By Tim Searcy
Ahh meetings—those wonderful illusions of productivity, collaboration and focus. Meetings are the standard reaction to sales management crisis just as running an IV is the standard answer in an emergency room.
OK, you are going to have a meeting because you are in a crisis. What are you going to meet about?
Enthusiastic yelling, leading and hours of meetings will only create the illusion of problem solving. Instead, you need information. There are three types of information you have to get a stranglehold on right away in a sales crisis: pipeline, prospects and potential.
1. Pipeline. The pipeline is defined as the list of real opportunities for which you have credible, verifiable information including all of the following:
- Dollars. How big is this, how soon can we see it, and how long will the opportunity continue to pay us and is there a bigger payout later? But even more important than that is the rock solid assurance that a trigger event has occurred that will make certain this deal happens, and an unshakeable knowledge that a budget of sufficient size has been allocated to do the work. Without these, the dollars are dreams, not dollars.
- Dates. When the deal is going to close is less relevant than when it will bill. More importantly, what control do we have on moving the dates forward versus waiting for things to happen? Sometimes a prospect will make accommodation or we can directly impact how quickly actions can take place by what we do.
- Decision Making. You have to know the criteria upon which the awarding of the work will pivot. If we don’t know how the fears that the deal will alleviate in the client’s mind, we don’t know enough to win.
- Decision Makers. Is the economic buyer involved and have we personally engaged with them yet? What do we know about these people as individuals, and what research do we have on them and their history in decision making? Again, do we know what has triggered the choice to change providers or move outside?
The goal of the pipeline information analysis is to trim down the pipeline to a 30-60 day action cycle. Clean out everything that does not provide the information you need, set it aside for reconnaissance work and now focus on the remaining pipeline over which planning and energy can have impact.
2. Prospects. What if your remaining pipeline is ‘thin’? The crisis may not be able to be addressed with the opportunities in the pipeline even if we close at a slightly higher rate than we have in the past. We have to look above the pipeline to find out where we can hope to see more opportunities.
- Source. Often a crisis is at least in part about our own expenses. As a sales leader, you will be asked to address things like trade shows, advertising, sponsorships, client gifts and T &E. You need to have a great sense of where your best leads are coming from. In a crisis, there is nothing you have to do.
- Rate of flow. What is the pace of demand generation and does it have seasonality? Trade show season is often touted as the best time to get new leads. However, every marketing activity has a lifecycle, and someone needs to work through a calendar to give you an expected number of leads for each cycle. Then you need to determine if the lead flow will be sufficient, and if not, what expense trade offs are you willing to make to gain a greater or different yield of leads.
- Distribution. This is no time to play fair. If you have been using a standard distribution of leads to sales people, you need to rethink this. In a time of crisis, you need your best people chasing the best opportunities. Crisis by its nature means you will have to sacrifice something, and unfortunately the feelings of your less productive salespeople may need to be ignored.
These steps are all valid if the pipeline is too small to overcome the gap that is creating the crisis. If you have a big enough pipeline, however, WORK THE PIPELINE and leave the fresh prospecting efforts until you have exhausted the pipeline.
3. Potential from current clients. Often the place we go first is our current clients. We know them, and they know us, and it is likely that we are not getting all the business from them that we should.
- Current status. With which clients are we currently in good standing? This is not the time to chase someone who is angry at us to ask for more business. As a sales leader, it will require nerves of steel to face down an owner or boss and say “No, it is not time to ask for more business from this client, because they are already on the edge of firing us.” I have seen many organizations in which the CEO is completely unaware of the current relationship challenges and the severity of those challenges.
- State of Triggers. It is very difficult to pull a trigger that is not there. We have to assess whether we have a good story other than our need for why we should be getting more business from a current client. If the client does not have their own rationale for giving you more, you will need to take one with you. Ask yourself, “What problem do I solve for my client or fear do I alleviate for them when they give me more business?” Conversely, you need to assess what problems or fears you create when they give you more business.
With this information, you can begin to make the most important decision any leader can make: what not to focus on. That’s right, this is a reductive process. Get rid of the lower impact items and drive the things you can manage like a ten penny nail (That means really, really hard!) Many times, the answers you get from your investigation will drop that pit in your stomach to depths you had not realized existed. However, from real truth comes real change. You need to design a plan that takes into account Pareto’s law, and focus on the 20% that can give you the 80% you have to have to get out of the crisis.