On this episode of the Sales Gravy Podcast, Jeb Blount and Colleen Stanley discuss the importance of Reality Testing sales pipeline opportunities. **Please note that this episode was recorded in a restaurant in Milan Italy.The content quality is excellent. The sound quality not so much.
Reality testing sales pipeline opportunities is an important step in ensuring the success of your sales efforts and the effective use of your time. It’s important to regularly check the accuracy of your assumptions about the viability of the deals in your pipeline against hard evidence that those deals are advancing in line with your sales process.
Reality testing is described as the ability to see things as they are, rather than what you would like them to be. You cannot afford to waste time with pipeline opportunities that you won’t win. Nor can you spend time with stakeholders who can’t or won’t buy.
For sellers, the greatest waste of time is spending it with the wrong prospect. As we move into a period of market volatility, it is critical for self-professionals to get real about what’s in their pipeline.
The Problem With Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves paying more attention to information that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving less attention to information that contradicts those beliefs. It is the human tendency to see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear.
With sales pipeline opportunities, confirmation bias can lead salespeople to interpret new information in a way that fits with their preexisting views, even if that interpretation is not necessarily accurate. It’s the act of putting on rose colored lenses.
For example: When a buyer says, “I might be interested.” It is interpreted to mean, “I absolutely want to do business with you.”
Confirmation bias can have a number of negative effects. It causes salespeople to hold onto false beliefs, make flawed decisions, have clouded judgement, and to be more resistant to pushback from leaders during pipeline reviews.
Awareness is the key to overcoming this natural human bias. This, in fact is what reality testing is all about – considering a diversity of viewpoints from your leaders and team members along with actively testing and challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.
Empty Pipeline Lead Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias and false beliefs about sales pipeline opportunities run rampant on sales floors. Just sit in a pipeline review for ten minutes and you’ll hear salespeople using all manner of excuses to justify deals that will never close. This is why most sales pipelines are little more than pipe dreams and sales teams consistently miss forecasts.
When salespeople are consistently prospecting and keeping their pipe full, they are much more in tune with reality. When an opportunity is not advancing they quickly run a reality test and if it doesn’t meet their win probability standards, they’ll walk away.
In other words, a full pipeline begets clear judgement.
On the other hand, salespeople with empty pipelines are desperate. They are consumed with confirmation bias. They hold on to loser deals and waste inordinate amounts of time working opportunities that will never close.
Therefore, the easiest way to get good at reality testing your pipeline opportunities is to start prospecting and keep your pipeline full.
Focus on Winnable Deals
This may be a blinding flash of the obvious but if you want to sell more, spend your time with and invest resources in deals that will close. Desperate sales reps have a bad tendency to ignore win probability and scratch lottery tickets.
High-performing sales professionals are consistency reality testing on every deal to gauge win probability. When WP drops below a comfortable threshold, they walk away and focus their time and attention on winnable deals.
Ideal Qualified Prospects
Reality testing starts with getting clear on your ideal qualified prospect.
An ideal qualified prospect is a potential customer that is a good fit for your company’s products or services; AND that is also likely to make a purchase. In other words, high win probability.
In order to identify ideal qualified prospects, you’ll typically use criteria such as industry vertical, business size, demographics, geographic location, budget, purchasing habits, and other relevant characteristics.
The best place to begin when developing your IQP is by building a detailed description of the characteristics of your best existing customers. Take time to analyze customers that are the best fit, easy to work with, generate the most profit, and view you as a long-term partner.
Then, focus your time and attention on finding more of these types of customers.
Test Engagement and Commitment
During sales conversations, be careful not to brush over signs that your prospect may not be committed to the process. Sometimes they are just not that into you or the process. Never forget that you cannot force someone to buy from you.
When a buyer seems to be hedging their bet or hesitating ask them about it directly.
Say: “I’m sensing some hesitance. It seems like you have a lot going on right now. I’m just curious, on a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to this project?”
The objective of this question is to switch hats with your buyer and compel them to sell you on why you should invest more time with them.
Likewise, test engagement by asking stakeholders to do things for you. If they are willing to give you information, lean in and answer questions honestly, willingly introduce you to other stakeholders, and agree to next steps, and show up to meetings it’s a good sign that they are engaged.
Conduct Pipeline Opportunity Reality Testing With Your Team and Sales Leader
No matter how hard you try, sometimes you are just too close to the deal. Sometimes confirmation bias is so strong you can’t break its gravitational force. This is where reviewing your deals with your sales team and leaders can help you get right with reality.
One key objective a deal review is to help you make an informed decision about whether to continue to pursue a particular deal or not.
The key is being open to hearing out the opinions of your sales team members no matter how bad the truth hurts. You’ll be surprised how often the members of your team can see through the BS story that you are telling yourself about the viability of the deal and cut right to the truth – your pipeline opportunity is never going to close.
Additional Tips for Reality Testing Sales Pipeline Opportunities
Review your pipeline regularly: Set aside time to review your pipeline opportunities on a regular basis, such as weekly or monthly. Identify any deals that are stuck in the pipeline and determine what action needs to be taken to move them forward.
Verify the accuracy of your pipeline: Check that all of the deals in your pipeline are accurate and reflect the current status of each opportunity within the sales process and stages.
Assess the likelihood of each deal closing: Evaluate the likelihood (win probability) of each deal closing and make adjustments to your pipeline accordingly. This could involve moving deals to a different stage or removing them from the pipeline if they are no longer viable.
Identify any bottlenecks: Look for any bottlenecks in your sales process that may be stalling opportunity advancement.
Collaborate with your team: Keep your sales team informed about the status of deals in your pipeline and encourage them to collaborate with you to find solutions to advance stalled pipeline opportunities.
Reality testing sales pipeline opportunities on a regular basis, ensures that your sales efforts are prioritized on deals that you can win.