What’s Clogging Your Sales Pipeline?
With buying processes continuing to become increasingly complex and more challenging to navigate, no decision rates among sales teams are extremely high. Rather than resulting in simple win or loss outcomes, many potential opportunities end up in limbo with no real sense of what went right or wrong.
While there are a number of contributing factors to the rise of no decision outcomes, poor qualification remains to be one of the leading causes for clogging the sales pipeline. With better qualification habits that are aligned with today’s complex sales situations, we can prevent some of these clogs.
Qualification in Today’s Sales Situations
Sales qualification is widely known as an assessment of whether or not a buyer can purchase. Does the buyer have the authority? The money? A need for your solution?
If the seller determines that the buyer won’t be able to purchase for any reason, additional time spent on the opportunity will likely go to waste. Qualifying matters as much as it always has; it just needs to adapt to the way buying is done now.
In a modern, buyer-centric sales approach, qualification is no longer just about determining whether or not a buyer can buy.
Instead, modern qualification also requires an understanding of how a number of key factors influence the buying process. When you account for these factors throughout the sales process, it’s easier to stay connected with qualified opportunities and see them through to purchase.
No Launching Without “NASA”
It’s time to introduce you to NASA. In this case, NASA is an acronym meaning “Need And Solution Alignment.”
For the buyer to feel compelled to purchase, your solution must align to their needs and be able to close the gap between their current state and their desired future state. If the solutions you offer don’t align with the buyer’s need, you will likely not make a sale; as we like to say, you can’t launch without NASA.
Many salespeople have maintained hope in situations when their solution wasn’t really something the buyer needed. This happens because either the buyer’s true need was something slightly different or the buyer simply didn’t have a need for what the salesperson was selling.
As a seller, when you don’t have NASA, you probably want the sale more than the buyer wants the purchase.
Get the FACTs Straight
While a need is necessary for a buyer to purchase, simply having a need won’t always make a purchase happen on its own; you also need to account for some other important facts – or FACTs as we call them (yes, it is an acronym). FACT stands for Funding, Alternatives, Committee, and Timing.
These FACTs are not only qualification criteria, but they also influence the way the purchase will (or won’t) eventually be made. For that reason, you need to understand each component of FACT so you can adapt your approach to account for them.
Funding: Can They Pay for It?
Qualifying in many of today’s situations is no longer a matter of whether or not there is budget for the purchase. While there are certainly customers that will not be able to pay for your solution, the reality of modern buying is that funding is not so black-and-white. It’s not necessary to know that a customer has a check ready to write today before continuing with a sales conversation. However, it is important to understand that the customer ultimately will be able to afford your solution, and the buyers you are directly working will be able to arrange the funding for the purchase.
Alternatives: What are You Up Against?
Salespeople often only consider their competitors to be a threat. But it’s important to remember that there are other competitors; buyers can choose to:
- Work with you
- Work with your competitor
- Do nothing (status quo or “No Decision” status), or
- Do it themselves (depending on the problem they’re solving and potential solutions)
With buyers able to research and discover solutions to every problem they encounter in today’s connected world, your solution is rarely being considered on its own. Most problems buyers seek to solve can be done through a variety of different solutions with different pros and cons. Not only that, the status quo is always a formidable competitor in its own right. After all, if it’s what they’re doing now, it probably hasn’t resulted in anyone getting fired. For example, a pricing manager at a distributor might not be doing things as best as they could, but it’s good enough that he or she hasn’t lost their job.
When uncovering and evaluating the buyer’s alternatives, know what you’re up against. If you feel you have a decent standing compared with the alternatives, move forward but be sure that your sales process effectively positions your solution against the other options the buyer has.
Committee: Are You Working with the Right People?
Some traditional qualification models focus on whether a buyer you are working with has authority to purchase. In years past, when more sales opportunities involved one primary buyer, this was one of the most critical steps. If your buyer did not have direct authority to purchase, it didn’t matter how well you communicated value; eventually the buyer would take all the information you shared and go share it with their boss, or the actual decision maker.
Ensuring that you are working with a buyer who has the ability to make a purchase decision matters as much today as it always has. What has changed with the modern buying process is that the average B2B purchase now includes between five and eight influencers and decision makers, depending on the study you reference.
Qualifying the buying committee isn’t just about authority. Naturally, when a variety of influencers are involved in a decision, you’ll encounter a variety of interests in, and attitudes toward, your solution. Some influencers might have a lot to gain from the purchase of your solution and some might have a lot to lose. The influencers almost all will have certain things they need to see in order to recommend a purchase.
It’s up to you to learn, as early as possible, as much as you can about the influencers and decision makers involved in a decision. Your knowledge of the committee can’t stop with confirmation that the committee has the authority to buy. You must understand the committee and craft your approach to account for its many specifics.
Timing: How Soon Does the Customer Need a Solution?
If a prospective customer’s timeline for needing a solution is reasonable with your ability to deliver, you’ve qualified the opportunity when it comes to timing. If, however, the customer’s timeline is too aggressive or the problem is put on the back burner in favor of other priorities, then the timing might not be quite right at the moment.
Timing might be the softest of the FACTs and poor timing doesn’t necessarily disqualify an opportunity. If the customer’s timetable is too aggressive, it might not be realistic to implement any solution and the customer will have to reconsider the expectations. In this case, you could still have an opportunity, you’d just manage the process accordingly.
On the other side of the spectrum, if there are competing priorities and relatively low urgency to purchase a solution like yours, you’ll want to focus more on nurturing the opportunity rather than actively moving through the sales pipeline.
Keep in mind that urgency can change in an instant. A compelling event could happen which, suddenly, makes purchasing your solution a much higher priority. Keep tabs on your opportunities to make sure you are fully aware of timing and urgency.
Is this Opportunity Qualified or Not?
There is a lot of nuance to modern sales opportunity qualification, but all of these factors must be understood and considered to know that a buyer is capable of buying. It’s also important to know that you will be able to align your approach to the buying process.
A qualified sales opportunity is one where you have Need And Solution Alignment (NASA) and a clear understanding of the FACTs, none of which disqualify your buyer. Coming out of qualification, it is important to account for all that you learned about the buying process – how funding will work, what alternatives you are up against, who the decision committee includes, and what the timing looks like. These concepts help cut down on the clogs in your sales pipeline.
If you mold your sales approach to meet each of the qualification criteria and ensure your solution meets the buyer’s needs, you are on track to successfully win the deal.
Modern Sales Foundations™
Use a buyer-centric approach to improve sales results
What it takes for salespeople to deliver value has changed significantly as the modern buying process has evolved. Modern Sales Foundations™ (MSF) is an end-to-end sales training program that teaches sellers the buyer-centric strategies and approaches needed to excel in today’s marketplace.