution to their manager’s key drivers
- Contact can set up an immediate introduction to their manager
- The final step is for sales management to integrate the process by utilizing a set of critical questions when deal-coaching their reps. These questions are meant to interrogate reality when a rep is ready to send a proposal to a so-called “influencer.” Interrogating reality simply means questioning what is perceived to be the ‘reality’ at hand. These questions can include:
- What is the relationship between the different stakeholders?
- How much consensus is there regarding the issue? Explain.
- What concerns have the other stakeholders expressed?
- Has your contact had discussions with their manager about the fact that they are looking at us? Tell me about those discussions…
- What are other priorities that could interfere with this initiative?
- If there was a possible stumbling block that management may present, what is it?
It’s been said that the first step to fixing an issue is to admit that you have one. In this case, the first step for a sales person is to become extremely critical of their internal champion’s power and influence. It is just as important for sales management to implement a sales coaching process that reveals these situations, rather than allowing the sales people to clog up the pipeline with non-closeable “forecasted” business.
Realistically, how many GREAT meetings are your salespeople having with prospects that want your solution, but won’t be able to influence the other decision makers to spend the money? Maybe it’s time to interrogate “reality.”
Jay Spielvogel is CEO of Venator Sales Group (GAWDA member), a sales consulting and training firm specializing in boosting Welding and Gas distribution sales performance. Contact him at: Jay@venatorsalesgroup.com