We’re well into the second half now. The first half is behind us, many are breathing a sigh of relief.
Did you make your numbers? Did you hit your targets? Have you achieved your Year To Date Quota?
“What are you talking about Dave?” Some of you might be wondering, what point I’m trying to make.
My point is top performers always focus on making the numbers–that is they want to make their goals this month, this quarter, and for the year. Every once in a while, even top performers might miss a monthly goal. As they move forward, they not only focus on making the next month’s goal, but they know they are obligated to make up the difference–they have to close the gap in Year To Date attainment.
Too many sales people don’t think of this. “Last month was last month, we need to focus on this month and the future!” But with that approach, we never make our goals. The first month we miss, sets our fates for the year. If we don’t close the gap in performance, we won’t make our numbers (that’s kind of the way math works).
So how do we do this? Closing the gap doesn’t happen through wishful thinking or luck. We have to have a plan to make up the shortfall in performance.
We know the normal work we have to do to make our numbers every month—we know what we have to have in our funnels/pipelines. We know the number of deals we need to be working, we know the number of prospecting calls we have to make. To close the gap, we have to up those numbers. We have to figure out the increment we have to add—what do our ideal pipeline numbers need to look like to make up for what we missed? How many more deals do we need to be working? How much more prospecting do we have to do?
There’s another thing that’s important in making our numbers and closing the gap. It’s planning for more than our monthly quota or goals. We need to focus on overachieving them.
Top performers do this naturally, their personal goals are always higher than quota–they want to perform at the highest levels, so quota is something they pass on the way to achieving their goals. That’s why they are rarely behind plan. They have a built in buffer to their plan. Things happen, every once in a while a deal we expected to close by a certain date, gets pushed out. A deal we hoped to win, falls through. But having the buffer means that top performers rarely fall below their plan.
Too many sales people look at the plan or quota as their target. So when something doesn’t happen as expected, we are immediately put behind. We are immediately in the situation where we have to play catch up.
Setting our goals at just making the number is a bad strategy. If anything unexpected happens, we are immediately behind.
Hopefully, you are well on the way for making your numbers in the second half. If you are at or over Year To Date plan, congratulations–but keep it up, keep ahead of the game for the rest of the year. If you are behind plan, you still have a lot of runway to make things up. Make sure you have a plan in place to achieve it.
The “Target Close Date” is one of the most important aspects of pipeline, forecast, and deal integrity. Anything else in our deal strategy can change, but the Target Close Date must be kept as sacred!
Now before I get everyone piling on, saying I’m totally unrealistic, that I don’t recognize the realities of sales, or that the customer is the key determinant of the close and it’s out of control; give me a chance to explain my position.
There will always be good reason to change the target close date–but, that’s the point–there has to be good reason, any changes must be done thoughtfully and purposefully. But too often our problem is:
- We don’t set a target close date based on a compelling event/sense of urgency based on the customer’s needs to have a solution in place.
- We set unrealistic target close dates, with no commitment to meet them.
- As things “slip” in the sales/buying process, we have a day for day, week for week slip in the target close date.
Let me dive into these a little further:
We don’t set a target close date based on a compelling event: Most of the time sales people set a target close date based on when they want to close the deal, when they need the PO to make their number. The target close date must be established based on when the customer needs to have a solution in place and operational. Now there’s a lot in that sentence, let me break it down further.
We must understand what’s driving the customer to make a change and when they need to have a solution in place. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy, they have a looming new product launch, they have a new plant, they have a deadline for their customers–all these drive a sense of urgency and hard deadlines by which a customer must make a decision and have a solution in place. Sometimes there isn’t a hard deadline or an event we can leverage. In that case, we must help the customer establish a sense of urgency and a deadline by which they want to start achieving their desired goals. The only reason customers buy is to achieve a desired goal. It’s our job to understand this and to help them establish a timeline by which they must start achieving it. We can help the customer establish that timeline or sense of urgency by focusing on the consequences of not making a decision or changing. Are they losing sales? Are they losing productivity? Are they losing cost savings? Are they losing customers and share?
If the customer has deadline–real or self imposed–to start seeing results, then they have no deadline for making a decision. One might question if in this case the opportunity is really qualified.
So it’s critical that we and the customer are aligned around the business reasons and urgency for making a decision and having a solution in place.
Once we and the customer agree to the date they expect a solution to be in place, with the customer, we have to work backwards from that date: How long will it take to implement the solution, how long does it take to ship/install the solution components, what lead times (for instance if we have to build the product like a machine tool) do we have for being able to provide the solution? What is the contracting/procurement process like when they do agree on our decision, how long does that take? All these help us establish a date of when the customer needs to make a decision and provide a PO? We arrive at this collaboratively early in the selling/buying process. These set the cadence/schedule we and the customer must execute in order to meet their goals and objectives.
We set unrealistic target close dates: Sales people are always optimistic. Or they might be driven by pressure from sales management. So target close dates are set unrealistically close. They don’t align with the customer sense of urgency–but are driven by when we wish we could get the PO. In the process, we find the customer doesn’t have the same sense of urgency. Or we’ve been unrealistic about all the things that need to get done to meet the target close date–both those things we have to do, and those things the customer has to do (keeping in mind, they still have to do their day jobs.).
So we almost never meet those dates, and they slip and slip and slip……..
As things slip in the selling/buying process, we have a day for day, week for week slip in target close date: We and the customer establish a target close date with the best of intentions. We understand the deadlines, and sense of urgency. But over the course of time, things happen. Attention gets diverted, things take longer than we or the customer had planned. We lose a day here or a week there. Traditionally, we let the target close/decision date slip. This is particularly prevalent when the customer has no deadline or sense of urgency about having a solution in place.
So we slip the date, updating CRM. Then more stuff happens, more delays–all with good reason, and the date slips further. We re-adjust the target close date again. Managers, rightfully are getting upset. Is this deal real? Are we going to close it? Why is the slippage happening?
Think about it from the customer point of view. They may miss their deadline. I worked with a client that provided manufacturing equipment to Consumer Package Goods companies. In one situation, the project slipped so long, the customer didn’t have the manufacturing line in place in time, which caused them to miss orders for the Christmas season, which represented 80% of their customers’ expected revenue from that product line! Even absent an event driven deadline, every day or week the decision slips means the deferral or loss of business value.
So as activities slip in the selling/buying process, with the customer, we need to rethink the schedule–working backwards from the fixed target close date, adjusting the schedule so we get buying/selling activities complete in that new schedule. It should be an easy process to explain to the customer–it’s simply good project management discipline. Customers should be used to that from their own internal project management processes.
What Does This Mean? Well the most important thing about keeping the Target Close Date fixed is the customer starts achieving the outcomes they expect from the new solution when they need or expect them. So we create great value by enabling the customer to achieve their planned goals on schedule.
From our point of view, it drives far greater integrity in our pipelines, forecasts, and business results. The rest of the company can more effectively plan their work/activities to meet the deadlines we need for the customer. Inventory can be purchased and manufacturing time scheduled more easily and effectively. If we provide services, the availability of skilled resources is always critical, driving greater schedule integrity in our close dates enables the managers of those teams to plan more effectively. In short, it improves our own company’s ability to plan and execute more effectively and efficiently.
Sure things happen, stuff comes up. There are legitimate reasons to slip the Target Close Date. But we are far more impactful, effective, and efficient when we do this purposefully and thoughtfully. We and the customer should have exhausted all alternatives to keep the original date, achieving the goals and outcomes we’ve established. Only then, does it make sense to slip the date.
Look at your performance over the past year. What percent of your deals come in on time? What percent slip? What are you doing to drive integrity in this process–both for you and your customer?
For the salacious readers, no this isn’t a post gossiping on the courtroom antics of the most current troubled celebrity or politician (as much fun as it might be to comment on them). I wanted to address “trial programs,” that is programs we leverage to get the customer to actually use our products in a “trial” mode, before they commit to buy.
Trial programs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can be highly customized demos or benchmarks. They can be installing equipment or systems at a customer site, letting them use them for a period of time. They can be the free downloads we hope will entice customers to continue using long after the trial period has extended.
Many sales people leverage these as a kind of “puppy dog” close, thinking if they can just shoehorn the product into the customer in some ways, it will never come out. I seldom see these working. In customers leveraging software download or free months on web delivered services, the number of customers that end up using them on and ongoing basis and paying for it is painfully small. (Though marketing likes it, because they proudly report them to the world as users/subscribers.)
Trial programs are often critical as part of the customer buying process. But too often sales people and customer don’t leverage these programs correctly. As an example, some years ago, when I led a large sales team selling very complex analytic equipment, the sales people would commonly “drop off” a piece of equipment for the customer to use for a month. They’d take the box to the customer, help set it up, quickly show them how to use it, then say “good luck and god speed.” A month later they would pick it up, often, it had been collecting dust in the corner of an engineering lab, sometimes it had been used, but most of the time the trial didn’t result in a sale—at least as a result of the trial.
Since then in dozens of clients I’ve seen similar things–whether it’s equipment, complex systems, software, web delivered tools. We and the customer enter the trial too casually, and the trial does nothing to move the buying or selling process forward.
If we are going to leverage trial to their full potential for customers and to help us sell, then we cannot be casual about our trial programs. The investments we and the customers are making in equipment, resources and time are too large to be aimless about what we have to achieve. We and our customers must be very purposeful — we need to have a plan:
What is it we hope to learn in the trial?
How are we going to use the trial to do this?
What outcomes/results do we expect as a result of the trial?
If we achieve our objectives in the trial, what commitments/next steps are we making to each other (Ideally, a successful outcome from a trial should result in a PO from the customer).
In committing to a trial, we need to sit down with the customer, develop and document the plan. Customers may not know how to do this, they may not know how to structure what they are doing with our products to discover what they need to discover. They may not know what outcomes they expect to achieve—are they looking for certain throughput levels, are they looking for certain functionality, are they assessing performance capability are they looking at quality, are they assessing ease of use, and the list can go on.
So we need to help them develop the plan for what they want to learn and how they will do that over the next 30–or whatever days. It may be the trial is the wrong vehicle to help them discover what they need to discover.
As a sales person, I certainly don’t want to invest in a trail without knowing, “What happens after we are successful in proving what you need to prove?” If we are successful, I want them to buy. In the very least, I want to know the next steps to getting a purchase. I want to know the trial is part of that process of moving forward.
So what if the customer won’t commit to a plan or the next steps?
I’d seriously question the value of entering into a trial. If the customer won’t commit to a plan, then how will they know whether the trial helps them or not? If they won’t commit to next actions as a result of a successful trial, then are they really serious about our solution?
In all my experience, customers embrace this process! They recognize it’s an investment of their time and resource. They want to make sure they aren’t wasting time and not achieving their goals. The problem is, since the solution is often very new, they don’t know how to develop the evaluation plan.
This process becomes even further complicated if the customer is doing side by side trials with your competition. As a sales person, I don’t want to leave the successful outcome for that trial to chance.
What about the web downloads, or the 30 day free use of a web based service? These happen in the hundreds to thousands. How do we support customers in having successful outcomes to those trials? How do we help them move forward in their evaluation, hopefully resulting in a subscription or purchase at the end of the trial?
Lot’s of companies do this pretty well. When I try out a new web service, I get a welcome email. I might get daily or weekly emails suggesting things I might do or functionality I might test. A client recently put together a white paper with a project plan template to help the customer think about what they wanted to achieve in their trial—the good new is those people clicking on that link gave my client an indicator about who, among the thousands of download request they got, was really serious about the product.
So trial can be very powerful in helping the customer and us accelerate our buying and selling processes. But we can only leverage that power if we work with the customer in developing a plan, and understanding what’s next. Absent this, I’m afraid trials are a pure waste of time, resource, and money for both the customer and us–and it’s better not to do it.
Surprise!!! It may be fun for a birthday party, but it’s never fun in sales. It means that somehow our carefully thought out approach has suddenly been thrown into disarray. The great progress we thought we were making has suddenly been washed away. We may have to go back to the drawing board, start all over. In the least we have to regroup and rethink our strategies.
Surprises are a part of life in sales, our ability to manage, deal with, and recover from surprises is what separates top performers from everyone else.
What can we do to avoid or minimize surprises?
The simple answer is, “have a plan.” But it’s not so simple, really the plan has to be developed collaboratively with the customer. We have to understand the customer buying process, we have to align our sales process with what the customer is doing, we have to continually engage the customer to make sure we are moving forward together. Ideally, if we are facilitating the customer buying process, we help drive the direction.
All of this helps to minimize the chance that surprises may occur. But there are some important things in the previous statements that we sometimes overlook or discount. Both we and our customer have to have a process! If we don’t it becomes a random journey—neither of us know where we are going, nor if we’ll ever get to the end goal. It’s not unusual for the customer not to have a buying process, unless they are buying the stuff we sell every day. So we create a lot of value in helping the customer establish a buying process. As to our sales process—it’s simply foolishness not to have a sales process. I’ll stop with that statement, I’ve written enough about this in other posts.
One of the things every good plan has is contingencies. Basically, it’s thinking, “What do we do if this happens? Or that?” For example, we might help the customer think about, “What do we do if management doesn’t provide the funding we need to implement the solution?” Basically, we want to think about the things that could derail what we and the customer are trying to achieve, developing strategies for dealing with them, should they occur. It’s probably not reasonable to think of every possible thing that could come up, but at least sit down with your customer or your own team and think of the 3-4 things that you are most worried about. Maybe, in a very complex or long cycle, you can only see a few steps ahead, but the Boy Scouts have it right when they say, “Be Prepared.”
In spite of all our best planning, anticipation, development of contingencies, surprises will happen. Our sales processes provide a framework for us to analyze and assess the situation. How do we best respond? Where have we experienced this before? What’s different, how do we adapt?
Our processes may not cover everything, this is where the underlying principles and values of the company come into play. They provide us a framework for assessing and analyzing things that just don’t fit anything we’ve done before. How do we hold the customer? What’s the right thing to do based on our company operating principles and values?
“Murphy” was very wise, surprises will happen. The issue is not the surprise, but how we manage and respond to it. Having solid plans, based on our processes, principles, and values provide the frameworks for being able to achieve the outcomes we desire.
Without a framework for dealing with surprises, you might as well flip a coin.