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Are False Positives Killing Your Sales?

by David Brock on September 29th, 2012

A False Positive is a term used in medicine.  Imagine some sort of test that comes back with results saying you have a life threatening condition, but in reality you don’t.  The results of the test were mistaken, giving a False Positive.

If your doctor doesn’t know the results are mistaken, that a False Positive has occurred, the doctor could prescribe treatments for a condition you don’t have.  They can be quite painful and may create a whole series of problems that can be devastating.

In medicine, researchers and doctors are particularly concerned about False Positives.  Often, the reason multiple tests are run is to minimize the potential for false positives.

In sales, we have a lot of False Positives as well.  We interpret things in one way, but in reality they may be quite the opposite.  False Positives cause us to take courses of action that may be completely wrong.  False Positives cause us to “diagnose” the customer situation completely incorrectly, we do the wrong things.  But instead of harming the patient, usually the result is they kill our deals–we lose.

False positives happen in all sorts of ways.  We make assumptions, rather than asking the customer.  We accept initial responses t.  o our questions, failing to probe and really understand.  We hear what we want to hear, or are consumed with wishful thinking.  We work with the wrong people.   Each creates a false positive, but cause us to do the wrong thing in developing and executing our sales strategies.

One of the areas I see the most False Positives in is the Funnel/Pipeline.  We want to keep our pipelines full.  Our managers insist on 3, 4 or more times coverage.  A full funnel with the right coverage is an indicator that we have enough business to achieve our goals.  But too often, our funnels are misleading, they are filled with False Positives, making us think we have enough to achieve our goals but, in reality, we are far short.

Deals improperly placed in the funnel are dangerous false positives.  Several years ago, I was asked by an executive to help with his sales team.  As we discussed the situation, I asked about the pipeline.  His response was, “Our funnel looks very good.  We have more than enough opportunities to meet our goals, but our sales people just can’t move them through the pipeline to closure.  We need help in closing deals.”

Initially, the funnel looked very robust, but as I looked more deeply, I discovered all sorts of problems.  There was virtually no flow through the funnel.  Deals had been in the pipeline for years with little or no movement.  Looking at the activities in the deals, customers hadn’t been contacted for months, there were no planned activities or next steps.  We started cleaning the funnel–we removed 75% of the deals.

They were False Positives, they were leading management and sales people to do the wrong things.  The remaining 25% of the deals in the funnel were good deals.  Sales people had good strategies and were moving them through the pipeline effectively.  The sales people didn’t have a closing problem, they had a prospecting problem.  They didn’t have nearly the deals needed to make their quotas.  There weren’t enough demand creation programs, leads, or new deals being qualified.  The real problem–and solution was completely different from what everyone originally thought.

False Positives are dangerous in medicine and in sales.  They set the wrong expectations, sometimes dangerous expectations.  They cause us to take the wrong actions, often making things much worse, always causing us to waste time and resource.  False Positives can cause us to miss problems.  We may think things are going well, when there is an underlying disaster.

If we have not rigorously eliminated false positives, we are always doing the wrong thing and will always fail!  Are you looking at everything you are doing to make sure you are not basing your strategies and actions on False Positives?

From → Leadership

  1. Julie Banks permalink

    A great article to read as you are updating your business plan and forecasting for the quarter.

    • Thanks for the comment Julie! Great advice, starting the new quarter, it’s a key time to reassess everything. Facing reality, whatever it is, is critical, it’s only then that we know what problems we have to solve. Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  2. Luis permalink

    Such a good analogy… thanks for the article Mr. Brooks !!!

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