I have lost count of the amount of times organisations have told us they need to improve the ability of their salespeople to close deals. The story line is usually along the following familiar lines…Too many sales opportunities have been sitting in the 'closing' stage of the pipeline for too long - they take much longer to close than anticipated or else they simply evaporate and disappear from the pipeline altogether. The conclusion therefore often drawn is “We need to improve our closing skills”.
Not so fast...
The reason that many sales opportunities take too long to close (or never close) is often less about closing skills and more the result of gaps in activity or effectiveness earlier in the sales process. In essence, these opportunities should not yet have reached the ‘closing’ stage of the pipeline. The problem is usually two-fold:
Salespeople haven’t had all the right conversations with all the right people about the right things at the right time – in essence, a gap in capability and appropriate application of capability.
They are not able to accurately identify where an opportunity really is in the sales process and so are not able to correctly diagnose what needs to be done with who and when. Progress is often tracked based on where the salesperson thinks they are in the sales process vs. where the customer is in their buying process. This disconnect often gives a false representation of reality.
Both these issues require attention if an organisation is to have an effective and reliable business development 'engine'. However in the short term, the following may help….
Pick an opportunity that has been stuck in the ‘closing’ stage for a while and ask yourself these 4 questions about that opportunity….
Have all the key stakeholders involved in the decision making process shared with us their specific issues, priorities and needs?
Have all relevant customer stakeholders validated the key data that will enable us to build a compelling case for them to choose our solution?
Have key decision makers and influencers acknowledged to us that there is a compelling case (financial and non-financial) for working with us?
Have relevant customer stakeholders shared any concerns and risks they may have in moving forward and have mitigation plans been agreed?
If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then it might point to where action is needed to move that opportunity forward.