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In this guide, you'll learn:

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4 Ways to Gain a Competitive Sales Advantage With Prospect Management

By Steve Bookbinder

Steve Bookbinder also recommends this free guide, The Beginners Guide to Inbound Sales.

4 Ways to Gain a Competitive Sales Advantage With Prospect Management

Hopefully this isn’t news to you, but sales is changing. Your buyer has more control. Your competition is fiercer -- And your goals are set higher.

As a sales professional, you know you must adapt in order to succeed, but with so many moving parts and changes, how can you gain a competitive edge while consistently filling your pipeline with new, qualified opportunities?

Free Guide: The Beginners Guide to Inbound Sales

The Prospect Management System!

Prospect Management is both a system and a planning tool for managers and sellers. The PM System provides an essential framework and common language for tracking, monitoring, and managing the sales pipeline.

Sure, while having a common language and process in place among your sales team should seem like a no-brainer, recent findings from a survey conducted by Applango and HubSpot show a different story.

According to the survey, the biggest challenges facing businesses when it comes to sales professionals are bad processes, inaccurate pipeline information, and not using a CRM in general or to its full capabilities.

This may come as a surprise to you, but when you’re actively selling or managing accounts, it’s essential to have a system or process guiding your activities. Unfortunately, not all sales teams are consistently following the process set for them.

That’s why we are sharing 4 ways Prospect Management will help both sales managers and reps gain a competitive advantage and overcome their pipeline woes.

1. Knowing the Difference Between Monitoring vs. Managing

When I talk about prospect management, the majority of salespeople and most sales managers stop me and say, “Steve, we already know that. We already know about managing our pipeline.”

Now, sure they may know about it but what’s happening is they are actually confusing monitoring a pipeline with managing a prospect base. There is a difference.

For example: Let’s say you look at your pipeline and the only take-away is “oh, wait a minute, now I remember I am supposed to call the XYZ company.”

This is a clear warning sign you’re just monitoring your pipeline, not managing it.

Managing your pipeline means organizing your work in order to create the right prospect base needed to hit your goals.

If you’re not managing your sales activity, prospecting, sales strategies and tactics, everything associated with selling that gives you that prospect base you need to hit those goals, you’re not really managing anything.

What you’re supposed to do is look at your pipeline and immediately think “what is my ideal pipeline supposed to look like?”

By comparing this ideal picture to your actual pipeline, you can see and make changes in a positive direction.

Mastering your pipeline and the art of prospect management is one of the most effective ways to increase revenue and give yourself an advantage. Why? Because it puts you in control of finding areas of strength and improving areas of weakness.

2. Defining Your Set Points

Now, if you really want to manage your sales pipeline efficiently, then you must define and manage your set points.

The PM System breaks the sales process down into four set points, but depending on your organization, it may be more or less. The important part here is that your set points are flexible enough for sales reps to feel guided but not constrained.

Remember, the goal of each salesperson is to become self-correcting.

The four set points of Prospect Management are guidelines to help us properly prepare and accurately diagnose/assess our current sales pipeline, which ultimately helps us respond accordingly and take the steps necessary to meet our ideal pipeline picture and goals.

1. First Appointment

A first appointment to begin the sales process is set!

This could be either the first meeting with a new or revived lead or the first meeting with an existing customer to discuss a renewal or upsell.

Constantly review your first appointments and make sure you have a mixture of the different types of accounts. This way, your pipeline will always be full, and you don’t have to scramble for new appointments if you begin to empty the pipeline out.

We should know the percentage of scheduled first appointments that result in qualified “prospects,” as well as have enough scheduled first appointments to meet selling needs, specifically backfilling the 25% column in your CRM, which we will review next.

2. 25%

At 25%, we have a mutually agreed upon scheduled next step and your prospect is interested in hearing more about what we’ve got to say.

At this point, you’ve already had your first appointment and now you are working on information gathering and advancing the sale to the next stage.

Remember, prospects will either advance or fallback. You must have enough prospects at this 25% stage to backfill both your 50% and 90% column in the CRM.

“Balance” is always the key to good prospect management. Keeping your prospect pipeline filled with the right kinds of prospects, in the right stages of development, in the right numbers is what constitutes that balance.

Some prospects should be starting out, some in middle stages of the sale, and others should be ready to close. If your pipeline isn’t balanced, review your prospective accounts and see what has to be done to achieve balance.

3. 50%

At 50%, you will be getting a decision soon!

At this stage of the sale, there is a 50% chance the decision will go your way.

When initiating a sale, there are a number of facts which you must learn to “qualify” the account: budget, needs, competition, and the decision-making process. Do not make the mistake of assuming the person to whom you are speaking is the decision-maker.

Continue to explore until you can determine the buying process and the decision-maker beyond a doubt. Then, you can be sure your selling efforts will be directed toward the proper person.  

Also, consider reviewing the accounts in the 50% column of your CRM. Decide for which accounts you know: the buying process and the key decision-maker(s). If there are any accounts you don’t have this information for, make sure you find out.

You can significantly help your chances by confirming that you’ve gathered the correct information about your prospect.  Because if the sale moves forward, you have a clear picture of who is involved, what deliverables are needed, and the timeline for implementation.

4. 90%

You’ve received verbal agreement from the prospect!

Our first instinct is to celebrate but it’s often all-too-easy to put an account in the 90% column and assume that it will close immediately. However, this can be self-deceptive. Anything can happen to derail a sale, even at the last moment.

So, the seller who wants a competitive advantage always reviews these “sure things” and checks for any warning signals like not having a scheduled next step.

Review your 90% column and identify those accounts that have been languishing in the 90% column for over a month. For each, identify the last meaningful action moving towards closure that the customer actually completed. Then, for each of these accounts, note what you think can be done to re-start the account.

The purpose and goal of implementing set points is to have shared definitions and objective criteria in order to properly inspect your pipeline and adjust accordingly to ensure “deal flow” that’s needed to hit sales goals.

3. Creating a Sales Culture of Accountability

Prospect Management is more than a system and a tool, it’s a mindset that helps develop average managers and sellers into an exceptional sales team.

Successful sales cultures have two important qualities: a shared sense of accountability and a shared language.

The PM System aids in achieving these two qualities because once implemented, the team shares:

  • A common sales language describing “set points” rather than individual confidence ratings
  • An understanding of their true sales cycle for each size and type of deal based on historic patterns and not exceptions
  • A common pipeline inspection methodology that encourages sharing of best practices among the team

When everyone on the team has a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities, and goal expectations, then it’s easier to work together to hold each other to higher standards and accountability.

Establishing this type of sales culture takes time, but you can avoid the common issues other sales organizations experience by thinking of the PM System as your sales GPS, always guiding you and making sure you stay on the right course.

4. Keeping You Focused

Staying focused is a critical part of effective selling. You have to spend your time in the most efficient and the most rewarding way possible.

The PM System forces sellers to focus on and diagnose their own behaviors and patterns.

Whether they uncover productive or unproductive behaviors, one of the first things that will become obvious after implementing Prospect Management is a new found visibility into sales activity from both the seller and manager’s point-of-view.

Sales reps start maximizing their time spent on the right opportunities because they know what “qualified” means and how to balance their pipeline in order to move each opportunity effectively through the sales cycle.

Managers will increase their chances of accurately forecasting because they’ve gained an improved understanding of where the team’s sales are coming from and how each seller is contributing to the overall success of the team.

So, what’s the real competitive advantage of Prospect Management?

Creating a shared language and process that every single person utilizes consistently. This is simple, yet challenging, but  you’re well on your way to achieving this by knowing the difference between managing and monitoring your pipeline, defining your set points, creating a sales culture of accountability, and staying focused on the right sales activities.

[Playbook] Inbound Sales Guide Cover

Free Guide:

The Beginners Guide to Inbound Sales
Read the Guide
[Playbook] Inbound Sales Guide Cover

Free Guide:

The Beginners Guide to Inbound Sales

See faster close rates and happier customers by shifting to inbound sales.

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Seals
  • 5 Steps in the Inbound Sales Process
  • Getting Started and Troubleshooting


Inbound Sales
Published on August 17, 2016

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