Instead of resisting what the data told me, I decided to embrace it. The data said that I had a huge opportunity to improve my win rate with a focused effort. No matter how you sliced it, I was worse than my peers at one specific part of our sales process: Discovery. My director began to focus our weekly conversations on opportunities in this stage, and how I could improve my results. While giving more leeway with other opportunities in other stages, he questioned me hard on these opportunities:
- Why now?
- Are we working with the right people?
- What do we need to do to move each into an active evaluation process (our Stage 3)?
- Is there an actual priority within their organization, or are they doing personal research?
- What are we trying to help the business achieve?
My weekly meeting with my director turned into highly focused pipeline reviews of all of my Stage 2 opportunities. He asked more questions and gave me more pushback on my answers. We talked about who were real candidates for our product, and who were just tire kickers. Through this process, I learned I had been blind to certain signals that were staring me in the face. Ultimately, curiosity and interest don’t sign a contract and check.
Throughout this data-driven process, I learned a number of valuable lessons, including:
1. Know my weak spots, and get the right help at the right time.
There are a lot of reasons it takes some sales reps longer in certain stages of the sales process. When I think about my performance vs. others on my team though, there were 2 things contributing: 1) difficulty getting folks into our evaluation, and 2) holding on to bad deals. The best way I could think to look at this was by meeting with other reps, and comparing notes on different opportunities, in my pipeline and theirs. Over lunches and beers with folks on my team I picked up some specific tactics others had in this part of our sales process, and used it to drive improvements in my execution.
2. Figure out where I can accelerate deals by learning from peers.
It also turned out that I had a higher bar before I’d “give up” or let go of an opportunity. Said a different way, I was chasing opps in the Discovery stage who were not great prospects, and trying to create something out of nothing. Letting go of futile pursuits earlier was a big personal win — I reduced the number of days I was chasing a bad deal in the discovery stage from 63 to 50 days. I could now refocus my time on higher-value efforts.
3. Time really is money.
The other piece of the puzzle was the sheer number of sales engagements I was running. It didn’t take a conversation with my manager to realize that I was having a hard time fully focusing on 40 sales engagements. The truth is, one quarter of those were as cold as ice, and I was waiting on a miracle to revive them.
In retrospect, this was the turning point. Eliminating bad opportunities allowed me to over-invest in the opportunities I knew I could win — the opportunities that “looked like” the deals I win historically. (By the way, if you’re looking to figure out how many opportunities you need, and how they should be distributed through your pipeline, I recommend this article and downloadable excel model for folks who don’t have access to a sales performance analytics platform like InsightSquared).
In line with letting go of Stage 2 opportunities that the data told me didn’t look and feel like winners, I also started letting go of opportunities in other parts of the sales process. I realized these cold opps were taking my time and resources away from the deals I was more likely to win, and wasting my time.