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SPIF Tip #12: How to Predict Which prospects Will Buy

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crystal-ballI sometimes tell salespeople they should

 be able to predict which prospects will buy.

Often they think, “Wait a second. In manufacturing, I know if I put twenty pieces of steel plate in a brake press and apply  three thousand pounds of force, each piece is going to bend to a 90-degree angle. But if I give twenty prospects the same sales message, no way am I going to get the same result. So how is this even comparable?”

In fact these two situations are quite comparable, if you recall that in the early days of bending metal, people didn’t thoroughly understand how to control force, nor the effects of gauge, alloy, pressure, and tempering. Years of defining, observing, measuring, and experimenting revealed the qualities and quantities that had to be controlled to generate repeatable results. In manufacturing we call this combined knowledge process control and it is documented as standard work.

Most companies today are at a primitive stage of knowledge in sales. That list of twenty prospects has many qualities that have not yet been defined or identified. Some of these can cause the prospect’s reaction to a given sales message.

For example, consider these questions about prospects:

  • Are they the kind of company that can use your products and services?
  • What is their decision-making process?
  • What is driving them to solve this problem now?
  • What is their technical environment/requirement?
  • What role does your contact play in the company?
  • Does their budget reasonably match the problem they are trying to solve?

Salespeople generally call these qualification criteria. Quality managers would call them observable attributes. If your company does not study and track these, you are missing information that is costing you a lot — or that could make you a lot — of money. This is a great opportunity for B2B companies because salespeople already believe qualification criteria are important. In most cases they simply have not been taught how to define them operationally. As a result, there is wide and unrecognized variation in how salespeople make decisions about their leads and prospects. This directly affects the flow of business through the sales funnel. Defining such terms and following an explicit process to identify and prioritize sales opportunities on them is a form of standard work.

Action Item:

Take time to ask your sales team what makes a prospect more or less qualified. When you do this, don’t quote BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe) or any other old sales training ideas. Instead, take a fresh look, using specifics from your market and your prospects. Chances are, you need a lot more insight to the customer than those old bromides will give you. Write down your sales team’s description of the observable characteristics that make your prospects more or less likely to buy. If you rank those criteria, from lowest to highest likelihood, and start scoring your sales funnel accordingly, you and your team will learn things you do not know now.

From Sales Process Excellence, Chapter 3, pg 55.

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