Selling is just as much of a science as it is an art. The days of having great sales reps that you just trust to get the job done are coming to an end. The modern sales process is one that prides itself on being repeatable for any opportunity, scalable for any growing sales team regardless of the type of sales reps, and measurable to evaluate effectiveness. To get to the core, sales processes need to be rigorously laid out and be designed to be adaptable to morphing buyer journeys. A critical component for tailoring your sales process are milestones. Once you understand them, your sales process will come to life.
What are Milestones?
Most sales processes consist of a set of stages that show how deals progress through the pipeline. Most stages we've seen include MQL, SQL, SAL, Commit, and Closed Won/Lost. Just looking at that sales process, you might feel like you can run a sales operation with those stages. However, it assumes that deals move in a straight line, which may have been the case in the past but not in today's 'buyer controlled' world. In order to be sure that a deal is really moving along, it is important to develop 'milestones'. Milestones are the activities required to meet the objective of the stage. To set milestones in stages, you have to really analyze and define what it means for a deal to be at a certain stage. For example, a deal that has nothing but raving support from the target buyer but has not received sign-off from the financial team is not something you can move into 'Commit'.
Why are they important?
Milestones help set clear expectations for what the team considers a strong opportunity and they help managers understand the status of the deal without digging through notes or calling frequent meetings. While not all milestones that you create in a stage need to be mandatory, they should all contribute to separating a strong opportunity from a weak one. For example, if you already have the decision maker identified and in agreement, having the rest of the sales team is a great add-on but is not critical. The milestones include questions, activities, and content to send at the appropriate time. It also includes plays against competition and the other alternative decision of keeping the status quo.
How they help reps manage deals?
In the pursuit of defining milestones, it can be easy to go a bit milestone crazy. Remember that your sales process is still supposed to be fluid, you don't want to create a dam by throwing too many milestones into a stage. Always remember that milestones are necessary because they tell a sales rep the next step in a process. If a milestone isn't clear or isn't realistic in it's positioning within the sales process it will cause confusion. A rep should be able to end a meeting, check their remaining milestones, and have a clear ask from the prospect for next steps needed to keep the deal's momentum going. When it gets down to crunch time in a sales period, checking the milestones remaining on open opportunities and evaluating how much time it typically requires to achieve each of them will help reps prioritize which deals to focus on in order to hit their quota.
There is an added burden and complexity that comes with keeping track of the new milestones that will be created. While teaching an old rep new tricks may not be easy, you can always do things to help with the transition. It is essential that your reps have the stages and milestones at hand at the moment they are selling. Many sales optimization tools log milestones and stages for the sales reps and inform them when they are missing critical components of a deal when they try to move it forward. If this is a concern for your sales team, please contact us and we will show you how easy it can be to give your sales team a technologically supported sales process. To get more information about developing a rigorous sales process, check out our guidebook.