March 2012 | Click links (>>) below to read articles
  • It’s Not in The Budget By Eric Slife >>
  • The Best Way to Improve Your Negotiation Skills by Mark Hunter >>
  • Dealing with The Price Shopper by Brian Jeffrey >>
  • Why Should I Do Business With You? By Eric Slife >>
  • Stay In Prospects' Good Graces By Bill Lee >>
  • 3 Steps to Breaking A Sales Slump By Eric Slife >>
  • Removing the Sludge from your Sales Funnel by Brian Jeffrey >>

It’s Not in The Budget
By Eric Slife

“It’s not in the budget.” Sound familiar?

This is probably the number one objection most salespeople have experienced the last two years, and it’s not a smoke screen. What do you do when your prospects tighten their purse strings?

The primary reason sales people encounter this objection is because their product or solution isn’t a high priority. Businesses highest priorities are their Critical Success Factors (CSF). If anyone of these factors fails, the business will eventually fail or be significantly crippled. Especially, in a down economy, companies circle around the wagons to protect their CFS. It’s no different than you forgoing that cruise or trip to Disneyland.

What can you do to change how your prospect views the priority of your offering?

  1. Change the perception of your offering.

Too many salespeople are still selling value added benefits, gain, opportunities, etc. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s making people pull the trigger on decisions now. Your prospects are focused on lost sales, lost profits, and surviving. In other words, “FEAR” is their number one motivator. You need to position your product or service in such a way that brings some peace of mind to your prospect’s worried state.

  1. Speak to the real decision maker.

Obviously, if you want to understand what is really bothering your prospects, you better be talking with the ultimate decision maker. I would much rather get one good appointment with the ultimate decision maker than four ‘I’ve got my fingers crossed appointments’ with Purchasing or Human Resources.

Ultimate decision makers will share with you their CSF. In addition, you will significantly speed up the sales cycle. They may even be an immediate “No,” but that’s better than being dragged on for a year by a Purchasing Agent.

Finally, ultimate decision makers have the power to change the budget. If you can plug the dam that is leaking, they will find the funds to make it happen.

The best question to determine who the ultimate decision maker is, “Besides yourself, who else will be involved in the decision making process?” This strokes the ego of the person you are speaking with, which will give you a much truer answer than, “Are you the decision maker?”

  1. Better qualify your prospects.

The reality is you shouldn’t be wasting time with companies that don’t have the money, won’t make a decision within the next several months (obviously if you sell jet liners this may be different), or can’t give me definitive answer to specific questions.

More often than not, companies that are just kicking around the tires are not good prospects. A good litmus test is to ask the following questions:

  • How soon are you looking to make a decision?
  • When can I speak with the other decision makers involved?
  • How high a priority is this right now and why?
  • Have you tried to fix this problem before? If “Yes,” find out why it didn’t get fixed before.

Finally, sit down and make a list of the top industries that rely heavily upon what you provide. Once you have completed this list, compile another list of the top companies that require your solution. These are your top prospects and should garner your most attention.

The following are some of the questions you need to be able to answer to identify if you are a top priority:

  • Why is my product or service critical?
  • What are the consequences if my product or service fails?
  • How does that impact my contact(s)?
  • What alternatives does my prospect have?
  • What Return on Investment will my product or service yield, both hard and soft?
  • Who will be purchasing in the next several months and why?
  • What companies or industries are growing or suffering?

In addition to the above, you should brainstorm more with your team, and contact your current customers. The best way to do this is ask them for a testimonial, and then have them elaborate on how your solution has impacted their business. Not only do you learn more about your top customers, but you walk away with a great testimonial.

About The Author: Eric Slife is president of Slife Sales Training, Inc. They specialize in providing a comprehensive online sales training program that can be customized to fit a businesses sales team’s specific needs regardless of size. Visit their website

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The Best Way to Improve Your Negotiation Skills
by Mark Hunter

If you want to know the best way to improve your negotiation skills, then invest more time in improving your selling skills.

First thing I believe with regard to negotiating is that you sell first, negotiate second. If you simply start negotiating with someone you haven’t first sold to, I guarantee you will fail.

“Selling first, negotiating second” allows you to understand the customer’s needs and it allows the customer to understand where you’re coming from.

The criteria and/or questions you need to have answered before start any negotiation are:

1. What are the needs the customer has and have they expressed at least 3 needs to you?

The more needs the customer has shared with you, the better position you will be in should you need to negotiation with the customer.

2. Does one of the needs they’ve expressed have anything to do with time?

If so, this provides you with a key item to leverage in your negotiations.

3. Has the customer expressed at least some interest in your offer?

The old saying you can’t get blood out of a turnip holds true. If the customer doesn’t want what you’re offering, then there is no sense in negotiating.

4. Has the customer rejected your price at least once and have they countered with a price?

The good thing about this question is it allows you to develop a starting point with the customer. If you wait until the customer knows you’re willing to negotiate with them over price, they will be much more likely to throw out a low-ball price.

5. Do you know what you and the customer are going to be negotiating over?

Don’t think it’s just price. Many times the customer has other needs that you can negotiate over and, more importantly, use to help increase the price you receive.

Timing is certainly a key issue, but there are also many times numerous other things. The more “variables” you know as to what the customer wants and what you’ll be negotiating over, typically the more successful your odds will be.

When you have the answers to these questions, you can then begin to negotiate — if the customer has rejected your offer twice. I say twice because there is no reason to enter into a negotiation if you can't first sell to the customer.

Selling is much easier than negotiating and allows you to typically achieve a higher level of profit. If you have to negotiate, be sure your negotiation skills are up to par.

Copyright 2012, Mark Hunter “The Sales Hunter.” Sales Motivation Blog.

Mark Hunter, The Sales Hunter, is a consultative selling expert committed to helping individuals and companies identify better prospects, close more sales, and profitably build more long-term customer relationships. To find out more, visit

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Dealing with The Price Shopper
by Brian Jeffrey

You answer the phone and hear the words, “My boss has asked me to get information and pricing on (whatever it is you sell)” and your heart sinks. It sinks because you know that dealing with information seekers is an even greater challenge than dealing with gatekeepers.

You know that whatever price you quote will be too high, particularly if you’re selling a complex or technical product or service, and then you won’t get a chance to make your case.

The problem is that neither the person calling you nor her/his boss seem to appreciate that you need more information about their situation before you can give a proper price. They just want price and information and don’t understand why you can’t just give it to them and let them make their own decision.

Two Big Problems

You’re faced with two big problems. One, you have questions you need to ask and two, the person you’re talking with probably doesn’t know the answers. Adding to your grief is the fact that the information seeker is expected to bring back answers to her boss, not more questions. So, without embarrassing the person, you need to let her know that what she is being asked to do is no easy task.

Empathize and Confuse

Here’s one method of handling the problem. Let’s use a mythical product called a Transitory Molecular Discriminator, or TMD for short, as an example.

Phase one is to empathize with the person. Show that you know the boss has put her between a rock and a hard place and that you’re going to try to help her out.

Information Seeker: “Hi. My boss has asked me to get information and pricing on your Transitory Molecular Discriminators.”

Salespro: “I’d be pleased to help. Tell me, how familiar are you with TMDs?”

Information Seeker: “Not very, but my boss only wants me to get information and prices.”

Salespro: “Wow. That puts you in a bit of an awkward spot because I need to ask a bunch of questions before I can give you what you’re looking for.”

Information Seeker: “Can’t you just give me price and information?”
Salespro: “Not really. I’ll need to ask a few questions first. Would that be OK?”

Phase two of this technique is to have a set of questions that the information seeker probably can’t answer. After confusing or baffling her with a few gems you can say:

Salespro: “It would probably be better if I could chat with your boss about this. Can you arrange for me to talk with him?”

Hopefully you’ll be able to get through to the decision maker. The key to using this technique is to have a list of the questions you would normally ask if you were dealing with an informed prospect. They should be legitimate questions intended to qualify the prospect, not questions that are deliberately chosen to cause confusion. The longer the list the better, but be careful to not ask stupid questions.

If the information seeker balks at letting you talk to the boss, you might offer to send her a list of the questions you want/need answered. At least it shows the prospect you’re organized.

When Pressed for Price

Remember these four rules when pressed to give pricing information.

1) Whenever possible, don’t discuss price until you’ve established value.

2) If forced to give a price prematurely, only offer a range (“Prices range from $A to $Z.”)

3) When offering a range, your low end should be your lowest possible price.

4) Always add 10 to 20 percent to your high end. It’s a lot easier to go back with a lower price than a higher one. If the customer is going to choke on your artificially high price, he’ll choke on your real top end price, and you’ll lose the advantage of being able to quote a final price that is lower than he expected.

What if whatever you’re selling only has one price? Read rule one again. Try to get control of the situation by saying something like this:

Information Seeker: “I’m just looking for a price.”

Salespro: “I understand. I’m always hesitant to discuss price until I have a chance to establish value or, at a minimum, a need. May I ask a few questions first?”

Now you’re back to the technique outlined above — empathize and confuse.

If she persists on just wanting a price, you may have a “price shopper” rather than an “information collector.”

If you are dealing with an information collector and not a price shopper, you have one other option and that is to…

Give In and Give Up

While I recommend you always offer a price range rather than one price, not every product lends itself to this approach. If the only choice you can give a customer is to take it or leave it, consider the following.

With this option, you simply give the price and move on because you know the person is going to tell you your price is too high. Remember, every price is too high if you haven’t established value.

If the information seeker doesn’t choke on your price, you may have an opportunity to actually establish value, but in my experience that rarely happens.

Be Helpful

The key is to not try to go around the information seeker but to help her understand that she’s in a difficult situation and you want to help her out.

These techniques won’t always work but they are sure worth a try.

Authored by Brian Jeffrey, co-founder of SalesForce Training, and originally published in the Targets newsletter.

About The Author:

SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, helping sales people deal effectively with information seekers and price shoppers.

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Why Should I Do Business With You?
By Eric Slife

So far, I like what I see. Let me look over your proposal in more detail, and then I’ll call you next week. In actuality your prospect is really thinking; “This looks the same as the other 4 proposals.”

One of the questions I like to ask is, “What makes you unique?” or, phrased a different way, “Why should I buy from you?” More often than not, I receive one of the following responses:

  • We have a superior product.
  • Our company offers more.
  • No one can match our service.
  • We have been around forever.

Although you may think these are reasons to choose you, they aren’t. First, your competition makes identical claims. Second, there is absolutely nothing specific or quantitative about any of the above statements. Finally, there is nothing that supports any these statements.

Prospects don’t care what salespeople or marketing departments think are important. When they see proposals or hear statements that contain these phrases, it has no positive impact on their decision because there is nothing unique about them. All things being equal, they will choose either the lowest priced competition, or the solution which they trust the most. This is why it’s so hard to oust a current vendor - better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

Before you can answer “Why should I buy from you?” you need to know how you are uniquely different than your competition. In order to do this, create a side by side spreadsheet comparison.  You should evaluate the following:

  • Company
    • Are you big or small?
    • Are you safe or innovative?
    • What’s your niche’?
    • Do you have an extensive product line?
    • How does your guarantee compare?
  • Product
    • Specific Feature(s) - Is there any one particular feature(s) that’s unique? Or, when you consider all the capabilities as a whole, does that make our product unique?
    • Durability – How long is its expected life span? What are the conditions where it will function?
    • Productivity - Is it faster or more efficient?
    • Operating Costs - Are the operating costs lower or higher?
    • Standard Options – What does your product include?
    • Price – Are you more or less expensive?
    • Ease of Use – How long does it take to learn how to use your product?
    • Size and weight – Will it fit into the intended workspace?
    • Noisy versus quiet – What kind of environment is it going in?
    • What is the warranty?
    • Etc.
  • Service
    • Is it included or additional?
    • Is it local?
    • What is the average response time?
    • Are they using OEM or remanufactured parts?
    • Do they specialize?
    • Etc.

I’ve managed to come up with numerous areas where you can potentially differentiate yourself. This list is by no means exhaustive, and your side by side comparison will probably be different for each competitor.

Once you have completed a comparison, you then need to determine your strengths and weaknesses versus your competitor. I think you’ll be amazed at how many ways there are to distinguish yourself from your competition. This simple exercise will help you better understand how and when to set up your competition, as well as, who your best prospects are.

Assuming you’ve done your homework and you know your unique capabilities, you still don’t want to answer your prospect’s question immediately. Why? It doesn’t do any good to spout off your differences, if your prospect doesn’t consider it a positive. The next time you’re asked that question, simply respond with, “I’m not sure you should buy from me. Although we have a great product/service, it’s not always the best fit. Let me ask you some questions, so we can both determine if our product/service makes sense.” Not only do you keep from putting your foot in your mouth, but you also just earned significant TRUST points with your prospect. In addition, you’re only providing information that your prospect deems as relevant.

This is also a good time to find out who you’re up against, so you can compare the two. If they won’t provide that information, politely state I’d really like to make sure I’m comparing apples to apples in order to accurately answer your question. My experience is, the less information a prospect is willing to provide, the less likely you are to get the deal.

After you have done a comparison, verified what’s important to your prospect, then it’s time to demonstrate or share how you’re different and worth the investment. If you can’t actually demonstrate your difference, then you should provide support material that backs up your claim (testimonials, referrals, quantitative data, polls, etc.).

The better you demonstrate and/or articulate why your prospect should buy from you, the better you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from your competition and ultimately win more business.

About The Author
I started Slife Sales Training, Inc. with my wife Daphne in 1999. Since then, our company has evolved into one of the most extensive and affordable online sales training resources Sign up for our newsletter today and receive Top 10 Voicemail Blunders for absolutely FREE.

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Stay In Prospects' Good Graces
By Bill Lee

Few prospects buy on the first call. So how do salespeople who are trying to grow their business gain the prospective customer's favorable attention without getting on a prospect's nerves?

If salespeople expect to be in control of their financial destiny, they have little choice but to prospect. Plus, the ability to attract fresh new business for the salesperson's company is one of the most sought-after talents in the sales profession. So let's explore some of the proactive steps salespeople can take besides taking off another set of plans and continue to quote prospects who are solidly in the competitions' camp.

Consistency is key. Whatever techniques you employ as a prospecting tool must be consistent, yet not annoying. And one of the best ways to guarantee consistency is to make use of contact management software.

I believe that salespeople who are serious about selling and keeping good records on both existing customers and prospects must use a computerized database. In my office, I use a Window's version of ACT! But there are a lot of good products on the market. Goldmine is another brand name that receives high marks.

Show your prospects how to be more successful. Success, of course, is not the same for everyone, so to use this technique you must first find out what your prospects' goals and objectives are. How do you do that? Ask! Design several open-ended questions to ask after you've gotten to know the prospect well enough to have earned the right to ask.

One of my favorites is, "What are you trying to make happen in this business? In other words, when the end of the year rolls around, what sort of evidence do you look for to determine if you've been successful or not?"

Since I have asked this question hundreds of times, I know for a fact that nine out of ten contractors characterize success by the amount of money they are able to put on the bottom line. So to impress builders and to just about guarantee your right to a piece of their business, begin by bringing them a steady stream of money-making or money-saving ideas. Note that the ideas I have in mind don't include cutting the price.

Have a value-added reason to stay in touch. Don't spook your prospects by asking for an order every time you make a sales call. What's really important is to get your prospects in the habit of looking forward to your calls because each time you call, you share with them another good idea.

Here are some examples of good ideas I have found to be effective:

"Do you remember the conversation we were having the other day about lowering construction costs? I just read a really good article in Light Construction magazine that you'll really like. Here, I brought you a copy."

"A few days ago you were telling me about how many callbacks you have been getting due to leaking skylights. I just ran across a product that several of my customers are using that they say has almost totally eliminated the problem. Here, I picked up some product literature for you to take a look at. We've placed our initial order, so if you like, in a few days I'll bring you a sample so you can give it a try."

"I noticed that you weren't at the home builders meeting on Monday night when they had a building inspector on the program. He gave us a lot of interesting insight into what code changes are in the works. Here, I brought you a copy of his handout material."

Reach out and touch someone. Omaha-based Art Sobczak, publisher of Telephone Selling Report ( offers seven ideas for keeping your name in front of prospects:

1. Newsletters or special reports. Send a newsletter or report that gives valuable information to your prospects ⎯ not just puffery about your company and products. Include helpful business tips. Send via mail or e-mail.

2. Postcards. While traveling on vacation or business, scan the tourist postcard racks with specific prospects in mind. Postcards imprinted with a message from you is another inexpensive way to get in front of prospects. The cost is negligible.

3. Articles. Clip interesting articles. Everything you read should flow through your "Who else would be interested in this?" filter.

4. Free samples. We all love getting packages. If affordable, give prospects a free sample when your company purchases an innovative new product.

5. Handwritten notes. Write to your best prospects. Use stationary with your photograph on it. Prospects who haven't met you will find it easier to connect with you when they know what you look like.

6. Special occasion cards. Send cards for birthdays, holidays or for no particular reason. Company stationary is adequate for regular thank-you notes, but handpicked cards speak volumes.

7. Unique items. Find out what your prospects collect and, if affordable, send them a related item ⎯ one that transcends business.

Work hard at being more innovative than your competitors are and you'll set yourself apart in a positive way.

About The Author:

BILL LEE is a business expert. Starting out in 1965 as a field sales representative and then a sales manager with New York City-based GAF Corporation, he soon became a part owner of one of the fastest growing start-up companies in the US — Builder Marts of America, Inc. (BMA)

Bill and his partners grew BMA from a startup to sales of $640 million in just under 20 years. Bill served as a corporate officer at BMA with general management responsibility for the company’s largest division.

Today, Bill is a sought-after seminar leader and business consultant who works extensively throughout the US and Canada.

He is author of Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line, now in its third printing.

His most recent book, 30 Ways Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot was released in October 2005.

Thousands of owners, managers and salespeople read Bill’s award winning ezines and magazine articles on sales and gross margin improvement and best management practices.

Bill is president of Lee Resources, Inc., a Greenville, SC-based consulting, training and publishing organization.

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3 Steps to Breaking A Sales Slump
By Eric Slife

Sales can be incredibly rewarding, bust because your performance directly effects your compensation and often influences your self-worth, it can prove extremely taxing. More often than not, at some point in your career you have experienced one or all of the following emotional and physical impacts of a sales slump.

  • You dread going to sales meetings because your low numbers are embarrassing.
  • Your thoughts continually drift to what else can possibly go wrong, and it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • You are moody, distant, and you aren’t sleeping because you are so stressed.

Getting into a sales slump didn’t occur overnight, so don’t expect it to turn around in 24 hours. However, implementing the following 3 steps will not only help you break free from your slump, but it will also help you maintain more consistent numbers henceforth.

  • Change your attitude
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Get a coach or accountability partner

Change Your Attitude
Changing a negative attitude isn’t as easy as it sounds. Unfortunately, when we get bogged down in a sales slump, the first thing we do is blame someone else – the economy, your company, your product, bad territory, etc. The first thing is to take ownership of your slump. This is actually great news, because if your slump is truly out of your control, then you need to look for another job.

Once you take personal responsibility, then you need to truly believe it is possible to be successful. Look around your office. Are there colleagues who are successful? If so, then you know it’s possible.

The final step is to commit to your trade.  Unfortunately, too many salespeople fall into 1 or 2 categories. First, they either know it all, or they are lazy when it comes to improving themselves.

My guess is it’s the inherent independent nature of salespeople. The thought of asking someone for help or admitting we don’t know it all, is somehow a sign of inferiority or weakness.  I recently had the privilege of working with an individual by the name of Peter. He routinely closes multi-million dollar sales, and was one of the sharpest sales people I’ve met. You would think this would be the one person who truly didn’t need additional help. However, he contacted us because he was looking to improve himself through one on one sales coaching.

Another similar individual, Neil, has for years subscribed to our eTraining program because he is just looking to make incremental improvements. Both Peter and Neil understand the value of investing time and money in their own career, which is why they are both top salespeople at their companies (each company has well over 100 salespeople).

Focus on What You Can Control
I am by no means suggesting that outside influences beyond your control can’t negatively impact your sales. However, they can be debilitating if you allow them to consume you. As a result, you can find yourself wasting time with mundane tasks, like reorganizing your desk.  That only results in digging even a deeper hole. To make matters worse, your prospects will sense your lack of confidence in what you’re selling, and they won’t buy from someone who isn’t confident in their product, service, company, or even themselves.

Needless to say, it’s extremely important that you shift your focus to break free from a sales slump. One of the best and most simple things you can do is a personal assessment. A personal assessment allows you to emotionally back away from your situation, so you can take the necessary steps to move you in a more productive direction. Here are just some questions you should ask and honestly answer in your assessment:

  • What am I doing during selling hours that could be done at a different time?
  • With 75% or greater confidence, how many sales do I project I’ll close in the next 30, 60, and 90 days? How does this compare to what my quota is?
  • On average how many sales do I need to make quota?
  • How many appointments do I need to have in order for me to close enough deals to make quota?
  • What do I need to do and/or how much time do I need to set aside each day or week, to ensure I get these appointments?
  • How much time do I spend at home watching television? What else could I be doing with my time?
  • In the last 3 months alone, what have I read or listened to that would improve my sales skills?

*Shameless plug – our eTraining tool is one of the most comprehensive, easy to use, and extremely affordable tools to get practical ideas to increase your sales immediately.

  • Why do I lose most of my sales and who do I lose most of my sales to?


The reality is this list could go on and on. If you’re a sales manager I would strongly encourage you to do this with every sales person. Once you’ve completed your assessment, don’t try to change everything overnight, but start by selecting 3 actions you can implement immediately. If you’re honest with yourself, 1 of these 3 probably will be devoted prospect on a more consistent basis. If this is the case, make it a point to prospect at least one hour every day without any distractions. This could come in the form of asking your current customers for referrals, contacting past prospects, or even making new calls. The bottom line is you need to be proactive. Again, the focus is on what you can control.

Get A Coach or Accountability Partner
I’m not suggesting you run out and spend thousands of dollars on a professional sales coach. Go to your sales manager or a respected colleague and simply ask if they will meet you for coffee every other week. Let them know you’re struggling, and you want them to help keep you accountable.

Take this time to show them your activity for the past couple of weeks, and your activity for the upcoming week. You should review:

  • Each appointment you had for the week.
  • The actions you’ve taken to improve upon your selling skills.
  • Your calendar and how you utilized your time.
  • Any other area you want to focus on from your personal assessment.

To be candid, this is the role of every sales manager.  Not every sales manager understands this, or you may not feel comfortable discussing this with your manager.  If this is the case, you need to be proactive in finding someone you respect and trust. Not only can your coach or accountability partner help you focus on the important tasks, but they can be a great source for support.

Finally, if you’re currently going through a sales slump, let me offer you this word of encouragement by sharing you my own personal testimony. The sales training industry, like many industries, was hit hard by the recent economy. Initially, I had an extremely negative reaction. I had to go through this very 3 step process. Although I’m not content with our current growth, we’ve managed to positively turn things around, and are excited about our future outlook.

About The Author: Eric Slife is president of Slife Sales Training, Inc. They specialize in providing a comprehensive online sales training program that can be customized to fit a businesses sales team’s specific needs regardless of size. Visit their website

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Removing the Sludge from your Sales Funnel
by Brian Jeffrey

Most salespeople understand the concept of the sales funnel. It works just like an ordinary funnel that you might use to transfer liquid from one container to another. We all know that if you stop pouring the liquid into the top of the funnel, fluid stops coming out the bottom. We also know that if you try to pour too much in at one time, the funnel overflows and you lose some of it. You’ll also lose liquid if the funnel leaks. If you have blockages in your funnel, the flow may stop or back up, causing an overflow situation.

So how does this work for sales? Simple. If you stop putting potential sales opportunities into the top of the funnel, closed sales stop coming out of the bottom.

If you try to put too many sales opportunities in at the same time, the sales funnel overflows and you lose some potential sales. This can happen after a trade show where you simply have too many leads to follow up in a timely manner.

You’ll also lose sales if your sales funnel leaks. Leaks are simply lost sales that probably weren’t going to happen in the first place.

A blockage in your sales funnel could be something as simple as the inability to get a proposal or quote out in a timely manner, the inability to deliver by a specific date, or indecision on the part of someone in your organization.

Clogging Up the Funnel

By far the most common blockage that clogs up the sales funnel is an overabundance of non-sales opportunities that are eating up the salesperson’s time. It’s this problem we want to explore in more detail and provide a quick-and-easy solution to removing or minimizing this blockage.

Why Blockages Occurs

A lot of salespeople feel they are doing their job if they keep their sales funnel full to capacity. Not true. Your job as a sales professional is to not just keep your sales funnel full, but to keep it full of “real” opportunities and not “wished/hoped-for” sales.

Overly optimistic salespeople will dump almost any potential opportunity into their sales funnel just as long as the prospect is breathing. Just because someone is breathing doesn’t mean they’re a live prospect; it just means they’re alive period! Unfortunately, your sales funnel can get clogged up with too many non, or poor, opportunities and you spend your time spinning your sales wheels instead of focusing on business that you can close in a timely manner.

One way to minimize the sludge is to make sure that it doesn’t get into the funnel in the first place. It’s important to properly qualify the opportunity during the Probe part of the sales process. Sharp salespeople not only take the time to properly qualify opportunities but they take pains to disqualify those opportunities that can result in wasting their valuable selling time.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Even the most efficient salespeople will find their sales funnel getting filled with sales sludge from time to time. You need to review what’s in the funnel and take the time to separate the good opportunities from the bad and clean it up so the funnel is flowing effectively again.

How often you decide to clean out your funnel will depend upon how many new or potential opportunities are added each month. As a minimum, you should probably be cleaning up your funnel once a quarter, or even monthly, if you’re doing the type of selling that generates a lot of potential opportunities.

Sludge Cleaner

Here is a relatively simple tool that will help you decide whether an opportunity is worth keeping in the funnel or not, and if it is worth keeping, what priority you should assign to it. This method allows you to quickly assign a percent chance of closing the sale to each of your opportunities. Once you’ve assigned a percent chance of getting the sale to your opportunities, all you have to do is rank them in order to determine which opportunities you should be working on and which one you should let die a natural death.

All you need to do is look at each of your opportunities and check off the questions in four categories — price information, degree of urgency, funds approval, and competitive edge. These criteria can also be input into a CRM program like for a straightforward lead scoring system, so that it can automatically update and calculate the quality of the leads in your pipeline.

Price Information

  • 10% Prospect has written quote or price information.
  • 5% Prospect has verbal quote or informal pricing information.
  • 0% Not quoted as yet.

Degree of Urgency

  • 30% High degree of urgency. Prospect must buy something now.
  • 20% Medium degree of urgency. Prospect should buy something now.
  • 10% Some degree of urgency. Prospect may decide to buy now.
  • 0% No or low degree of urgency. Prospect doesn’t need to buy now.

Funds Approval

  • 30% Opportunity funded to or above our price.
  • 20% High probability of funds approval.
  • 10% Good probability of obtaining funds.
  • 0% Funds not yet available and/or approved.

Competitive Edge

  • 20% Sole source, no other competitors being considered.
  • 10% Good rapport, preferred or favoured vendor.
  • 5% Competitors still being seriously considered. Who & why?
  • 0% Sale possible only with difficulty. Why?

You’ll note that, at best, you can only have a 90 percent chance of getting the business. That’s because a sale isn’t 100 percent until the product/service has been delivered, installed, completed, paid for, etc, and you’ve done a follow up to ensure the customer is satisfied.

Make It Work for You

Of course this system isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution to the problem of sludge removal but it can be changed and modified to fit most sales situations. Take the time to make it fit yours and keep the sales flowing.

Both you and your sales manager will be delighted you did.

Authored by Brian Jeffrey, co-founder of SalesForce Training.
SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, helping sales people clean the sludge out of their sales funnels.

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