B2B sales cycles are getting longer and more complex so the cost of pitching is rising – our research suggests the effort you have to make has doubled in the last 10 years. A recent sales opportunity we were involved in to outsource the network operations of a European Telecoms giant took 2 years.
The increased investment you have to make means it’s more important than ever to make sure your Sales Process is under control. But instead of looking at every aspect of a complex Sales Process throughout a long sales cycle, many vendors concentrate on the detailed content of the proposal and neglect developing relationships and a distinctive value proposition. As a result you lose the pitch, along with the large investment you’ve made in trying to win the business.
Last minute surprises are the worst thing that can happen. I was with the Sales Director of a client at his monthly Sales meeting recently and watched as one of the Regional Sales Directors revealed that the multi million Euro deal he been working on for months, and seemed so sure of closing just last month, now looked like it was going to a competitor. The Sales Director had already told the CEO the deal was in the bag. You can imagine how the next conversation between the CEO and the Sales Director went.
You can’t win every pitch. But you can expect to know just how the pitch is going at every stage. And the management tool you use is an Opportunity Review.
Sales Professionals don’t like Opportunity Reviews
There are a few problems with Opportunity Reviews, a lot of Sales Professionals see them at best as a waste of time and at worst a grim interrogation process that provides no benefit. But if we look at how to run them well, it will become clear that a good Opportunity Review benefits everyone.
Sales People should get new ideas
Firstly, let’s look at the Opportunity Review from the standpoint of the person trying to make the sale. You might have a concern in the back of your mind that your manager won’t give you the resources you need to deliver the sale. He or she might even cancel the pitch if it doesn’t look good. So it is tempting to make the opportunity look better than it really is. But the real benefits of an Opportunity Review only come when you are completely transparent about what is happening and flag up all the questions and all the potential problems.
It is very important that the Sales Person leading the pitch – the Opportunity Owner – uses an Opportunity Roadmap to highlight all the potential problems and questions. This helps ensure that every aspect of the sale - including value propositions and relationships - are kept in focus. The Opportunity Owner brings the Roadmap to the review with key issues highlighted and they form the focus of the Review. Then it becomes the job of the manager to help overcome the problems rather than painfully trying to distinguish assumptions and wishful thinking from the truth.
Managing a good Opportunity Review
As a Sales leader in an Opportunity Review you have quite a challenging set of tasks. You need to use positive coaching techniques and good questions to reach consensus about the current situation and identify the areas of concern. Next you have to brainstorm how to resolve the problem areas, come up with an action plan and work with the Opportunity Owner to assign those actions and ensure there is plan to make sure they get done.
Knowing how many Sales People feel about Opportunity Reviews, you need to make sure the whole thing is a positive and motivating experience. This is where your coaching skills come in. Here are a couple of techniques you can use.
Activating the Plus. To keep the atmosphere positive and prevent the Opportunity Owner from becoming defensive, you could propose an Opportunity Review by saying something like “You have put a great deal of effort into this opportunity. When can we sit down to see what else needs to be done to win the deal?”
Pain-Pleasure. You can encourage self-reflection by drawing parallels to past positive or negative experiences, or imagining the consequences if certain situations develop
Pain: Do you remember what happened when…? What would happen if…? What could you do differently this time to avoid that outcome?
Pleasure: Do you remember the success you had when…? What impact would that have on this sales opportunity? What do you need to do to repeat that success this time around?
So as a Manager you are using the Opportunity Review to get a real insight into how the pitch is really going, how all those resources you are investing are being used and at the same time increasing the probability of winning.
Good practice to make sure you are making the most of these reviews is to have someone sit in on your reviews from time to time and give you feedback about how well you run them and suggest areas for improvement.
Don’t run Opportunity Reviews
Well you should, but just don’t call them that. It’s a term that has become so associated with negative feelings among Sales People that we suggest using the term Deal Pit-Stop instead. If everyone thinks of this meeting as a way to refuel, recharge and refocus on the way to the chequered flag then feelings are much more positive.
A Deal Pit-Stop allows you to see what is going on in good time so you can take action to address problems. It makes your sales forecast more reliable and helps to avoid wasting resources by weeding out opportunities you never will win. Sales People come to see Deal Pit Stops as a positive exercise that helps them win business so they are keen to ask for one themselves.
Ask yourself these questions
Here are a few questions you might like to ask yourself when thinking about Opportunity Reviews
Does your Sales Team give you nasty surprises?
Do you know how good your Opportunity Reviews are?
Does the team think they are positive and help them win the deal?
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