To produce the best sales results for their company, sales managers must learn the steps to eliminate surprises, or loopholes, in its sales process.
“Surprises can have a big impact on a sales team,” said Timo Rein, Pipedrive co-founder and president. “Perhaps, the worst surprise a manager could get is a paying customer leaving unexpectedly, but hearing well into the sales period that one of your salespeople doesn’t know what the main sales goals are can be more worrying."
"Everyone should know what the end goal is, from the start all the way to the end, whether it’s a revenue goal or product goal, even if it changes,” said Timo.
That surprise stems from the managers themselves being unclear about the shared vision, or failing to communicate it properly, leaving their salespeople confused.
“And often, new business owners and sales managers look at big opportunities and hope they have something,” said Urmas Purde, Pipedrive co-founder and head of customer experience. “Sales is a persistent, pipe-filling job. People connected to sales have to avoid “hope” guiding their day. Hope shouldn’t be your guide to success.”
So — just because your team’s pipelines are full— it doesn’t mean dollars are guaranteed. Your salespeople could have dead deals that need to be revived, or cleared out. Customers should not be considering, or “lingering,” in any pipeline for too long.
Again, salespeople need to have a clear, realistic view into their sales pipeline; this way, it’s easier to focus on the right things — and that’s how to avoid surprises.
Here are some specific ways you can avoid surprises on your sales team:
Whether you’re a new manager or hiring a new sales rep, the first step to avoid surprises starts with proper onboarding. You need to make sure the company’s vision is communicated effectively to the whole team.
“Everyone needs to be on the same page, and each person should know what they need to do, and how to measure their efforts,” Urmas said. “Better still, having one-on-one meetings with your sales team can ensure they understand the vision, and will allow you to set specific, attainable goals for everyone and review their performance more accurately.”
If you have nothing to reach for, there’s a chance you’ll grab a handful of irrelevant or difficult deals that will sit in your pipeline and waste your valuable time for months or years to come. For example, you may come across people who are super friendly, have no problem communicating with you, but never move forward with you or your business.
Goals provide that all-important framework to guide everyone. Your team can then keep track of what works and what doesn’t, allowing you to assess how best to manage and assist their efforts.
“You can’t tell how people are really doing unless you set goals,” Timo said. “Make sure you have action goals. Set key activities such as how many calls should be made, how many meetings should be scheduled, how many demos should be given, or how many proposals should be sent out.”
“Even though setting action goals sounds obvious, you’d be surprised how many sales teams don’t have them,” Timo added. “By having action goals and looking at your pipeline, you can avoid 80% of surprises. Figure out a way to see into the pipeline, whether it’s sticky notes, Excel sheets, or a suitable CRM.”
Many people realize that sales is rough, and that’s why it’s important your salespeople each have a plan — something they can stick to when the going gets tough.
“It can be emotionally difficult to pick up the phone when someone curses at you and brush it off as if nothing happened . . . but if your salespeople plan well for such a case (when they don’t have full control) and, of course, still execute excellently when they do have full control, they will be successful,” Timo said.
Planning well and executing well (see below) are two sides of a balance. If your salespeople fail to do either one, your team’s sales results will suffer. Visibility into your pipeline — during planning, execution, review and implementation stages — will help your team maintain a good balance and enjoy better sales outcomes.
Check in early and often
Once your team is clear on their goals and has a plan to achieve them, they should be checking in early and often with their sales prospects to steer the goals to the finish line — and be genuine along the way.
“Your team may think that just because prospects haven’t said “no” they still have a chance of converting, but that's not always the case,” Timo said. “If your salespeople are genuine, it'll be harder for potential customers not to say “yes.” Authenticity will make them more likely to do business with your company."
Furthermore, every salesperson should have the habit of following up with their customers with questions such as:
- How deeply are you actually considering our solution?
- Right now, is it just an idea that appeals to you, or are you seriously considering it?"
“Giving an easy way out to your customer to disqualify themselves is a great way to avoid bloated pipelines,” Urmas said.
If your salespeople’s motivation for contacting a prospect is selfish, such as their quarterly deadlines, or the new product your company needs everyone to know about right away, the entire sales cycle suffers. But, if they check in regularly — because of things happening in your prospect’s world, for the prospect’s sake — and in a genuine way, they’ll find them willing, if not eager, to conclude a deal when the time is right.
For deals to cross the finish line frequently, salespeople need to produce a continuous rhythm, or workflow, and a sales manager is responsible for keeping everyone and everything moving.
“As much as we want to say sales is a skill, it’s undeniable that the laws of big numbers come into play,” Timo said. “There are a lot of people who plan but don’t execute. Most people fail at the side of executing, not planning. You and your team should know how everything you’re trying to do comes together. The month will close regardless. The question is: Which sales will close before it’s over?”
Urmas added: “You will have more control over your results if your salespeople focus on accomplishing key sales activities. After all, results are not under your direct control, but actions are. Control the controllable aspects and the results will come.”
Clarity is the starting point to eliminating surprises during a sales cycle.
“A sales manager needs to understand that the key to success is visibility into one's actions. Having a clear path lined with attainable goals makes success inevitable,” Urmas said.
You and your team can achieve this by using tools that provide the visibility everyone needs to set and follow clearly defined goals, plan well, check in early and often, and execute consistently.