This next couple of blog posts will focus on Sales Opportunity Management. This is the third category of blog series Best Practices for B2B Sales Pipeline and Forecast Management based on the original blog post for this best practice series started on January 21st.
Sales Opportunity Management
Sales opportunity management is a dance with the buyer and seller. The buyer is leading the dance. The buyer is in control. The seller’s objective is to interpret the buyer’s lead and step accordingly to move in lock-step with the buyer to an ultimate “closed-won” conclusion.
A dance is made up of moves, and moves are made up of a series of steps. Similarly, the sales process is made up of stages and each stage is made up of milestones (also known as key inflection points or exit criteria).
Stages and Milestones - the vocabulary of Sales Opportunity Management
Sales stages are created based on historic buyer behavior. The stages should have a clearly defined objective of what needs to be accomplished. Stages should be based on reviewing your historic buyer’s journey with a focus on how to complement buyer activity with the seller activities to help the buyer make a well-informed buying decision.
The number of stages are based on the complexity and length of the sales process. The simpler and quicker the sales cycle the fewer stages. The more complex and the longer the sales model, the more stages you’ll have.
Milestones are the activities required to meet the objective of the stage. Once you complete the milestones (or at least the necessary ones) you will advance to the next stage. The tendency will be to add too many milestones – so be careful of getting too detailed as you go through your buyer’s journey. Our customers usually establish two to four milestones per stage.
Milestones are necessary because they help guide the sales rep on the next qualifying step in the process process and they help us understand the status of the deal. Many sales models are fluid so it is important to understand the flexibility of milestones in your situation. Milestones may not all happen in perfect sequence.
Back to the Dance
As you advance in dance, the moves become more complex and build on the earlier moves. Similarly as the sales opportunity advances the milestones become more complex. Because the buyer is leading the dance, the sales rep needs to be ready with content and sales tools (i.e. ROI calculator, competitor comparisons, customer case studies) to compliment the buyer's lead.
Sales Opportunity Management Process
The challenge with sales opportunity management is each opportunity has its unique DNA, no two deals will ever be the same, but they will have similar components and similar needs for additional information.
Sales opportunity management is a process of (1) tracking all potential sales deals as they move through the sales pipeline and (2) taking the appropriate action on the opportunities at the appropriate time to move them along to a “closed-won” conclusion.
The tracking component of sales opportunity management is designed to ensure you know the following about every opportunity in the sales pipeline.
- Viability - is it real
- Priority - which requires the most focus - which are going to close soon.
- Follow up - next step for each opportunity
- Ideal Customer Profile Fit - where does this fit in the spectrum of close won/close lost deals.
The previous best practice of “Monitoring the Pipeline from Different Perspectives” from the prior blog category on the sales pipeline helps support tracking.
The action component is designed to keep nurturing the opportunity forward, or making a decision to “close-loss” the opportunity. The action component must be in lock step with the buying team’s lead. For the Opportunity nurturing may include:
- Customer Reference Calls
- Educational Content
- Identifying the buying team
- Supporting each member of the buying team with content they need to know
For the sales rep, the action component could also include:
- Identifying of sales aids such as checklists and competitive battle cards
- “In-the-moment” training for the sales rep for meetings/or other situations they have not seen before.
The previous two best practices of “Proactive Follow up” and “Proactive Delivery of Sales Content” from the prior blog category on the sales pipeline support taking action on sales opportunities.
In addition to the above mentioned best practices, there are additional overarching best practices we need to cover::
- Account Management - to nurture deals to become opportunities
To some, account management can be considered a superset of opportunity management and we should deal with it separately because it starts before you have an opportunity. To others, it may not be considered in B2B Sales best practices at all, because it is owned by marketing.
We are covering it here because B2B buyers start as a team well before they hit your website or respond to your marketing efforts and become an opportunity. Account Management needs to be considered when taking a holistic approach to the revenue engine.
- Guided Selling - to close deals
Guided selling is the process of prescribing optimal sales execution steps to the sales reps to enforce an efficient sales process. The tasks and process are based on sales patterns of past close-won, and close-lost opportunities.
- Always know the next step - keep the deal moving forward
The most important step in the sales process is always the NEXT step. It is a hurdle that must be cleared to give you the right to move to the “NEXT, NEXT” step. It has to be queued up with the buyer as you finish out the current step.
- Sales Post Mortem - what went right/what went wrong
Top sales teams must continuously improve to achieve better standards, no matter what level of success they have reached in the past. Reviewing all “closed-won” and “closed-loss” opportunities provides a continuous improvement framework. It creates a virtuous circle of improvement in the sales cycle. The sales post mortem also helps support a best practice we discussed in a previous blog post supporting process improvement.
In the next couple of blog posts I will drill into these four best practices.