3 Common Breakdowns in the Expansion Stage Sales Process

A lot can go wrong during a sales process.

But while most breakdowns may appear to be relatively small cracks in a seemingly strong foundation, they’re actually symptoms of a much bigger problem: a seriously flawed sales process.

So if your sales process is struggling, how can you cure it at the expansion stage?

It starts with understanding how each breakdown ties back to its root cause. You need to know what it means, what’s causing it, and what bigger picture adjustments need to be made to improve it.
Let’s take a look at three of the most common sales process breakdowns and what you can do to fix them.

Opportunity creation

For early stage companies, most sales processes start with qualified opportunities. But there are actually a handful of steps that lead up to that point. Among them, you should know:

  • How a particular opportunity was made aware of your solution
  • Once they were made aware, what you did to move them from a suspect, to a prospect, to a qualified opportunity

Sure, when things are going well and sales are booming, it’s easy to overlook those things. Why bother, right? Money’s coming in and new customers are lining up at the door. So who cares what made them aware. If they’re buying, you must be doing something right.

And maybe you are. But how do you know what you’re doing right if you’re not tracking it?

That information becomes critically important as companies grow or go through stagnant sales periods. After all, if you know how prospects are being made aware of your product, how much work it takes to close them, and why they ultimately choose your solution, you’ll be able to create a much more repeatable and informed opportunity creation process that increases your chances of sustained revenue growth.

If you ignore that data, you’ll find yourself up a Class 5 rapid without a paddle when things start to go awry.

The bottom line is that awareness is really the first stage in any sales process. If you’re able to identify the right customer persona and use it to make a large number of people aware of who you are, the likelihood of creating qualified opportunities goes up significantly. And the only way to truly understand awareness is to document how opportunities are created in the first place.

Forecasting

For a lot of early stage companies, forecasting is a futile practice dragged down by faulty or incomplete data.

It’s not hard to figure out why. Most salespeople are taught the cliche — and incorrect — approach of under-promising and over-delivering. They sandbag forecasts, fudge numbers, and underestimate their potential to protect themselves. If they underperform, they’ll still hit their forecast. If they perform as they should, they’ll look like a sales superstar.

The obvious problem with this philosophy is that it prevents a company’s management team from making decisions based in fact. And guesswork forecasting is a quick way to start a tsunami that will tear through every other component of your sales process.

Faulty forecasts are really the result of companies poorly defining their process of milestones. There’s a knowledge transfer that needs to take place at every step in the sales process that keeps everyone in the loop and allows them to understand — not guess — what to expect next.

For some great forecasting tips, check out OpenView’s eBook, “Sales Forecasts: A Question of Method, Not Magic.”

So how can you shore up that knowledge transfer?

It starts with truly defining what a forecasted opportunity means. If a salesperson can’t say who a decision maker is, what they talked to that person about, why they talked about those things, and how that data will affect the projected close date, then their forecasts will be horrible.

It’s also critical to place opportunities in the right grouping. If they’re likely to close in the next 90 days, they should appear in a forecast. Anything outside of that is an opportunity that will lead to a more fruitful pipeline — and ultimately a better future forecast.

Forecasts should be updated in real-time based on every interaction with a prospect. That way, sales managers and their salespeople can comfortably say what the definitive next step is and make decisions based on that data. Great forecasts — not sandbagged ones — will result from that.

There are several more factors that contribute to good — and bad — forecasts than the ones I’ve listed here, and you can find numerous sources that will help you address each individual issue (such as this post by former Oracle global account manager and co-founder of Bluewolf Eric Berridge.)

Just remember that if your forecasts stink, I’m willing to bet there are much bigger problems festering somewhere else.

Reporting

A lot of expansion stage companies struggle to get their sales reports right, filling them with faulty data or failing to include the information that really matters.

Great reporting should provide a roadmap for success, indicating things like what made a prospect aware of your solution in the first place, the number of voicemails that a salesperson left before actually getting through to a prospect, and what tactics were effective in turning opportunities into actual sales.

Tracking that data is a critical step in creating reports that ultimately better inform your overall sales process. Reporting should tell you what does – and doesn’t – work, and identify the things you can do to increase your probability for prolonged sales success.

Yet, too many expansion stage sales processes ignore it, or their reporting is filled with holes and guesses. And that’s where the breakdowns occur.

The whole point of reporting is to improve a sales process, not to improve how hard your sales force is working. At the end of the day, your team’s hard work will be obvious; you don’t need data to prove that. Sales reports, however, validate assumptions and give you raw data that can help you make objective improvements to steps within the sales process.

So what should your reports include?

Reporting worthwhile data starts with having a well thought-out checklist that collects relevant information at each stage of the sales process. For example, you should keep tabs on things like:

  • Market awareness: If a suspect or prospect was aware of your solution or understood it before first contact with them, it should be documented. If they’d never heard of your business, it also needs to be checked off and included in a report. Both pieces of information will help you gauge the company’s overall market awareness and inform future marketing decisions.
  • Voicemails and conversations: As soon as a salesperson or lead generation rep initiates contact with a suspect or prospect, they need to document every call, voicemail, and conversation. If that data is included in a final report, it should give you an idea of how many calls it takes to get through to a buyer.

There are several other things you should track, but that should give you an idea.

Now of course, this is not a 100% comprehensive, exclusive, or even “most important” list of breakdowns. But each of these three issues have a tendency to compound on each other and, ultimately, impact your overall sales process.

Brian Zimmerman is a Managing Director at OpenView responsible for delivering value-add consulting service through Openview Labs. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianZimm1.

BZ
Brian Zimmerman
SVP Marketing & Sales

Brian Zimmerman was a Partner at OpenView from 2006 until 2014. While at OpenView he worked with our portfolio executive teams to deliver the highest impact value-add consulting services, primarily focused on go-to-market strategies. Brian is currently the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at 5Nine Software.
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