I’m sure that the screen shot below probably rings familiar bells for some of us. Pages and pages of sales activity where we’ve chased a deal over a long period of time. Just look at all those calls!
The trouble is, if you’ve got lots of accounts that look like this that you’re actively working on, you really need to shake things up. On that note, qualifying people out can be just as important as qualifying them in. Let me explain…
One of the biggest challenges that we have to deal with in sales is people telling us what we want to hear. That combined with most of us being hard-wired optimists can be a dangerous combination.
I’m going to talk you through the background that goes with the screen shot above.
The person I was working with had met this prospect at an event hosted by a software vendor. He’d had an impartial insight into the products and services on offer and I think it’s safe to say he was impressed, and they’d already gone some way towards building a champion. Following a call after the event he had mentioned that he would be interested in bespoke product XXX.
Great! One thinks. Or should they….
Getting Back in Touch
After the initial conversation, the salesperson went and involved his Sales Director, setting his expectations that there was very much a good opportunity on the boil. The trouble is, when they tried to get back in touch with the prospect, things went awfully quiet and the logged sales activities and attempts to re-engage the prospect began to mount.
Now this is where my point begins to form. The salesperson reveals that the event was actually in 2011 and they’d actually closed and re-opened 3 opportunities on the account in their CRM since the event at which they first met
Essentially, what was happening was that the prospect was avoiding his calls and on the rare occasion he managed to make contact with the prospect, the salesperson was being told exactly what he wanted to hear…
‘I still want to do it but the timing’s not right – give it 4 weeks and get back in touch’
So another sales activity was logged, another task was created and 4 weeks later he was to get back in touch. The period of contact had been some 11 months now, madness! It was about to roll into 1 year and I think we all know that the prospect was probably going to avoid the scheduled call further down the line.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what’s happened. He didn’t reply to voice-mails or e-mails from the salesperson, his colleagues constantly covered for him saying he’s ‘not available’ and he wasn’t answering his mobile when he clearly knew who was on the other end.
The point is that the Salesperson hadn’t been honest and direct enough the few times that he had been successful in engaging the prospect on the phone. Instead of asking tough questions to qualify the account (that might lead us to answers we don’t really want to hear), he allowed the prospect to tell him what he did without really questioning it.
So let’s just quickly look at exactly how much effort went into chasing the account since the initial engagement. 42 logged sales activities – 35 calls (mostly ‘Not There’) and 7 emails.
I pointed out to the salesperson that they were effectively tree hugging and that this fruitless circle of tail-chasing would continue if they didn’t break the trend so something different needed to be tried. I asked the person to write a very honest and direct email about the situation and then we looked at it, removed any words that didn’t need to be there so that it was short and easy to respond to:
Sent: 13 June 2012 10:07
Tried a few times and I know you’re busy so just wanted to confirm where we stand with this.
I’ve got Steve coming in later so can confirm dates for you today. I guess the tough question here is how serious are you in terms of having Steve work with your team as I don’t want to set his expectations that you’d like to book his time if you’re really not sure?
If there’s anything you’d like clarification on let me know when is best to call
Baring in mind that we’d been able to encourage almost nothing back with our efforts in the past 12 months, what do you suppose happened next?
Sent: 13 June 2012 10:50
Subject: RE: TST
Sorry, been stupidly busy.
I think at this point, we will say no.
I will book something, but just not yet. We have many things to concentrate on right now, and it is very much on the list, but just not a priority with the spare cash.
Keep in touch, as I will book at some point.
That’s right. After a year of no replies, he responded. Within 43 minutes.
And what’s more, he was honest and direct back which meant for the first time the salesperson really knew where they stood. (Granted, my sales persons paranoia tells me we’re probably being told what we want to hear) but at least for the first time, the salesperson had done a good job of qualifying the prospect out.
Ditching the woolly approach and asking honest, direct questions meant that the sales person was able to refocus their efforts elsewhere, channelling them towards deals that were more likely to close.
Generally speaking, if there’s an account on my pipeline that’s been there for 6 weeks or more, I need to starting asking some very honest questions to really have a clear picture of what’s going on with it. Now I appreciate that some of you will have lengthy sales cycles and the time that you deem acceptable for accounts to be listed in your pipeline may vary.
Nonetheless it is absolutely vital that we need to make sure we’re being inwardly honest with ourselves about our prospects and opportunities otherwise the only person you’re kidding, is you.
When the sales person goes back to this account maybe 6 – 12 months down the line, it’s safe to say that they’ll approach it very differently and ask the tougher qualification questions as early as possible. Remember, serious buyers don’t find it difficult to answer the tough questions about money, authority and timing which is why we ask them in the first place.
So if you’ve got accounts like this, what can you do today to qualify them in or out?
If you’ve found this article useful, you’re welcome to follow us for regular sales advice and feel free to get in touch if you’ve got any questions. This article was originally published by Pete on LinkedIn