Last week I had lunch with a client I have had for well over a decade. He is an old school salesman and sales manager. He has a small force, and he mentioned to me that they weren’t producing the results that he needed and that they he knew they were capable of producing. Because he still sells, his time for management tasks is limited.
When I asked him about his sales force’s activity goals and metrics, he didn’t have any. His salespeople work against a draw and make great money. This is supposed to be their motivation. But, based on his assessment, it doesn’t motivate them quite enough.
I recommended that he focus his limited time and attention on my favorite sales metric: openings.
There are plenty of good metrics sales managers can and should use. Each Friday, you can (and you should) read about one metric and how to use it at my friend Dave Brock’s blog. But for my money, the most telling metric when it comes to predicting future results is the simple metric of opening: How many new prospective opportunities did you open?
This metric measures the results of the salesperson’s prospecting (and nurturing) efforts. If I could choose only one area on which salespeople could focus to improve their results, it would be prospecting. Improvements here are felt immediately, and they are the foundation for building competencies through the rest of the sales process.
How many potential opportunities the salesperson opened is the first question among first questions. It is a broad predictor of their future success because no opportunity is ever closed that isn’t first opened. It’s the starting line.
A full and healthy pipeline depends first on opportunities being moved into it. The velocity, or the speed at which opportunities move from stage to stage within the pipeline, also depends upon the opportunity first having been opened. The salesperson’s ability to successfully adhere to the sales process begins with their opening an opportunity so that the following steps in the process can be followed.
Nothing happens until there is a conversation that results in an opportunity.
A New Day
Every morning I get coffee, and I often check in on Foursquare. One follower on Twitter always asks me, since I got my coffee, am I going to close deals. After all, coffee is for closers. It’s a funny line from one of the best movies ever. But it is wholly unrelated to the biggest challenge salespeople face today.
The biggest challenge isn’t closing. The biggest challenge is opening.
Our prospective dream clients are busier than ever. They are being asked to produce more and better results with fewer resources than at any time in recent history. They are connected to their business—and the demands of the business—by the electronic chains that keeps them shackled to it night and day. As such, their time is their most precious commodity.
There is also a glut of suppliers and potential partners vying for our prospective dream client’s limited time and attention. Because many of the salespeople they have met with in the past haven’t created value and haven’t made it worth their while to spend time with them, they are parsimonious in doling out their time to salespeople.
Opening opportunities is the heavy lifting in sales, not closing.
Whenever I hear a sales organization say that their salespeople need help learning to close, it rarely turns out that this is true. The mistakes that prevent them from winning occur much earlier in the sales process, and a quick glance at their pipelines almost always proves that were they to close every opportunity they chanced upon, they would still miss their numbers.
Opening opportunities is the first metric.
What is your favorite sales metric and why?
What are the best metrics for predicting future performance?
Is it more challenging to open new accounts or to close them once they are opened?
Why is opening an opportunity so difficult and what can you do to be more effective?
If you could capture and work on only one metric, what would you choose?
Subscribe to my weekly podcast In the Arena.