Are your sales reps chopping enough wood to survive the winter?

Posted on February 3, 2011. Filed under: Funnel Audits, Lead Generation, Pipeline Measurement, Sales, Sales forecasting, Sales Funnel, Sales Goals, Sales Management, Sales Metrics, Sales pipeline, Sales Quota, sales training, Sales Velocity | Tags: , , |

(animated stereo) A 19th Century Sod House in ...

Image by Thiophene_Guy via Flickr

Would your reps survive a life on the range in the 1800s?

Several years ago Public Television sponsored a competition called Frontier House.  Several families traded in their comfortable homes and modern day lifestyles for a life in 1880s Montana.  From late spring to fall they lived the frontier experience, Montana style. No modern nothin.

In the competition they had to prove they could survive the winter.  This meant stockpiling food and wood and equipping the home to withstand the snow and cold and elements.  One husband built a complex root cellar, an inventive chicken coop, and a labor-saving water system for irrigation.  Another one built the home from scratch.  They worked night and day with one goal in mind – surviving winter’s fury.

It was critical that the families correctly calculated their needs to get through the winter.  Then they worked back from that to know how to spend their time every day preparing.  If they calculated wrong, or worse just got lazy in their execution their lives would be in jeopardy.

A panel of historical experts judged them on how well they prepared.  Only one family won, but the judges said even they would have barely survived.

So here we are in February and I’m wondering:  What are your salespeople doing today to survive the coming winter?

The coming winter I refer to is this year’s selling season, 2011 for those of you on a calendar fiscal year.   There are several reasons why your salespeople must commit selling time now to building a healthy funnel:

1)     Delayed decisions make for longer sales cycles.  Let’s say your average cycle went from 6 months to 8.  That means your reps have 2 fewer months in the funnel year to find, qualify and win net new sales.  Anything they find after April will now be less likely to close by year’s end, instead of anything they find after June.  The two month loss in sales could be a staggering 16.667% of annual sales.  A territory that does $1.2M a year could lose $200,000 in annual sales for any rep who waits too long to prospect.

2)     Funnels took a beating in the recent economic slowdown. Getting funnels back to a pre- slowdown state can take more effort.  It’s like an athlete coming back from an injury and taking longer for her to regain her pre-injury level of performance, let alone achieve higher performance.

3)     Less low hanging fruit to make up quota deficits. Every salesperson gets his or her share of deals that seem to come from no where.  Maybe it’s a small percentage of the overall sales, but it seems to be even smaller.  No rep admits he relies on that ‘gift’ business but his funnel might tell a different story.

4)     A bunker mentality by customers shrinks the overall size of the opportunity pool. Some companies froze spending to survive, and some haven’t transitioned out of that mode.  Your reps may have to dig deeper and wider to find the same number of opportunities to chase.

So what’s a sales manager to do?

1)     Manage with facts. Don’t simply scream ‘prospect more!’  Help your reps see clearly how big their funnels will have to be to hit this year’s quota.  For example, if close rate is 25%, multiply by 4.  A $2M quota needs an $8M funnel of Viable opportunities.

2)     Help them be more selective in the opportunities they pursue. As they bring opportunities onto the funnel reward the volume of activity but use a filter to spend quality selling time on opportunities that meet high standards for fit.  Nothing improves funnel efficiency like purging the crappy, unreal deals.

3)     Help them target, set, and execute account plans for the best accounts. Now is a great time to invest in the long term account development necessary to penetrate new accounts.  Target a handful of accounts that are a good fit to everything about your company.  Develop a plan for introduction, penetration, and pursuing sales opportunities.

4)     Get into a Funnel Audit routine. There’s no better muscle memory to build than to get on a schedule of diagnosing the funnel and setting action plans.  Try it monthly at first.  Spotty diagnosis is a sure way for execution to suffer.  Don’t let that happen.

5)     Every time a rep closes a sale, remind him to evaluate his funnel condition. A sale is what we want, but it also takes Viable Revenue off the rep’s funnel.  That revenue likely needs to be replenished.  And there’s no better time to do that than after they’ve closed a sale.  They’re feeling good, they can take the rejections, they’ve got energy.  Help them channel that to produce future sales.

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