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If you don’t know, don’t guess.

Posted by Philip Kreindler on 30 Aug 2016, 18:28:46

If_You_Dont_Know_Dont_Guess.pngThe biggest issue we see across the many Opportunity Reviews we’re involved in each month is the amount of guesswork and assuming that goes on. The Sales Person presents an Opportunity Plan but the meeting turns from a positive exercise designed to give the Sales Person ideas to progress the sale into a negative interrogation about where the truth really lies. 

Is this the fault of the Sales Person? Yes. But in most cases management is also to blame for creating a culture where Sales People feel that guessing is better than saying “I don’t know”.

What are Sales People guessing?

The same guesses turn up time after time. Sales People guess what the goals of the Buying Center are and are too optimistic about the qualification criteria, and their strengths vs. the competition. There is also a tendency to give a decision date so that it matches the end of the quarter.

Let me draw a clear distinction here between a guess and an assumption. Sometimes we have to make assumptions. But it is vital we do everything to verify every assumption as soon as possible. When you go into an Opportunity Review every assumption should be clearly flagged up and the action should be to make sure the assumption is validated.

What’s so bad about guesswork?

Firstly, the opportunity you are working on is more likely to fail if your Opportunity Plan is based on unreliable information or wishful thinking. And forecasting becomes a game of roulette. 

Secondly, and perhaps worse, the whole relationship between the Sales Person and manager can deteriorate. Here is the scenario I see all too often. The Sales Person and manager sit down having allotted an hour for the Opportunity Pit-Stop (the term we use instead of Review). The manager doubts some of the points in the Opportunity Plan, starts asking questions and uncovers that the Sales Person has been guessing. Then the manager has concerns about everything in the plan so the whole Pit-Stop is spent getting to the bottom of what is and is not true. As a result the Sales Person gets defensive and demotivated, the manager is frustrated and loses trust in the Sales Person. No useful actions come out of the Opportunity Pit-Stop.

Why are Sales People guessing?

The biggest cause of the problem is a failure to understand the true purpose of an Opportunity Pit-Stop. If everyone involved saw it as a way to help the Sales Person move the opportunity forward and to provide ideas to overcome any barriers, Sales People would stop guessing. Managers have a big role here in making sure the Pit-Stop is positioned correctly and is a positive experience.

Of course in some cases Sales People have simply failed to ask the right questions. They may lack the skills to ask the right questions or they may have failed to recruit and develop a Coach with whom they can validate critical information. They may also have failed to work effectively with members of their own team who may have been able to supply answers or ask good questions that would reveal key items of information.

How managers can remove the guesswork

Some things are down to the Sales Manager. Firstly, managers should be very clear that an Opportunity Pit-Stop (or whatever you call it) is an opportunity to work together to develop the best possible strategy and action plan. This is something Sales People should value and look forward to but that only happens if managers are positive and create a collaborative experience. Managers may need to develop their own skills around asking coaching questions in these meetings. For instance, a manager can encourage the team by asking a question that reinforces a positive experience in a previous opportunity e.g. Do you remember the success you had when…? What do you need to do to repeat that success this time around? 

Managers also have to look carefully at the strengths and weaknesses of their team and build personal development plans where they see a need.

The most powerful tool in the sales tool kit – good questions

Sales People need to realise that being open and honest is the way to get the best out of an Opportunity Pit-Stop. This may require a more self-reflective mind-set and better questioning techniques.

It’s also good to build a playbook of questions that have worked well in the past. Every opportunity will require some of the same basic information e.g. customer budget, decision making process, business goals and decision criteria so use the questions that worked well in the past.

Better Pit-Stops – better sales

All the organisations I see who run positive Opportunity Pit-Stops where Sales People don’t make guesses and managers use the allotted time to brainstorm creative ideas have one thing in common. They win more sales. So if you don’t know – don’t guess.

Ask yourself

  • Do your Sales People look forward to opportunity reviews?

  • Do you find yourself guessing instead of saying you don’t know?

  • Are your questioning skills as good as they could be?

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