In the pursuit of the truth, sales managers routinely set themselves up for not getting it, by asking these three questions:
1) What’s your confidence level on this deal? 2) Who’s the decision maker? 3) What’s your next step?
What’s your confidence level on this deal?
Sales managers ask this question when their funnel/pipeline stages have ‘confidence measures’ assigned to them. Stage 2 might have a 30% measure of confidence in winning the deal. Stage 5 might have 80% confidence. The intent is to drive a logical, objective conclusion of the deal status which drives the manager’s coaching regarding next steps.
The problem is the confidence measures too often steer the manager away from the intended objective – what’s really going on? They get squishy replies like ‘I have a good relationship’, or ‘they like our solution’. A manager confided in me not long ago that he lost count of the number of deals he ‘felt confident’ were going to close that didn’t.
Instead, managers should ask pointed, specific questions to inside the confidence measure. Questions about stakeholders and influence, about what matters and what doesn’t, about why they want to change and why change now. Managers should seek ‘tangible evidence’ in the reps’ replies. They should ask questions that challenge assumptions, especially about relationships.
Who’s the decision maker?
There are at least two problems with this question. The first is that it’s not always clear what it means as therefore you’re handicapped in coaching to it. Does it mean final approval? Veto authority? Does it mean the ability to disqualify your solution from further consideration? When your rep Kyle says yes Mary’s the decision maker how do you coach Kyle to the next activity? The second problem is this is the same question your reps will be asking the stakeholders they call on. They will often get misleading or insufficient information. They’ll ask someone in purchasing “Are you the decision maker?” and she says “Yes I am!” And yet, as my clients have shown me the past 20 years that question too often misleads.
A better question to ask is around role in the buying process. What role does the head of engineering play in this buying process? What role does the IT manager play? What role does the construction supervisor play? You’re more likely to identify the stakeholder whose role is to deliver on a top line or bottom line objective, and that includes being able to make investments to achieve those objectives.
What’s your next step?
Every manager in a deal review discussion has jumped to the question “What’s your next step?” ‘What’s next’ is internally focused on the rep’s activity.
Problem here is this too often leads to busyness and busyness doesn’t always lead to effectiveness.
A better question is one that is based on the customer buying process. Customers have to make commitments to buy something. All of those commitments collectively make up the customer buying process. So let’s trade ‘what’s next’ for ‘what does the customer need to do next?’
For example if a problem isn’t a priority then some stakeholder needs to take time (commitment) to make it a priority. Or, if your salesperson knows the cost of the problem, then a stakeholder has to commit to acting on information. Otherwise the deal is stalled or even dead.
Managing Partner, Breakthrough Sales Performance LLC
Sales training, coaching and consulting with businesses from 25M to 250M in revenue
Author The Funnel Principle – named a Top Sales Book to Read by Selling Power
Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching (to be released in 2019)