Take an honest look at your pipeline. Is it padded with questionable opportunities, or is it packed with rigorously qualified prospects?

Accurately predicting the future behavior of your potential customers is one of the most difficult tasks of sales. After all, in business-to-business (B2B) sales, we’re often dealing with large purchases, taking place across multiple departments, involving multiple decision-makers who have other pressing concerns on their calendars. Add the uncertainty that currently exists in many industries, and the task becomes even harder. However, nothing wastes time and precious resources more quickly than chasing opportunities that will never close.

As sales leaders, it’s our job to ensure salespeople aren’t investing hours — let alone weeks or months — establishing contacts and building business relationships only to encounter crickets at the end of all that effort. The key to ending that cycle is helping sales reps separate the shoppers from the buyers. To do so, sellers must learn how to build realistic forecasts by treating qualification as a multidimensional mechanism.

How can sales leaders help their teams identify high-potential opportunities and present accurate forecasts? Here are the answers to the three most common questions reps have when developing the qualification skills that drive sales success.

1. How Do I Identify Which Opportunities Are Worth My Time?

In the current climate, sales professionals must treat qualification as an ongoing process instead of a discrete event. Sales leaders should instruct their teams to put each opportunity through the same steps. This approach will help reps develop their understanding of prospect behavior and builds the foundation for accurate forecasting. Have your team start with these questions:

Should They Buy From You?

Sales reps need to take a hard look at the prospect and ensure that he or she matches the personas your organization has successfully sold to in the past.

Is It Worth It?

Not every pain point is worth solving. Sales professionals must be prepared with a business case that demonstrates the short- and long-term value of your product or solution.

Can They Buy?

If sellers are only connecting with individuals who do not have the authority or need to buy, they’re not dealing with a winnable opportunity.

When Will They Buy?

Modern B2B sales is more about facilitating buying than it is about selling. And facilitating buying means uncovering personal and professional motivations, connecting them to your offerings, and formulating a plan with the prospect on how your solution will help him or her realize value.

Coach your reps on the importance of reevaluating opportunities as business shifts. By staying current on the challenges faced by their prospects, sales reps will demonstrate that they understand a potential customer’s unique issues, build credibility and become a valued business partner.

2. When Should I Release Prospects From My Pipeline?

It’s common for sales reps to search for a magic number of days, lackluster meetings or missed calls that indicate an opportunity has stalled out and should no longer be pursued with the same rigor. The reality is more nuanced.

Let’s face it: Sales can be difficult. The pressure to evaluate opportunities, build realistic forecasts and hit quota month after month can be immense. As a result, sales professionals tend to cling to low-potential opportunities, because they’re afraid that losing the opportunity will impact their ability to make quota.

Sales leaders should understand that this process can be an unconscious one. After all, if the prospect is still taking meetings, reps feel productive and often don’t realize that they’re setting themselves up to fail. As sales leaders, it’s our job to help our teams develop the resilience and confidence to honestly assess opportunities, build a healthy pipeline and release unqualified opportunities early.

Remember: Even the most qualified opportunities can slip through a sales professional’s fingers if he or she doesn’t adopt a prospect-centric approach. Work with your teams on making it easy for potential customers to buy through uncovering their purchasing process and closely aligning with it.

3. How Does Accurate Forecasting Enable Success?

It’s not uncommon for sales professionals to feel a certain level of frustration about forecasting, especially new sales reps. Predicting the future is a slippery slope. However, with a little practice and guidance, the benefits of accurate forecasting are substantial.

For starters, it helps sales professionals improve their odds of success. Typically, opportunities fall into three categories: One-third are won, one-third are lost and the remaining third end in no decision. We obviously want to improve the win rate, and the first instinct of many reps is to look to those lost deals.

However, that thinking can be counterproductive: While it’s difficult to lose an opportunity to a competitor, at least the buyer made a decision. It’s the “no decision” results that eat precious time and resources. Decreasing the number of these opportunities will have an indirect impact on win rates.

Secondly, forecasting encourages a focus on pipeline. If sales professionals are diligent about qualifying their prospects, they’ll have confidence in their pipeline and be less likely to cling to those low-potential opportunities, since they can easily move on.

Finally, accurate forecasting demonstrates that sales professionals have command of what’s going on with their prospects and can identify when they will buy. As these numbers are passed up the ladder, their accuracy enables the success of the sales organization as a whole.

When sales leaders help their teams rigorously qualify each opportunity on a consistent basis, they build strong pipelines that support sales in shifting economic environments and drive measurable revenue results.

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