Overcoming Critical Opportunity Planning Mistakes

In my last blog, I discussed the sales practices that differentiated sales organizations who excel at new account capture, versus those with mediocre or even poor results. As the almost 900 sales leaders in our survey shared, capturing new accounts requires intense focus on (a) prospect prioritization, (b) deriving seller actions from the customer’s path and (3) building and executing effective opportunity plans. In this blog, we will drill down into the last item.

Opportunity planning was listed as a gap by a notable 65.8% of the sales leaders who participated in our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study.  But those who said that they exceeded, or even just met, expectations for it, were substantially better at closing new business with new accounts. And, they boasted win rates that were 12.2 percentage points better than those with poor opportunity planning.

If the benefits are clear, then why does performance continue to trend so low?
Why is opportunity planning so hard to get right?

  1. Planning is a process, not an event. Planning results in…a plan. And usually, that plan is documented in some way. The problem is that too often, that document becomes the sole focal point. In actuality, the thinking process, the analysis and the decision-making which go into creating the opportunity plan are the important part. The plan format is simply where all that good thinking is recorded. As prospects, markets and conditions change daily, the plan can’t be set in stone. Sellers must continuously revisit their approach and refine it, or completely rework it, based on current realities. When you look at your seller’s plans, what are they changing on a regular basis, aside from pushing out the close date?
  2.  Opportunity management takes more than CRM. Opportunity management covers all the actions which take place between when an opportunity enters your funnel and when it exits. As such, opportunity management is often deeply intertwined with the CRM platform. But, technology should never be considered a subsitute for process. In our 2018 Sales Operations Optimization Study, we noted that while CRM adoption can improve opportunity win rates modestly (+3%), it is the combination of formal/dynamic sales process with CRM that demonstrates notablty higher +15% proportions of sellers making or exceeding their goals.
  3. Opportunity plans have to culminate in mutually-beneficial actions.The point of an opportunity plan is to guide seller actions in order to advance the opportunity. The key is to remember that advancing the opportunity means connecting to buyer actions and helping buyers move their decision-making process forward (or intentionally move it backward to make it better). Too often opportunity planning become inwardly-focused. As a result, less than a quarter of B2B buyers in our 2018 Buyers Preference Study felt like sellers were a resource to solve their business problems. B2B buyers also bemoaned a lack of business outcome focus among sellers. Sellers demonstrate that they are focused on closing the deal, not helping the buyer satisfy a business need in a concrete way.
  4. Data should drive better decisions, vs. validate pre-determined actions. Today’s businesses collect a broad range of data. However, with complicated team structures and disparate systems, it is a rare sales organization who truly harnesses the power of that data. When done right, opportunity planning helps sellers to collect, analyze and draw conclusions based on data. This involves finding that elusive data and making an objective assessment of it. How familiar is this situation in your organization? A seller comes to their leader asking for support on an RFP. The manager requires that the seller complete a go/no-go checklist before enlisting help. Minutes later a checklist is provided, confirming a ‘go’. Did the seller really use that tool as it was intended? Likely not. Managers need to master the opportunity planning approach such that they can readily callout instances where sellers are looking to validate decisions rather than make them.
  5.  Opportunity planning isn’t intuitive. Enablement is required. Lastly, organizations often stumble when it comes to enabling their sellers on how to execute sales methodologies. Sellers need training that helps them internalize the opportunity management approach. They need technology tools to help them execute the approach. They need content that helps them use the approach to connect customers to their sales process. And they need to be coached by someone who can help them apply the approach to specific situations. According to our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study, organizations who have effective sales process and sales methodology training have higher win rates (+15.4%) than those with ineffective training.


Questions to ask

  • How recently have you examined your opportunity planning methodology?
  • How consistently is your opportunity management approach used?
  • What is your win rates of forecasted deals? What does that tell you about opportunity management wihtin your organization?
  • Does technology drive, enable or act as a subsitute for opportunity planning in your organization?
  • How often are opportunity plans refined or reworked once they are completed?


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