There are a lot of things that can stand in the way of success in sales and a salesperson. We can make assumptions, we can give too much information away, we can devalue out time or our product. Most of these things happen when we are too attached to a potential sale and that all goes back to our sales pipeline. I was talking with a friend in sales at another company the other day, and he said that he gave a recent customer some free work in order to close a deal and it ended up that the salesperson’s expectations were completely off.
I asked him if his business typically gave work away for free as an incentive to close deals more quickly, and he told me that it was up to him to do it if he wanted to. I asked him if this product goes towards his quota and commission if he doesn’t give it away for free, and he said yes. I asked him why would he give away work without some sort of agreement? I understand giving away a lower cost offer if it leads to a more significant sale, but that wasn’t the case here. He told me that he spent more time in that customer’s home than usual and he really wanted to close the deal — he felt like he had earned it.
This conversation brought up all sorts of questions in my mind. I have talked a lot about not being attached to a sale because it leads to situations like this. I asked him if his time was better spent talking with other people in his pipeline and avoiding situations like this, and he replied, “I didn’t really have anyone else to talk to, so it isn’t a big deal.”
Wrong! That is a huge deal.
If you look in a dictionary, prospecting should be defined as “the hardest part of being a salesperson.” It can be the be the biggest hurdle between a good salesperson and hitting goal. It is also the easiest thing to fix if you put some behaviors in place.
Let’s break down why this is a big deal. First of all, if you need a sale from your client, they will notice, and you will lose the equal footing you might have otherwise had with your client.
Let’s pretend that someone is going take your dinner away from you if you couldn’t make a free throw. Oh, and you get only one try. There is a ton of pressure to make that free throw, because dinner is on the line. But what if I gave you 15 attempts? What about 30? Now the pressure is coming off a little bit, right?
That’s essentially what your sales pipeline is: your net. It is what will allow you to not be tied to the outcome of any one conversation and it’s what your sales manager will be looking at to make sure that you are on track for quota.
I didn’t understand this for a long time. I thought I was okay with 5 or 6 opportunities in my CRM. My business partner took one look and told me that I needed more in my pipeline. At the time I didn’t think it was important, but as I continued to prospect for potential clients I noticed that I was more comfortable in my conversations. Now, every time I think that I am feeling good about my pipeline and then some new opportunities are added I get less and less attached to having to get a yes.
(I am not advocating keeping a bunch of bad deals or junk in your pipeline, because that doesn’t help at all. You know they’re no good and seeing them in your CRM will have the same effect on you as not having enough.)
You should have a pretty good idea of what your average sales cycle looks like. If you have stuff floating around past that time and you don’t have an agreed on next step with the client, it is time to get rid of it. One last email to see if there is anything still to talk about, and then get it out of there. If you have 30 other deals in conversation, that one is just taking up mental energy.
The sunk cost bias was another thing about this story that bothered me. I asked my friend what time frame they had agreed on, and he said that they hadn’t. He has bailed entirely on the “setting an agenda” part of scheduling the meeting. I have talked about the importance of setting expectations in other posts, but the short version is that you have to value your time as a salesperson because no one else will.
The last thing that we talked about was the fact that he said that he felt like he earned the business; he didn’t want to leave without an order. If you are at the point that you are willing to offer anything to get the sale, your ability to make good decisions is spent.It is like going to the grocery store when you are hungry. You’ll be thinking about the short term gratification, but not the long term effects of your choices.
My friend and I talked at length about how to avoid situations like this in the future and some ways to increase his pipeline so that he doesn’t have to be so attached to each potential yes. He could call past clients and look for potential up-sell opportunities and ask for referrals. He could reach out to his network and schedule refresher meetings to get caught up and to discuss recent clients; they might have someone new who is a good prospect for him or vice versa. He could go through his LinkedIn and look for people who might be strategic partners. I am going to talk about the best way to do this in another post. And if all else fails, he could pick up the phone and cold call. There are a lot of good ways to overcome a shallow sales pipeline, and it will do nothing but improve your success rate if you do.
Two quotes come to mind as I write this. I heard someone once say, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions.” Are you explaining away your lack of success by saying you will make it up next week/month/quarter? The other comes from a sales trainer who said, “Common people don’t make their mark on the world, uncommon people do. To be uncommon is to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” It is so easy to get complacent. If you do not build systems to keep you in check, it will happen. I have gone through phases where I was on autopilot in the past, but it didn’t lead to anywhere I wanted to be.
Are you where you want to be when it comes to sales? What is stopping you from getting there other than being uncomfortable?