Most organisations are critically dependent on their ability to find and win new business. So why is it that so many prospecting efforts fail to uncover enough of the right sort of opportunities? Why is it that so much effort is being wasted targeting “prospects” that are never likely to buy?

Why is it that so many sales people’s pipelines are stuffed with “opportunities” that may at first appear to be interested in what you have to offer, but which end up soaking up sales resource while going nowhere fast?

The performance gap

I’ve conducted a number of sales pipeline reviews over that past year, and there’s often a dramatic difference between the a top performer’s opportunity profile and the pipelines of the sales people that are struggling to make quota.

Here’s what I’ve learned: the top performers value their time too highly to invest it in opportunities that are never likely to close, whilst weaker performers often hang on to every possible deal for fear that qualifying them out will make their pipeline look smaller.

This is not just a failure on the part of the sales person: it is a failure of management. At the end of the day, it’s the company’s responsibility to ensure that every sales person’s prospecting and qualifying activities are focused on the opportunities that are likely to be most valuable.

There are, of course, a number of factors that ought to be considered, but three stand out above all: the universal foundations of sales success lie with connecting with the right people in the right organisations about the right issues. Let’s break these three critical factors down:

The right organisations

If you don’t know what a “perfect customer” looks like, you’re going to end up randomly kissing a lot of frogs. So sales and marketing must get together to agree and document the common characteristics of these perfect customers.

In my experience, simply agreeing on demographics (size, sector, location) is rarely enough. When you really dig into it, when you look at the deals you have won and lost, I’d be prepared to eat my hat if structural, behavioural, environmental and situational factors are not more important in your markets (they are in every other company I’ve worked with).

Your top performers often have an instinctive sense of what these factors are, but they are rarely documented and even less commonly shared across the sales force. You have to agree these.

The right people

There is usually no shortage of people who are prepared to talk to you about a topic that is personally interesting to them. But the people you really need to get to are the key stakeholders who influence buying decisions.

These people might be budget takers or budget makers. They might be decision makers or decision shapers. But in today’s complex sales environments, you need to understand their motivations, get them onside, and pass the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) test.

The right issues

Finally, you’ve got to be talking about the right issues. These are issues that are critical to the prospect (if they recognise the issue, they have to do something about it), which you solve better than any other option open to them (otherwise you’re opening the door to the competition).

Here’s why: interesting issues get them interested, important issues get them engaged, but only critical issues are guaranteed to result in action. So you had better focus on critical issues that you are uniquely positioned to address.

The wholly trinity

Each one of these factors is important: but getting all three aligned will guarantee that your marketers and sales people focus their time and energies on targeting, engaging qualifying and winning more of the right sort of opportunities.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine creating a truly scalable business without a clear appreciation of your perfect customers, the key stakeholders, and their critical issues. Does everyone in your marketing and sales teams understand and agree these three factors? And if not, why are you waiting to do something about it?

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Bob Apollo is the Managing Partner of Inflexion-Point, and an accredited Funnel Coach. To read more of his insights, go to the Inflexion-Point blog.