I frequently get asked questions from sales leaders and business leaders. The questions vary but the answers are often worth sharing with a greater audience.
You may not agree or resonate with my views but I will always offer my perspective on issues.
Here are three most recent and relevant questions. – (click here for the Scott Bales interview)
Q1. What is your view on the Asian economy? ( I answered this last year (November 2013) before Japan slipped back into recession this Nov (2014) and the Eurozone looks to follow…let’s see…)
Regional CFO, Shanghai
A1. You are the CFO, you tell me! There appear to be some indicators that suggest that the outlook is more positive than it has been in quite a while; and if you watch any of the financial channels (Bloomberg, CNBC etc.) certainly the sentiment is more buoyant at the moment.
Having said that certain sectors and certain countries are still in very tough times. However, I am very concerned about the future. I am not an economist and nor do I purport to be exceptionally well versed in world economics but my sentiment is that circa 2015/16 the debt crisis in the USA is going to reach a critical point and the US economy could have a monumental contraction; Bigger than 2009.
With that contraction the world cannot avoid being affected – and that includes Asia of course. I hope I am wrong because it could be a very tough time for us all. Just in case this does happen, I am gearing my offering to prepare, not only my business, but also my client’s business for tough selling times. There are two schools of thought as to how to respond when the economy contracts. Either contract with it or innovate and expand. When I say innovate I don’t refer to expensive R and D type innovation necessarily, but rather an innovation of how organisations package their offering, position their solutions and how they aggressively take them to market. I believe that companies bold enough to prepare their sales force and offering to weather the potential economic storm will survive; and if the economy doesn’t contract they will dominate. Either outcome makes the time and effort to prepare a sound investment.
Q2. How do we win more RFPs?
MD S.E Asia
A2. The simple answer is to only bid on RFPs you have managed to directly influence/engineer/write and/or if you are the incumbent. If you only responded to these RFPs your % would immediately rise. Now, of course, you are participating in less RFPs so that’s why the numbers improve. In reality though, this won’t be your strategy. The reason why this won’t be embraced by senior leadership is because companies believe they have to be “in it to win it”. Given that you miss 100% of the shots you never take, participating in every RFP at least gets you in the game (potentially).
Unfortunately, a significant percentage of RFPs are not worth the time and cost to participate in. The skill comes in being able to objectively assess which ones to bid on. Industry factors will determine how you make that assessment and the process that needs to be imbedded to objectively decide on a “bid” or “no bid” decision.
In my opinion, the RFP process removes the ability for the sales organisation to engage in the true art of selling and value building. It is fundamentally flawed from a buying perspective also. Decisions are often not made against the right criteria but rather price and other metrics. (This is a generalisation).
If you want to win more – get in early, before the RFP. Build a solid relationship; engineer the RFP towards your company (and only your company ideally). Easier said than done.
Q3. We find we have large but stagnant pipelines that rarely deliver against forecasted revenues. How do we manage our pipelines in a more effective manner?
A3. Big question; many factors will determine the success of effectively managing the pipeline to deliver a more accurate forecast (and ultimately more revenue!).
Stagnant pipelines are merely a symptom caused by issues that occur far earlier in the sales process. In order to solve that problem you must track back upstream to find what is causing the stagnation. The possibilities are many; and require a thoroughly good look under the bonnet to find the issues at play. We can’t explore that here so here are two thoughts worth considering:
Firstly, prospects know very early whether they are genuinely interested in buying from you or not. This is true for long, complex sales as well as fast, transactional sales. More complex sales need a slightly different approach but buyers have already formed an opinion about where your offering sits in relation to others. In fact, they may have already decided whether or not you are in the running at all after the initial customer engagement.
Recall a time where you have been a buyer. You made a decision very early whether you were a) going to buy, b) were open to being influenced or C) were not going to buy a product or service; and it’s the same for your prospects now.
Action Point: Develop a process early on in the sale to qualify the prospect in or out of the pipeline. Are they genuinely in the game or not?
Secondly, you must get stagnant opportunities moving; either moving forward or moving out of your pipeline. Pipeline velocity refers to the speed at which opportunities are moving through your pipeline. You need advancements not continuation. From your question, it sounds like too many prospects drop out of the pipe without buying. (time kills deals so I am not surprised).
Action Point: Force decisions from the stagnant prospects. You need to know if it’s a “yes” or a “no” – and if you are really bold, if they are still sitting on the fence, make the decision for them!
I haven’t covered solving the problem, merely treating the symptom – two actions that will make a difference.