Improve Sales Forecasting Accuracy: Confirm the Customer’s Opinion During Opportunity Development

We have worked with over seventy individuals in a Sales Kickoff Workshop that took place in Australia and New Jersey. There were many bright stars within these groups, meaning the top 10 % that simply gets things done. But for as long as we have been doing this (over ten years), it never ceases to amaze me when sales people, some very experienced, do not clearly communicate with their prospect about what comes next in developing an opportunity.  These same salespeople will be asked to forecast the likelihood of success in converting this piece of business from an opportunity into revenue at some time in the next 3-12 months, yet many don’t know what is coming next.

The cult-like sales movie Glen Garry Glen Ross cites the acronym “ABC” when it comes to sales, or “Always be Closing”. Well, this tired old tactic simply won’t work in today’s buyer-driven world. Instead, we embrace a concept, and practice this with our customers, that includes a related approach to “ABC”, or Always Be Confirming. For those of you who do this every time, we offer a round of applause. For those who skip it, or only do this when it feels comfortable, read on.

At each step of the customized sales process that we build with our customers, there is an action that the seller must take to qualify that the person they met with sees value in the conversation they just conducted, and agrees to proceed to the next step. This can be a formal document, or a simple follow-up email to identify clear next steps. In either scenario, we are asking the customer (or prospect) if we have a mutually agreed upon understanding of where this opportunity may go, and how they will work together to get there. This includes a situation when the two parties do not agree, and decide to stop. In our program, a “no” is okay, especially when it comes sooner as opposed to later in opportunity development.

The one confirmation of progress that all sellers will document is when they win. This is validated with a signature, check, or purchase order. But what about the 4-5 steps that come before, especially when it comes time to commit serious resources to winning the business? This generally plays out in the form of a demo, presentation, proposal or reference account to validate your ability to perform. Are your sales people making certain that when they provide that information, they will get an answer? Or is it left in that limbo zone of getting back with you when they’ve made a final decision.

By proactively managing the sales process, you can organize how the opportunity develops, and let your customer/prospect know that you will be asking for confirmation at certain intervals to confirm progress. Without doing so, many sellers are flying blind and can’t tell how well they’re progressing until very late in the game, which makes for messy forecasting and poor execution. To avoid this, make sure your team is trained on opportunity development and knows how to track progress from the very beginning of the customer engagement.