When I am asked, “What is visibility?” or more specifically, “Why is visibility important in sales?” I like to take the conversation beyond a straightforward answer, such as:
“Well, it’s the ability to see into your pipeline and know what’s where, to quickly assess which items need your attention, and to be able to report on and forecast results.”
This is all true, but the value of visibility in sales goes far beyond and is actually the value of visibility across the board.
Professionalism at all costs
If you explore beneath the surface of the visibility questions posed above, you start to see that anyone who people would generally consider a “professional” has visibility. They know what’s going on — with their own work; the company, product or service they represent; the roles and responsibilities they tackle; and especially, the customer or client they directly, or indirectly, serve.
Visibility is a common thread among professionals, and one that does not solely apply to the traditional professions — heavily educated and trained fields such as law, accounting or medicine. Although it’s clearly something respected professionals in those traditional sectors have mastered, visibility is also something any individual can master to earn the label “professional” from their peers and partners.
And the same can apply in sales.
Professionals can break down a theory or phenomenon, and can see connections among those broken-down pieces far better than the next person. Sales professionals have better visibility into their sales efforts (beyond just their pipeline). They know what’s going on, what they are doing, and what the team is doing. They are aware of sales goals and processes, personal, team and company-wide. They are also conscious of what the addressable market they serve needs, and even better, their wants — now, soon or even long into the future.
In the meantime, professionals also ask questions: “How did this happen?” or “What could I do differently?” You can't ask these questions and expect meaningful answers without visibility. A professional who closes a single deal will know far more about that one deal than a non-professional knows about their top 10. Have visibility into your efforts, adjust, take notes. “Oh, that good thing happened when I changed something? Great, let's improve another area.”
That’s how professionals do it.
Visibility is typically seen as either “being able to see and focus on individual items,” or obtaining a helicopter view of a full day, week, month, quarter or customized period, including forward projections, hopefully at-a-glance. The last thing you want is to zoom in and feel bad because you know you’ll have to “wing it” again, or to zoom out, and see a mess, without a clue as to what’s going on, let alone whether things are “right” or “wrong.”
In my world, the bigger the deal, the more complex the sale, the more important visibility becomes — because it’s the foundation of any size of deal, and any size of sale. It’s the basis of all results because it’s the root of your professionalism.
If you need convincing, look around and you’ll see that professionalism always ends up getting bigger, better, and frankly, more impressive results — far more consistently — than non-professionals enjoy.
You may ask: “Why want more?”
Whether you’re searching for bigger, better deals, or not, take a professional approach to master your art. Some would reverse that to say mastering your art, is a professional approach, but semantics aside, visibility in sales is an evolving process of becoming more professional at every aspect of what you do.
Before we look at why in the next section, just pause to note how professionals have an amazing ability to make people go: “Aha.” To exude: “I’m not winging it,” even as they tackle a rollercoaster day. They know what they’re trying to do, and have digested their research. It is never just gift of gab, one good “pick-up line,” or a great ice-breaker. It's a system of how you work. It’s seeing what others don’t see, and going the extra mile to prioritize and act on the visibility you have, and the responsibility it requires.
Professionals have visibility. If you strive toward it, you will become more professional. And when you become more professional, you will get the results you seek.
The first step toward professionalism is to establish control. Visibility is essential, but you have to know how to use it and put any lessons you can learn into practice.
A good example of visibility affording control: professional athletes, for whom 80% or more of their time is spent practicing.
The best athletes, sports personalities, their coaches, and their trainers can break every aspect down as it happens, on and off the field. The minutiae of how they took off, how they flew, how they landed, their posture and the kinetics of every moment are known, studied and applied.
More visibility provides more control . . . into everything you do.
Now, when it comes to sales, the sales pipeline gives people frequent insight and opportunities to group, and regroup efforts. But, a sales pipeline needs to be built on established steps and transparency for you to actually gain control.
Another example that shows how visibility enables control: igloos.
Eskimos are able to do much more with snow than other people on the planet can. Why? Because their definition of snow contains at least a dozen different basic types, and numerous derivative words and terms. The rest of us are less familiar with the intricacies of snow. We have low visibility into its qualities, and therefore into its uses. How can control be established and snow be mastered, with just four “common” types (powder, packed, melting or slushy) from a list of possible terms that is longer.
With better visibility, everything has its place, and you can spot when something is wrong — no surprises.
You can also break things down further, play with them more and see your options clearly — stay in focus.
Together, focus, without surprises, provides a winning formula for any given deal and to secure individual results — because we all know that unknowns prevent people from being able to control results directly.
Back when I started my sales career, I was a door-to-door salesman, working for a company that had been tweaking and perfecting its recommended sales process since 1868.
One thing I noticed is that people are not born equally ready to experience success.
Some people, when they’ve had a successful day, or been able to close one or two “amazing” deals, manage to bounce back to mediocrity. Instead, once you establish control in your process, and can achieve individual results, you must look for the consistency that will help you reach the level of a professional.
Another thing I noticed is that being a winner is a question of stringing together a series of wins, one-at-a-time. Because professionals expect more, they don't lose their cool over a lost deal. They also don't show off about a won deal, even the big ones. They act with the same respect and professionalism deal-by-deal.
Now, let’s say your prospecting activities have earned you the right and responsibility to prepare three proposals. Each lead is important, as is each proposal. Each proposal may need to be tailored to the individual lead, and either way, each deal deserves your full attention.
Professionals know that “full attention” is relative, and best measured by how the lead feels, what they need and when, and whether you cover all necessary bases on time.
Where a lesser salesperson may buckle and lose one or two proposals to win the others, a professional will remain in control, as they have gained the confidence to do so. They can appear to juggle effortlessly — taking the “unknown,” “unexpected,” and “unplanned,” in their stride — but for most, years of blood sweat and tears guide them.
Consistently being in control is a hallmark of professional people. And again, sales professionals will confidently deliver all three proposals, having taken into account all relevant meetings, notes, deadlines, stakeholders and what steps need to be taken to close and onboard a new customer.
Ironically for salespeople, the type of confidence we’re talking about, money can’t buy.
Again, even confidence can’t control results, but it can help you perform the activities that set up the opportunities that allow results to happen. Where persistent visibility feeds the control you have over a single conversation, single contact, single stage, or all-things-at-once, consistently feeling in control breeds confidence.
Remember: Even your biggest deal is “weak” if you don't know why and how you closed it. Likewise, a missed opportunity has no value if you don’t know why you lost it.
Sure, we’ve all met confident people. Witness a confident person interacting, their questions make more sense — because of their confidence. People are drawn to their confidence, and prospects will always be drawn to confident vendors and salespeople. (Conversely, a lack of confidence says a hell of a lot when you’re entrusting your business, project, needs or wants, to an effective stranger pitching you.) What distinguishes confident people is that confidence goes so much further — it wins influence.
The best professionals, the best salespeople have influence.
Influence is almost tangible. It’s definitely something that can be sensed (just think of the aura that surrounds influential people as they enter a room). Influence can come across on a phone call. It can even come across through silence.
Influence doesn’t need a crowd, but it plays exceptionally well if one’s around.
Of course, as a salesperson, even when you and your prospect want the deal, it may not happen. But want a good month? Want a good quarter or year? Want a long and successful career?
Win influence, based on confidence, fed by control, enabled by visibility, and the deals will come, the referrals will come, and most importantly the relationships will last.
The journey to influence is a journey every professional embarks upon. It takes time, hard work, and yes, sufficient failure to get there, but there’s nothing better than influence, especially in sales.
As a door-to-door salesman, our sales managers asked salespeople who were doing different things, and doing well, to share their experiences. One thing I shared that I did differently, was bothering to also sell books to families with very young, even pre-alphabet, kids. Others in our sales team focused on junior, middle, or senior school kids, for whom reading already made sense — but the company sold books for the full age range, and early readers represented at least 30% of my sales.
I was successful because I followed all the company had told me: Run the conversation, lead it in a way where you actually explain what the books do, for any children of the house. Maybe others gave up more easily. But perhaps they didn't have the “little kid sales conversation” structured in their head, or it was loose and fell apart.
To me, if you are serious and ambitious, you won't just copy, or take the easy route.
You will ask questions confidently, think widely, and look closely and from afar. Do something, take action, but see what's in front of you, know what you've learned already, and importantly, what you should be learning.
In the short term, any other way can seem fine, but over the long term, you’ll see fewer rewards for your efforts relative to your peers and competition. The alternative to visibility is going in blind, unprepared and ready to lose.
But visibility, control, confidence, and influence are a professional’s choice every time.