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A different, more human approach to managing your sales pipeline and accurate sales forecasting

Technologies that were supposed to make salespeople obsolete have transformed more people into sellers. Consider all the online marketplaces that have allowed small entrepreneurs and craft makers to sell. The ability to search and have access to information in a matter of seconds has turned non-sellers into influencers.

The traditional business to business enterprise salesperson has over the past ten years had to adapt or die. Many enterprise salespeople continue to struggle, unable to shift from selling product features and benefits to selling solutions and customers’ priority outcomes.

Technology has transformed sales for those who call it their profession. Many of those salespeople who maintained control over the sale because they controlled access to information have gone or are fast dying out.

So, let us simplify the whole world of sales into two groups of sales leads:

  1. Those that have a problem and know, or think they know how to solve it.
  2. Those that have a problem and may not know they have a problem, or if they do, need help how to solve it.

Sales leads with problems who know or think they know how to solve it.

These sales leads are in control, and you will enter their buying process. When they contact you, or you contact them, they are probably in the middle of their project and feeling the pressure to meet their delivery target.

Their behaviour focusses on how they will achieve their outcome goal. Those contacts within the sales lead company will be obsessed with how they successfully execute. If you do not take the time to understand their requirements, help and guide them on how to achieve their outcome goals, you are wasting their time. Expect to get disqualified and walk away with your tail between your legs.

Many fallen salespeople scatter the sales field leading up to that final “Well done, we are awarding you the deal!”. Those fallen salespeople are typically those who are focused on and passionate about their product, service or solution.

How do you know if they have fallen? Answering this question is the simple part of the selling game. They are forecasting a sale that slips in their sales forecast, that has been slipping multiple times or has been disqualified by the sales lead. If you find yourself in this situation, you have at best tripped up and are now behind the front runners. Or you have fallen and are out of the race. The problem for many salespeople is they often do not know they have tripped or fallen, and continue investing their own time and other peoples’ time and resources.

The reality check is that you have been your sales lead’s buying process, not your sales process. You never were in control. Astute buyers know this and lead you down a buying process that no doubt will end up competing on price. Procurement teams managing a buying process also know this and have mastered their skills to their advantage. They level the playing field to compare you with the competitors that force you to discount heavily to stay in the game.

Stepping into the buyer’s mind, if everyone is the same, what is going to differentiate you from your competitors? You are now a commodity, and commodities do not hold their price.

An experienced solution salesperson recognises they have stepped into a sales lead’s buying process. They are astute and work to take control of moving the buyer out of a buying process into their sales process. Often they are awarded the deal even with a higher price. How do they do it?

That is another relatively easy question to answer. Astute and experienced salespeople sell the value of what they have and align it to the company sales lead’s priority needs. They understand who the influencers and decision-makers are and focus on quickly building trust-based relationships. Bottom line – they have become masters at moving their sales leads into their own sales process.

Experienced salespeople understand people are willing to pay more if you make it easy for them to achieve their priority needs and outcome goals. They understand this is the secret to value-based selling. They also focus their time on those sales leads who value what they have and have the money to pay them.

Sales leads with problems you can solve who don’t know about it, or if they do, how solving it.

Add ‘… problems you can solve better than anyone else…’. These sales leads are uncovered by salespeople who have a problem finder and challenger approach to selling. They look for those incidental findings that sales leads are not necessarily highlighting or aware of. These sales leads are high-value and more time consuming, often have a higher cost of sale. It is the overriding reason why so many salespeople gravitate to the first group of customers we discussed.

Seasoned solution salespeople excel in selling to these sales leads because they engage from the outset managing them within their sales process. They know how to value-sell and have the skill to make it look easy.

Value-based selling means you sell from your competitive high ground, or what I call your Value Wedge. Using the Venn diagram above, you can quickly identify where your high ground is. Astute salespeople understand this and the value of their time. They will have become masters at disqualifying, then ‘Serve first, Sell later’.

The successful salesperson knows how to build relationships by curating information that is already available. They present this information in such a way to make it easy for their sales leads to make decisions. They are healthy sceptics and masters at managing a healthy sales pipeline, forecasting accurately, and consistently achieving their quota targets.

OK, sounds straightforward; how do I do it?

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.

If you want different results, you must try different approaches. We are creatures of routine; we stick to the routines and habits in life we are comfortable with. It is challenging for all of us to try a different approach to dealing with problems in our lives, and it is no different for us in sales.

If you are not achieving your quota number, or not forecasting accurately, you need to approach your sales engagements using a different perspective and skills. We are humans, not robots. However, we share a similarity with robots that may surprise you. A robot runs software code that tells it how to act depending upon the trigger information it receives. That software runs automatically when the robot receives one of the triggers.

Our brains are not too different and operate in a similar fashion. You will have programmed your mind with a piece of code that we call a habit. That habit comes into existence through repetition. When you repeat something consistently, your brain recognises it as a pattern and sees an opportunity to release valuable conscious brain-processing time.

Our brains are wired for speed; some are faster than others. Just because you are fast does not mean you are doing it right. To consciously think about something takes time, it is slow and consumes valuable energy and processing power. Our brains are continually looking for opportunities to release that processing power, and it does this by looking for patterns.

If at eleven o’clock in the morning you always, without fail, have a smoke, your brain recognises that pattern and creates a habit. It loads that habit into your unconscious mind, which is fast because you do not have to think about it. Every time the clock chimes at eleven o’clock, you head off for a smoke without ever consciously thinking about it.

Your habits make it hard for you to change. Research ED says 45 per cent of our waking behaviour is habitual.

The longer a habit remains in your unconscious mind, the deeper it descends. Therefore, people who have smoked for years find it hard to break their habit and stop smoking. It is not that they do not want to stop; it is because much of their day is habitual and beyond their conscious control.

The inverse is true for the successful salesperson who consistently achieves quota. They make it look easy because they have worked tirelessly, creating the right selling habits. At one time it was slow and frustratingly hard work for them. Now they are fast, effective and make it look easy. Fact is, it is never easy; the reason we perceive it as such is that they have mastered value-based selling, and been consistently doing it time and again. That persistence has created a pattern their brain has seen and created a habit to save on processing power. Their benefit, once the new habit is in their unconscious mind, it is fast and looks easy to the rest of us.

What new habits do I need to become a Jedi Sales Master and forecast accurately?

Breaking old habits and upgrading them with new better serving habits is not going to be easy. Your habits are designed to be resilient, and they are not going to roll over and give up without a fight. You will have to work at this, which is the reason why those who are committed succeed and others fall at this first hurdle.

I have often experienced first-hand Group Think within sales teams pushing back on sales initiatives intended to support them improve their sales skills and forecast accuracy. Group Think is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making. I cover how you handle this in our course, Sales Forecast Accuracy and Closing Deals Quicker,

How committed are you to becoming the best version of yourself?

If your response is, “I’ve been doing this way for years… and it works for me”. If it has worked for you and you are achieving the success you want, then you are on the right path for yourself. There is no need to read on; you have it nailed and are already on top of your sales game.

If that is not the case and you know you can, or need to improve your sales performance and forecast accuracy, read on.

  1. Your No. 1 Goal: Find those habits that are holding your sales performance back from forecasting accurately.

Finding those habits requires you to take a fresh look at how you approach your sales engagements, manage your sales pipeline, sales pipeline reviews and accurate sales forecasting.

  1. Your No. 2 Goal: Become systematic how you approach and manage your sales engagements and time.

Here is a quick reference on how we recommend you approach better managing your time and your sales pipeline.

  1. Disqualify: Focus on finding those sales leads that value what you have and have the money to pay you. Disqualify all the others – you will release valuable time to focus on your value/pay sales leads. Pay particular attention to disqualifying those that value you but do not have the money to pay you. These make up most salespeople’s sales pipeline and are a major reason they are time-starved and struggle to forecast accurately.
  2. Discovery: Your purpose must be to understand your value/pay sales lead’s situation. Do not launch into demonstrating your latest and greatest. Now is the time for discovery. Can you deliver your sales lead’s priority needs better than anyone else? If your answer is yes, you are selling from your strength. We call this your Value Wedge.
  • Can You Serve? Now you start digging into better understanding their situation and how you can competitively position yourself to serve their priority needs better than anyone else.
  1. Do You Have the Support to Serve? You need to focus on building the right relationships with those who will influence and make decisions to purchase what you are proposing. You need to understand the decision process and who is involved. Remember, your proposal needs to compel them to act now and be aligned with when you forecast to close this deal.
  2. Do You Have the Strength to Serve? You need to focus on getting yourself and your business into the strongest position to be awarded the deal. Your competition, the compelling event, finding the metrics allowing you to build a compelling business case. These and other factors all contribute to your strength to win the deal.

On our course, Sales Forecast Accuracy and Closing Deals Quicker, we work through these steps with you to identify those habits that are not serving you well and need upgrading. We also introduce you to the Timeline Technique, allowing you to pre-empt their behaviour based on where they are in their project timeline.

How do I upgrade a habit to one that better serves me?

Depending upon how long you have been running with this habit will depend upon how deep it is within your unconscious mind. As a rule, the longer, the deeper.

While working through the Sales Forecast Accuracy and Closing Deals Quicker course, we help you identify which habits are not serving you well and require upgrading. The principle of how you upgrade a habit is relatively simple; the hard part is practising it to create a new pattern your unconscious mind uses to create the habit to replace the old one.

Selling is one of the most enjoyable professions as well as one of the toughest to succeed in within today’s business world. Of course, I would say that, I love what I do and supporting others succeed, and it is that commitment and passion which allows me to persevere improving my selling skills and habits.

  1. Your No. 3 Goal: Find the habits that are not serving you well and replace them with better serving habits.

Having supported many sales and supporting salespeople succeed, I was committed to finding an approach that helped everyone I work with to become the best version of themselves. Change starts from within, which is why we are discussing habits.

Our shared challenge – there is no one silver habit bullet that when loaded into our fast, unconscious mind, we become Jedi Sales Masters and start forecasting accurately. It is the reason why we include a Habit Upgrade Tool within our online Training Platform. As you work through the course, at the end of every section, we ask you what habits have not been serving you well. Because you have focused on a specific skill or area of selling, you are focused and can be specific.

Being specific is one part of the secret sauce for upgrading your habits. Using the Habit Upgrade Tool, we give you all the secret sauce ingredients to bust old habits and upgrade them with better serving new ones. These are the steps you take using the tool:

  1. What is the name of the habit you want to change? Giving a habit a label is powerful and makes it personal to you.
  2. What is the trigger that unconsciously runs your habit? That trigger is the hook your unconscious mind uses to replace your old habit with your new upgraded habit. The trigger must be consistent. Returning to the example above, at eleven o’clock on the dot, you head off for a smoke.
  • What do you do when this trigger occurs? Continuing with the example above, you head off for a smoke.
  1. What do you want to change when this trigger occurs? For myself, when someone said “No”, in a sales situation, which is a trigger, I would back off. I had to develop a more challenger mindset if I was to improve my success selling. The change I put in place was to turn a “No” response, into a “Wait, I am not comfortable with that” response.
  2. When do you want to start changing your habit? Continuing with my habit upgrade, everything I had done up to this point was a passive commitment to myself. I needed to turn it into an active commitment. I did this by writing it down and broadcasting it to others. Doing so allowed me to leverage a powerful persuasion technique programmed into all our minds. We will change our behaviour to be more consistent with active commitments we have given.

There is one last piece required to upgrade a habit.

  1. Create a pattern that your unconscious mind recognises and associates with the trigger that runs the old habit you want to upgrade.

Creating the pattern is the tough part and completely dependent upon how committed you are to become the best version of yourself. Becoming a Master Sales Jedi will not happen overnight; it takes practice, practice, practice if you have ever seen the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, with Mr Miyagi, an unassuming repairman who happens to be a martial arts master himself. You will appreciate what I mean.

Having identified the habit you want to replace, and defined the new habit, you need to draw the old habit out from deep within your fast-subconscious mind and into your slower, conscious mind.

Your Habit Upgrade Tool helps you here also by including a poster builder. Print your new habit, put it on the wall, so you keep reminding yourself. Printing a poster and having it located in a place when you typically unconsciously perform the habit you wish to change helps you remember. When the trigger occurs, you are prepared to act on it.

At first, it will be awkward. What you did without ever thinking is now deliberate and frustratingly slow. That is part of your habit upgrade process, think of it as your Mr Miyagi moment when he insists Daniel, the karate kid, sweeps the floor, when all Daniel wants to do is get out there and kick the stuffing out of something. Keep doing it repeatedly and be focused and consistent.

In my case, when I received that “No”, I had to stop and pause for a brief moment to remind myself that they were saying, “Wait, I’m not comfortable with that”. Having the poster up on the wall in my office and at the forefront of my mind gave me the time I needed to stop backing off from the sale. This gave me the space in my mind to frame a follow-up question and dig in to understand better why they were not comfortable.

Here is that poster that I recreated in our Training Platform with a new date. My original poster is now up on my wall in my home office. Since creating this habit upgrade, when someone says “No”, I  quickly frame a follow-up question digging in to understand better why they are not yet comfortable. I do that without thinking because it has become habitual – success!

Want the good news?

We understand sales and how your brain works, which has allowed us to design our sales training and sales prospecting tools to support you identify those habits that are not serving you well and replace them with better ones.

The reason I explain all this rather than launching into explaining how you can better manage your sales pipeline and sales forecast accuracy is that your success comes down to two factors:

  1. Your commitment to succeed by changing your habits.
  2. Our skill showing you how to do it and guiding you on how to become more successful value-based selling.

If you are willing to commit, we are willing to train and guide you on how to become a Jedi Sales Master. The outcome, you will better manage your sales pipeline and sales pipeline reviews. Your sales forecast will be more accurate, and you will be more consistent in achieving your sales quota targets.

Do we have a deal?

Here we have the classic close question, and why not ask it. I hope we do have a deal, and if so, we look forward to welcoming you to using some of the most refreshingly different and effective sales enablement and sales prospecting tools available in our market.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.

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