Seven Fatal Flaws in Qualifying Sales Opportunities

stopping dominoes from falling

In large measure, the difference between highly productive sales professionals—those who exceed their quota year after year—and those sales representatives who seem destined to underperform lies in a single explanation: the productive seller chases good business and the underperformer chases bad business. For the most part, it’s not how hard they work—it’s how smart they work.

Many of us are guilty of the following mistakes in judgment:

  • A seller chooses to pursue an opportunity because it appears to be an easy “win” and a “W” in the column would be welcome even though the size of the sale would add negligibly to quota achievement.
  • A seller chooses to pursue an opportunity because the stakeholders are easy to contact and seem friendly even though a competitor is firmly entrenched in the account.
  • A seller chooses to pursue an opportunity because the account is nearby and would be easy to reach even though the sales cycle would extend well beyond the end of the year.

In each of these situations, sellers are overlooking tactics and tools for qualifying a sales opportunity. Why is that important?  Recent studies confirm that top tier sales organizations adhere to a formalized qualifying process. You won’t achieve your revenue number if you chase bad business.  You won’t know bad business from good if you don’t apply some methodology or criteria in deciding which opportunity to pursue.

7 Fatal Flaws in Qualifying Sales Targets

Consider the following seven fatal flaws in qualifying your sales targets.

  1. Not using a qualifying tool or format to delineate good from bad sales opportunities. Too many sales professionals employ an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach to differentiating good and bad business.  Even worse, some believe that “any sale is a good sale” leading them to chase easy (but poor) business.  As mentioned above, highly productive, industry-leading sales teams employ screening processes and sales analytics to identify qualified prospects.
  2. Not engaging multiple stakeholders in person-to-person interviews as integral to the qualifying process. Qualifying a target involves collecting data, insight and impressions from person-to-person conversations. Some sellers, however, limit their “discovery” process to conversations with a single individual.  It’s easy to mistake a single individual’s enthusiasm for corporate interest in a product or solution.
  3. Failing to qualify a target throughout the sales process. Too often we think of “qualifying” as a discrete stage in the sales process.  Top performing sellers continue to qualify a target throughout the buy-sell process.  Here’s why.  People present themselves (and their company) differently in initial meetings, in presentations and during negotiations.  It’s vital that sellers continue to collect data and evaluate the sale as a business opportunity.  “Winning at any price” is not a good business practice.
  4. Not considering the selling skills required to win. Almost every scorecard or profile used in qualifying a prospect makes the mistake of focusing exclusively on attributes or characteristics of the buying organization.  How about the seller?  Does the seller have the skills and resources necessary to land the sale? Is there any challenge or obstacle that requires an elevated skill set?
  5. Believing great targets make great customers. If this were true, we would seldom have customer management issues. Unfortunately, the characteristics that make a buying team a good target may have little to do with how they will engage, communicate and operate as customers.  Customers would probably say something similar for sellers: “Good sellers do not necessarily make good suppliers.”
  6. Ignoring the “buyer’s window.” Every buying organization has a timeframe in mind for purchasing a product or solution (or deciding not to purchase).  That “buyer’s window” must match up with the seller’s need for a timely award date.  If the buyer and seller windows don’t match you may wish to reconsider your investment of time in an opportunity that may not close soon enough to help you meet your quota.
  7. Not considering “What’s the data say?” With the emergence of CRM systems and sales analytics, there is much that the frontline sales representative can learn from available data about the attributes of good customers. It is amazing how much data is available to arm and enable a curious sales professional.  “What are the key characteristics of prospects who choose us?”

Takeaways for Sales Professionals

  • Rethink your scorecard or customer profile periodically. Qualifying should never be a “one and done” process.
  • Remember that every hour you spend on bad business is an hour that could have been applied to a good business opportunity.
  • If you are in doubt about an opportunity, don’t make an “all in” commitment until you have more information.
  • Whenever you win or lose an opportunity, look back on your scorecard to try and discover what helped you win or what contributes to the loss.
  • Networking is big. Find out what social media cites are most engaging for your prospects and become an active presence. Get on board or you’ll be swimming upstream.

Takeaways for Sales Managers

  • Your team will need to be fed continuous doses of sales analytics. Identify needs, create dashboards and integrate analytics into territory, account and sales plan reviews.  Very few sales teams are using their CRM systems fully.
  • Provide leadership in identifying and sharing best practices for qualifying prospects.
  • Your team will need help in disqualifying opportunities. The temptation is to include too many “unknowns” in the funnel.  If they aren’t sure, keep it out of the funnel.  Remember that to new sellers everyone looks like a good prospect.

Parting Thoughts

Recognize, nurture and grow your top sales professionals. Remember the only thing worse than them leaving is learning they are going to your competitor. Prevention is easy. The first step is acknowledgement that it’s an important activity.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful and informative discourse.

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©Strategic Dynamics Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2017