I’ve had the opportunity to witness good and bad deal coaching from a few perspectives. I sometimes see how well it’s done when I’m invited by my clients to coach their deal teams that are pursuing opportunities they can’t afford to lose. It’s where I’ve spent the largest amount of my time in the last few years. I see it when I lead sales training workshops where we use (and coach) live, “in-flight” opportunities as part of the learning experience. And finally, I see the fruits of the coaching (or lack thereof) from the client’s perspective when I conduct the face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders as part of a win/loss review to derive lessons learned.
Based on these three dimensions and some well-respected research on the topic, I can say with conviction that effective deal coaching is a lost art:
- CSO Insights researches sales effectiveness-related issues in the U.S. every year and for 2011 they concluded that only 46% of “forecasted” opportunities are won. Think about how profound that is! It means that over half of the deals that your sales reps say are “forecastable” (which means they believe they will win these deals) are lost! What does that tell us about the quality of our deals and the quality of our strategies to win them? When we’re surprised this often we are either allowing the client to mislead us, haven’t qualified the deals effectively, or we lack the strategies to close the business we ought to be winning.
- Perhaps even more staggering: of the 54% of the deals that are lost, over 40% of those are lost to “no decision.” If we’re not coaching sales people effectively it usually translates to poor qualification and that means we’re chasing deals we don’t belong pursuing. It may be the biggest sin that a sales organization can commit and it’s caused by several factors:
- Prematurely selling (or affectionately known as “dashing to the demo”) – we don’t take the time to ask the hard questions early about whether we can actually win the business and instead we embrace a philosophy that we’ve never met an opportunity we didn’t like.
- Sometimes we’re savvy enough to resist the temptation to sell but we jump instead to the discovery phase of the selling process – which takes significant time and resources which may not be warranted.
- Or, we make the mistaken assumption that in order to make our numbers this quarter we must have plenty of opportunities in the pipeline to achieve our goals. We therefore become less discerning about which deals to chase and the downfall of this approach - you aren’t going to win the deals you don’t belong pursuing. In fact, when you embrace this strategy you dilute the time and effort of the entire organization from the deals you can’t afford to lose.
The conclusion I draw is that while many VP’s of Sales know they’re not winning their fair share of new business, they’re often frustrated because they can’t put their finger on the root cause(s). Effective deal coaching and strategies might be the biggest antidote to the challenge.
We’ll review what “effective” looks like in coming posts. In the meantime – let me know your thoughts!