Recently, I was having a conversation with a good friend and colleague. He asked me the question, “Dave, what to you think is the biggest problem area for B2B sales people in generating business today?”
I’m a little slow, I asked, “George, what do you mean?”
He responded, “Well if you look at much of the press and social media, it’s prospecting or top of the pipeline, lead to opportunity conversion…..”
“But,” he went on, “some say it’s the inability to navigate the selling/buying process on qualified deals….”
“Others say it’s the inability to articulate and defend a differentiated value proposition…..”
He continued, “Some think it’s all about ABM, account planning and development….”
“Which of those do you think is the single most important thing to drive huge improvements in sales results?”
After I thought about it, I responded, “George, the real issue is you have to do all of them, all the time! Anytime your focus becomes unbalanced, for example you spend a disproportionate amount of time on the top of the pipeline, it will ripple through and impact performance across everything.”
George, pushed back on me, “Dave, you are really out of alignment with most of the thinking out there. Look at all these ‘sales experts’ saying tope of the pipeline prospecting is the single most important thing for sales right now?”
I don’t disagree with George. Many friend and colleagues focus most of their effort on the top of the pipeline. Most of the pipelines I look at are anemic, people need more opportunities, so prospecting seems to be in need of a lot of attention.
But then, one must ask the question, “Why are our pipelines so anemic?” It may be that we have lousy deal win rates, let’s say 10%. That means, if we need to close 50 deals to make our number, our pipeline has to have 500 deals. That’s a lot deals, trying to fill the pipeline, knowing you may have to prospect 10 potentials, to qualify 1 means you have to prospect 5000 potentials.
You have to have really good prospecting skills and devote a huge amount of time to prospecting to try to keep that pipeline filled–then you wonder if you have enough time to work those 500 deals in the pipeline. Prospecting is a huge issue, in this case. And it’s something that you have to continue doing every day, every month, every quarter, every year.
But what if we looked at it differently, what if we chose to solve a different problem rather than prospecting to keep the pipeline filled. What if we focused on win rates? What if by some magic, we could get win rates up to 50%. That means we only need 100 deals in our pipeline, and we would only need to prospect 1000 potentials. Prospecting is still important, but we don’t have to go for the numbers, we are likely to do a higher quality job of prospecting, making more out of each opportunity we qualify.
Or if we could defend value more effectively, reducing our discounting, improving our win rates. Then by being better at deal execution, I need a smaller pipeline, and don’t need as much prospecting to keep a balanced funnel.
Or let’s go back to the original case, where I have a 10% win rate. Think of the opportunities we are squandering and the opportunity cost to our companies because the win rate is so low. And one might surmise, if you are that bad at managing qualified deals, then you probably will suck at prospecting as well.
See, the problem with much of this thinking is that it addresses the obvious issue, with the obvious solution. For example, anemic pipelines need more prospecting. But it treats these issues in isolation, and that leads to flawed diagnosis and thinking.
Sales is not a job where I can do part of it some days or just the parts I like. If I’m to be successful, I have to do the whole job, all the time.
In selling, everything we do is connected with everything else. One cannot isolate one area, saying this is the most important thing to focus on. We have to constantly look at all aspects, of the job, trying to figure out how best to tilt the numbers in our favor.
Sorry I couldn’t do better George, but it’s all important.
Afterword: To better understand how all the pieces/parts of selling fit together, email me for a free copy of our Sales Execution Framework.