For those of you that know me, this won’t be a stunning confession, but I really struggle with my impatience. I try to rein it in–I’ve stopped tapping my pen, incessantly, on tables in meetings (though my legs are bouncing up and down under the table). I’ve learned to count to 10–well maybe 100, before jumping in on a review. But my tolerance level for waiting is virtually non-existent.
So in deal reviews and pipeline reviews, it’s not unusual for me to interrupt, cutting to the chase, asking “What’s next, when will it happen?”
It seems an obvious question and critical to helping the customer move through their buying cycle–as we move through our sales process. But to often, my question is answered with a blank stare, a shrug of the shoulders, or a “We’re waiting for the customer….” Sometimes that last statement is followed by the sales person saying, “I’ll call and check in.”
If we and our customers are to make progress and produce results, there has to always be a next step/action (or maybe 2-3 steps/actions). It has to be time based, that is it must have a target completion date.
If we don’t have at least one next step/action and target completion date, nothing will happen! The deal will stall, attention will get diverted, the customer will defer getting the results they expect–losing opportunity.
Every deal in your pipeline has to have (no if’s, and’s, but’s) a next step and target completion date. It may be things the customer has committed to do. There are certainly things that we have committed to do. “Checking in” is not a next step.
Checking in is what we do when we don’t know what to do next.
Checking in is what we do when the customer doesn’t know what they should be doing next–and we’ve provided no guidance.
Checking in does not move the customer or us forward, it does not have us make progress, it does not enable us to create and build value through the process.
Checking in is just a status report.
If we and the customer are serious about making a change, there is always a next step to move forward, there is someone responsible, and there is a target completion date.
Look at every deal in your pipeline:
- Do you have at least one next step/action identified to be completed within the next 30 days? (Ideally sooner) If you don’t your deal is stalled.
- Can you map the outcome of that next step/action to progress through the customer buying cycle and your selling process? If you don’t, someone’s spinning their wheels.
- Are you and the customer aligned in moving forward in the process? If not, your deal is seriously at risk–though the competitor’s deal with the customer may not be.
- Don’t count status reviews, checkpoint reviews, “Howdy” calls, or “Checking in” as a meaningful activity.
There are simply no exceptions to this–in any deal! Every deal in your pipeline must have a next step/action with a target completion date!
I’ve seen very complex deals with very long sale cycles, there are always critical activities and next steps that have to be taken every month. The shorter your sales cycle, the greater the number of activities that must be completed each month–each week.
If you have deals in your pipeline that don’t have any defined activities or next steps, the next step is to meet with the customer to develop an action plan, align on next steps, responsibilities and target dates.
If you have a deal in your pipeline that hasn’t had some activity in the past month, the next step is to see if the deal is real. Kill it or move forward, don’t let it sit there.
With everything we do as sales professionals, there is always a next step, a person responsible, and a target completion date!