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Thoughts & Trends in Sales with M. Allen - May 23 Edition

Can you believe it's almost mid-year 2023? Key question, how are you and your team doing with hitting the target or quota?

One key area that I'm seeing in client meetings, discovery calls and discussions is the gap in running effective pipeline reviews. Here key points that we've been outlining over the last few years with our stakeholders and clients at M. Allen.

Run your opportunity and pipeline assessments....

Salespeople and sales organizations are notoriously bad at forecasting. A quick glance at the pipeline will most likely present a picture of lots of opportunities at various stages of the sales process, all of which are assigned some percentage that indicates the likelihood of that opportunity closing. Regardless of the worthlessness of some metrics, forecasting can be a valuable exercise for sales managers and even more valuable for salespeople. These two questions will do much to make sure you are where you think you are, and that you know how to move your opportunity to where it needs to go. Have I Obtained All of the Commitments Necessary to Forecast This Opportunity? A sales process is made up of activities that must be completed to move an opportunity from its opening to it’s eventual close; it is a roadmap. At each stage of the process there are commitments that your dream client must agree to and keep in order for you to move the opportunity through the process. Would it be that easy? Ask this question, “Have I obtained all of the commitments necessary to forecast this opportunity?” If you have missed commitments that are earlier in the sales process, if you have missed capturing information or gaining access to individuals within your dream client’s company, you are not ready to forecast this opportunity with any accuracy. “But wait,” you say, “I have accomplished most of what is in one stage and most of what I need in the next stage. And I already presented.” Here is the thing, by failing to obtain the crucial and critical commitments that indicate that you have successfully advanced the opportunity, you have destroyed your ability to forecast that opportunity with any accuracy. Asking this question can help you determine with how much confidence you can accurately forecast your likelihood of winning. And what if you missed some commitments? Not to worry, your sales process is not linear, despite its appearance as codified on paper. You can go back over some of the ground you covered to pick up what you missed. What Commitments Must I Obtain Between Now and Closing? Wherever your opportunity is in the sales process, you’ll still need more commitments between now and closing. If you have a solid, effective sales process, you will have these commitments at hand. Selling is a messy game, and it’s rarely as simple as checking the boxes. Sometimes certain actions have to be taken that don’t appear in your sales process. Sometimes you’ll need additional information and additional commitments. Sales is as much an art as it is science, and part of the art is recognizing what needs to happen to advance your opportunity. Your sales process, for example, may not include the step where your Regional Vice President make a call to your dream client’s Regional Vice President, to ask for access to someone on his team. It is equally unlikely to mention nurturing that relationship with a stakeholder three levels deep in the organization, one with no formal authority but with enough influence to derail your opportunity or destroy your solution’s chance of succeeding. For that matter, no sales process is vast enough to contain the multitude of coffees, lunches, introductions to vendors and partners, informal phone calls, emails, and all of the other communications and commitments that grease the skids of your opportunity and move it forward. Even so, you have to identify those commitments and take those actions if you want to win your dream client. If you are going to forecast an opportunity with any reasonable accuracy, you have to account for what needs to be done between today and the closing date you have targeted. Questions

  1. Look at your pipeline and your sales forecast. Are there opportunities that are missing commitments you needed to obtain in an earlier stage?

  2. How does missing a commitment to grant access to the individuals you need to meet with, within your dream client’s company, reduce the likelihood of successfully winning your opportunity? How does missing the information you needed to propose the right solution and to ensure its success reduce your chance of winning a deal or successfully implementing your solution?

  3. Pick your most promising opportunity. What has to happen between today and the date you have forecasted this opportunity to close? What actions do you need to take to obtain the right commitments? Which commitments will require assistance from others on your team or your dream client’s team?

  4. What commitments do you need to obtain that don’t exist on your sales process roadmap?

Attaching one of our other briefs and articles on this key topic here:

What's Your Competitive Position?

"If you get that gut feeling that something isn't right about your company's competitive advantage or situation, trust it and do something about it." - Matt Slonaker

Hello executive leader.

Is this you? Thinking about your competitive position in this market? What are the strategic bets you are making to not only survive it but massively transform your results?

So begs the questioning, what are you doing about improving your competitive positioning?

More details on attacking your strategy here:

"Sit with winners. The conversation is different."

3 trends that emphasize change within sales

There are three notable trends:

1. Buyers are far more informed about your product.

Sellers were the primary source of information about their products and a seller could exchange that information with a buyer for access and meetings.

Now, all of that information is on the web, and there are third-party reviews of your product. All told, buyers are now spending only 13% of their time talking to sellers, and that’s usually split among two or three different vendors. That means any individual seller is only getting about 3-to-5% of that buyers’ time. Think about that, more than 95% of the time customers evaluate a purchase the seller isn’t there!

Bottom line – Your buyer would come to you to learn about your product. That has since largely been outsourced by your company’s own website and ubiquitous third-party reviews.

2. Buyers expect you to know much more about their business, their industry, and themselves.

Just as the availability of information on digital channels has made it easier for buyers to learn about products, it’s made it easier for sellers to learn about the industries they are selling into and their customer’s businesses.

With the advent of that information being readily available online and with LinkedIn, it’s now a disrespectful question to ask a buyer where they went to school or about their work history. If you ask questions like that to your buyer, you’re sending the message that you didn’t care enough to do any research and that you just showed up unprepared.

Bottom line – Today, with LinkedIn and the web, it's no longer acceptable to show up un-prepared and research must be conducted before engaging with accounts. Buyers don’t want to spend time educating sellers about their business, industry, or themselves when that information is readily available.

3. With the sales process going virtual and a flood of sales tools hitting the market, making contact is easier, but building connection is harder.

There are so many technologies salespeople use every day that didn’t exist 20 years ago, as B2B sales has turned mostly virtual.

While every tool has its merits, the proliferation of those tools hasn’t always led to better outcomes. Email automation tools, for example, have been turned into spam cannons, overwhelming buyers with irrelevant messages. Video calls have made meeting easier, but forming connections more difficult.

Bottom line – In the past, most sales calls happened face-to-face, with being physically close to someone a massive advantage. Today, that advantage is mostly gone for many industries, as sales has gone virtual.

That said, the big things haven’t changed.

They include:

  • Sales still comes down to relationships, as people want to work with and buy from people they like, respect, and trust.

  • Integrity is still essential for building a lasting sales career.

  • It’s still a skill-based profession, where specific actions and behaviors directly impact outcomes.

In other words, the fundamentals haven’t changed; just the means have. And really, that’s what great sellers do today – they build great relationships and act with integrity, just in new environments.

But that does require some new skills. Hence, the next section – how to best respond to the changes of the last few years and decade.

How to best respond – fewer things done better while taking care of yourself.

With these higher expectations and an influx of technology, what can you do, as a B2B seller or sales leader?

There are three core areas to focus on:

1. What’ll set you apart is your industry expertise and business acumen.

Yes, you need to know your product inside and out. But the best sellers today are the ones who also know the industry their selling into and their customers inside and out.

You better be bringing business acumen and insights into your conversations because that’s what your customers are going to be looking for. Otherwise, you provide no value. You better be able to help customers crack business problems that they’re not necessarily seeing. It elevates the profession beyond just people who have certain information about a product to true business consultants and professional problem solvers.

The seller, doesn't need to always know the answer to every question. But, what you do need is the leadership skills to bring in the right people to drive real value for your client.

Today, more than ever, the salesperson needs to be familiar with multiple disciplines and adept at working with a growing number of experts. To help a customer go from where they are today to a successful business outcome, requires business insight, technical skills, implementation knowledge, and domain expertise. The salesperson can’t be an expert in each of these areas, but they need to know how and when to engage the appropriate experts with the right customer contact and at the appropriate time.

2. In an era where everyone is focused on doing more, focus on doing fewer things better.

At M. Allen, we did an analysis, comparing what top performers of 2022 – i.e. those who hit at least 100% of quota – did differently than everyone else. The biggest finding:

They focused on less.

Meaning, instead of blind prospecting to the many, personalized, relevant prospecting to the few. Instead of taking calls with anyone who would jump on the phone, spending time on the right calls with the right contacts. Instead of pushing the same deal to everyone, crafting customized solutions that would most help their client’s business.

Ultimately, it’s a deep sales approach. During a time when there is an avalanche of technology-fueled shallow selling, doing fewer things better is standing out.

3. Taking care of yourself isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s business critical.

Lastly, the expectations are higher than ever. Buyers want more. Business leaders demand more. The technology age is putting strains on us that humans just aren’t accustomed to yet.

That can all create stress. Selling virtually can be isolating. Sales really is harder than ever.

That’s why taking care of yourself is now must be a business priority. Unplugging. Exercise. Diet. Whatever works for you.

Yes, you might have a season or two of successful selling just through sheer willpower and work ethic. But, especially today, that’ll lead to burnout if you don’t take care of yourself first.

In a nutshell – deeply understand the industry your selling into and your customer. Focus not on quantity, but on having the highest quality conversations you can so that you can build long-term relationships. And take care of yourself.

Do those things, and you’ll be on a path to success in sales and revenue generation.

Contact us: or via mobile at 972.740.4300.

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