Why your sales team stinks at forecasting – part 3
Re-Qualify and Reclassify Every Deal
In Part 1 of this series, Here’s why your Sales Team Stinks at Forecasting Revenue, we reviewed the facts about just how bad we are at forecasting, thought through “why we stink,” and outlined three steps to redeeming ourselves as sales professionals and leaders. In order to help companies dramatically improve forecasting, we must:
- Review and re-define the qualification criteria and sales pipeline stage definitions that are at the heart of weak pipelines and poor forecast accuracy. (Covered in Part 2 of this series)
- Re-qualify every deal, reclassify the deals based on the new sales stage definitions, and clean out the rubbish…and methodically apply these criteria in real time, forever. (Covered in this post, Part 3)
- Create a new sales culture and cadence that focuses the majority of discussions around building strong pipeline, rather than forecast.
In this post, Part 3, we re-qualify every deal, reclassify the deals based on the new sales stage definitions, and clean out the rubbish…and methodically apply these criteria in real time, forever. I’ll walk you through the steps needed to implement the new stages, discuss how to avoid two major implementation pitfalls, and review why It will totally be worth it!!
Cleaning out pipelines is just like cleaning out your garage. Take everything out and put back only what you
should keep. Anything put back into the garage should be organized well and should be kept organized. Here are the implementation steps:
- Move ALL of the deals in the pipeline to stage 1. This is to be sure undertake a full review of every deal, and rebuild the pipeline based on our new stage definitions (from Part 2 of this series).
- Review each deal. Remember that each stage definition is based on customer-verifiable criteria. Therefore, the sales person will likely need to connect with the customers to ensure that the new stage definitions are verified to be 100% true.
- Apply the new sales stage definitions to each opportunity and update the opportunity’s Stage (1, 2, 3, etc.) in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software or pipeline spreadsheet. Be strict in making sure ALL criteria are met for the stage and all previous stages. If the sales person’s information does not meet all the criteria, then chose the lowest stage that all criteria are met.
As straight forward as the steps sound, the leadership team must be ready to manage 2 predictable pitfalls from the sales professional during implementation.
First, Sales Teams have invested a lot of time and energy into getting deals to later stages of the pipeline. The difficultly in implementing customer-verifiable sales stages is that most sales teams are forced to admit that qualified deals are…well…no longer qualified to be in that sales stage. And, watching all the deals in the pipeline slip drastically back to early stages is unnerving for salespeople.
If we are honest, customers change their priorities, budgets, and their minds all the time. Right? But, Sales People almost never move a deal that was in stage 4 back to stage 2, do they?
When deals move backward to earlier stages, the sales person will feel the anxiety of his/her perceived pipeline strength diminishing. We need to help them get over that initial resistance. Even in Step 1 above, moving all the opportunities to stage 1 typically takes some coaxing from leadership. Once the Manager and Sales Person agree that all the opportunities are in the correct stage, a newfound confidence will arise. I promise!
And the second predictable pitfall? In Steps 2-4 above, managers and sales leaders must continuously reinforce that the sales person be self-discipled about stage accuracy. For example, once a customer can no longer can verify the timeline to sign a contract, the deal should be moved back to a lesser stage that meets all the verifiable criteria.
Sales leadership and salespeople must be resolute in applying the new definitions of the stages. Definitions must be strictly applied to the pipeline. If most or all of the pipeline returns to Stage 1, so be it.
It’ll be Totally Worth It!!
Once the sales teams are honest with themselves, and all deals are in the correct stage, we get our first accurate assessment for the health and maturity of our pipeline (possible for the first time, ever!). A hygienic pipeline based on customer-verifiable outcomes yields four important outcomes:
- The noise that normally clutters pipeline is gone. Gone! Now, we can clearly see where to focus our sales energy!
- Sales teams now have a clear path for all the customer-verifiable activities that must occur before a deal can reach the next step and before a deal will close.
- Sales leaders can now use the customer-verifiable criteria to continuously qualify deals and coach teams. And, by influencing deals in stages 1-3 of the pipeline, managers and leadership can impact those deals during the early phases and systematically build stronger deals at all stages of maturity.
- By the time deals get to stages 4 and 5, the deals are strong and are whose closed dates are much more predicable. We have customer-verifiable substance behind any forecast that is created, based on deals in a strong pipeline. Hallelujah!
In Part 4 of this series, we will review how we can leverage these four It’ll totally be Worth It outcomes to create a culture of strong pipeline generation. Once we can build strong pipelines full of very well-qualified deals, the forecast discussions will be simple, shorter, and will yield amazing accuracy.
Matt Oess is a Strategy, Sales & Marketing partner in TechCXO’s Atlanta office. See Matt’s full bio or contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.