“It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul Bear Bryant, Former University of Alabama football coach (6 national & 13 conference championships)
New opportunities are exciting… the next big sale, blowing away quota, commissions…. That’s why when a new opportunity comes up, it’s very enticing to start rallying the troops and jumping in with both feet. In fact, with deadlines looming (and management adding pressure to get the deal signed before the end of the year/ quarter, etc.), it becomes very easy to cannonball into the pool before you grab your goggles or sunscreen.
With a simple transactional sale you may be able to get away with this, but if you are managing big deals with multiple buyers and complex solutions, selling becomes less of an isolated activity and more of a project with multiple team members, timelines, milestones, and buyers. In this case, the cannonball approach is definitely not effective, and can, in fact, be quite detrimental to the sales process. However, what we see time and again is that the pressure to sell (and sell now) can give even the most experienced salesperson the sense that action is more important than strategy and planning. They act and act until… they reach a gate… either they have an opportunity review coming up, they require internal approvals to move the deal forward, or they have to submit a proposal or develop a presentation. It’s at this point that they start pulling all of the pieces together… often during crunch time… and often with a lot of comments like “I wish we had…” and “we should…but it’s too late now.”
A win planning process can provide sales teams with the format and the structure they need in order to effectively get organized around a big deal. This process includes the development of a win plan, the use of an opportunity scorecard to assess the opportunity progress, and a cadence to ensure regular sales team communication throughout the opportunity lifecycle.
Win (or opportunity) planning has been around in many formal sales methodology approaches for almost 20 years but still continues to be a challenge with many sales organizations. Companies invest in deploying win planning processes, but without consistent reinforcement, the bias for action can quickly prevail, leaving win plans to catch dust on a shelf. That said, with the proper tools, coaching, and oversight, an effective win planning process can become engrained in the culture of any sales organization.
Win plans are tools that facilitate the organization required to effectively execute a complex sale. They are designed to ask the questions that guide the sales team to think about a coordinated set of strategies and tactics necessary to win, and they are also quite helpful in integrating new sales team members, SMEs, or executives into the process midstream. Win plans are working documents, which means that they should be continuously updated throughout the opportunity lifecycle – they are not intended to be static documents that are developed and put on the proverbial shelf. These plans often start out as a basic framework to get everyone on the same page, and they become more robust as the sales team learns more about the opportunity and further develops their win strategy.
Key components of a win plan should include…
Opportunity scorecards are another critical component of the win planning process. They ask the simple question… “Does the customer evidence show that we are on the right track to win?” Like win plans, opportunity scorecards should be revisited throughout a lengthy, complex sale. There are many reasons for this:
The opportunity scorecard should ask these fundamental questions:
In order to develop an appropriate scorecard, sales teams should, using the questions above, outline the key factors that indicate an opportunity is moving in the right direction and standardize on a scorecard for the sales organization.
In order to ensure that the team answers scorecard questions objectively, the way an opportunity is scored should be based on customer evidence that clearly answers each question with yes or no, where customer evidence can be listed to support each yes and a strategy can be outlined to change any no response to a yes. If the sales team doesn’t know the answer to a scorecard question, it should be part of their action plan to find out. Sales leaders should regularly review opportunity scorecards and question the customer evidence that is driving the score in order to eliminate any optimistic bias that may preclude the sales team from seeing the need to take corrective action or re-evaluate whether to pursue the opportunity.
A cadence is a regular series of activities and calls/meetings with defined objectives, roles, and tasks. In the overall business of sales, sales leaders and managers should run regular cadence events to review pipelines, account planning efforts, and other tasks critical to running the sales organization. In the case of complex opportunity management, cadence provides the opportunity for leaders to contribute and add value to their most important sales. Each big deal should have an opportunity cadence, facilitated by the opportunity owner.
The opportunity cadence defines when the team is going to discuss the opportunity, the role each person involved in the sale will play in the win planning process, and how/when updates to the win plan and scorecard will be made. An opportunity cadence is critical to ensure consistent oversight and coordination for opportunities that involve multiple team members who must work together over a long period of time to close a sale. This becomes extremely important when team members span multiple opportunities and have a variety of conflicting priorities.
For sales leadership, the cadence clearly outlines when sales leaders will participate in the process and how they will participate, whether they get involved at a gate in the process or for regular quality assurance. A defined cadence not only ensures that the team regularly communicates about the opportunity and makes the appropriate adjustments to continue advancing the sale (or to exit the selling process), but it also provides a vehicle for sales leaders to provide deal coaching, bring new perspectives to the deal, and assist in managing through any potential internal hurdles.
Without the proper deployment and oversight of the win planning process, win plans can easily be seen (and used as) an administrative task, rather than the tool that can facilitate proactive opportunity planning and management; and opportunity scorecards can be seen as performance reviews or metrics that need to be “gamed” in order to proceed with business as usual. In a similar manner, cadence can become a series of calls where people go through the motions or regularly cancel calls due to conflicting priorities. Following are a series of critical success factors for effectively implementing a win planning process:
Critical Success Factors that turn win plans into sales…
A number of sales process methodologies emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s as standardized best practices for assessing, strategizing, and managing complex sales opportunities. These sales methodologies included Jim Holden’s Power Base Selling, Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling®, Mike Bosworth’s Solution Selling®, Art Jacobs’ and Alston Gardner’s Target Account Selling® (TAS), and numerous others.
Each of these methodologies had slightly different questions and tools, but ultimately, the objective was the same – create a common way to converse and organize around a complex opportunity. Our point of view around win planning is that you should review standard tools and objects to determine core components and best practices but that you should configure a solution that aligns and adjusts uniquely to your company’s different sales teams and selling situations. You can dial-up or down certain components, depending on the needs of the sales teams, but we recommend that you maintain a consistent vocabulary that has your sales team talking the same language, regardless of the sale. By creating your own win planning process, you will create a way to win that becomes a unique competitive advantage for your organization.
Rolling out win plans is not easy. We see clear evidence that, even though win planning methodologies have been around for 20+ years, many people still aren’t using them consistently today. Consider, however, a recent study that shows that going from a random sales process to a defined sales process can improve your win rate by over 10%. Of course, the act of stepping back from a sale in order to develop a strategy and plan can seem counterintuitive, especially when the energy and excitement is high. However, the discipline to prepare to win can help ensure that you take advantage of all that you can bring to the sale so that there will be no regrets when you yell “Cannonball,” take the plunge, and go after the sale.
Download This Point of View Whitepaper in PDF Form: Symmetrics Group Point of View – Win Planning