How to Qualify Timeline in Sales

timeline in salesSo the quarter end a few weeks ago and how many of your deals pushed? Now you are halfway through the first month of Q4 and you are concerned it’s going to happen again.

If you are like most sales organizations we’ve worked with you are discovering that many of the deals your sales team promised would close did not close and in many cases were never really even close to closing. As you dig into these sales opportunities that pushed you realize that your sales team came down with a case of “Happy Ears”.

At The Harris Consulting Group, we define “Happy Ears” as the moment a prospect suggests any level of interest in your product or service that causes a sales rep to only hear what they want to hear. In short, the sales rep STOPS LISTENING. It’s like chasing that high outside fastball in baseball. It looks and feels like you can get it, but in the end you simply whiff and miss it by a mile.

So why do deals push? Whether you are using BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe) or ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency, Money) or anything else, one of the main reasons deals push is because timeline or urgency were never properly confirmed.

Whether you are new to inside sales or if you’ve been doing outside sales a long time, then you should know that qualifying timeline is one of the most important parts of the sales process. If you do not have a good handle on the timeline of each deal you will end up with a leaky sales funnel. Deals will either evaporate into nothingness or they will get pushed to the next cycle. And even worse, deals that should be “closed lost” get pushed from one cycle to the next until the sales rep finally feels like management will stop asking about it. In short they are afraid to accept responsibility or accountability for their case of “Happy Ears”.

Like many inside sales people we know the timeline of a deal is often centered on a “compelling event”. Here’s the problem though, most sales reps only seek to define the compelling event with an arbitrary date on the calendar. They try to then refuse accountability and throw the prospect under the bus to management with something like, “Well, they said, this month, next month, next quarter…”

Here is what it sounds like when a rep normally tries to qualify timeline or qualify urgency in sales:

Sales Rep: “So what’s the compelling event driving this decision?”

The sales rep then waits for that answer and never asks about it again thinking they have done their job to properly qualify timeline for a sale.

Like most things in sales, to truly define the timeline of the deal it’s not the first question you ask that matters most, it’s the second one.

Here is what qualifying timeline for a sale should sound like:

Sales Rep: “So, what’s driving this decision? Is there a specific event that will be occurring?”

Prospect: “Oh, yeah, there is a big conference happening in February so we want to implement something like this before then.”

Sales Rep: “Awesome, that sounds great. Let me ask you one more question. With this big show happening in February, if your organization does not implement something like our solution, what happens?”

Now you can see, if the prospect responds with a specific negative consequence like:

Prospect: “Oh, if we don’t do this, then the entire event will be mismanaged” then you have done a good job of qualifying timeline for the sale.

If the prospect does not respond with a negative consequence or with something like,

Prospect: “Oh, well it means we won’t be as efficient as we want to be, but that will be ok.”

The sales rep should immediately realize the timeline is not even close to being accurate and additional questions will need to follow such as:

Sales Rep: “Ok, I guess I am confused. You seem really eager and excited about the solution we offer, you’ve said we would definitely solve problem ________. But it also sounds like it’s not that big of a deal if you actually implement.

Am I missing something? Is there something else that has now taken a priority over this?”

As you can see, the purpose of confirming the timeline is not merely to confirm when the deal will close, but it also helps you confirm your solution is still a priority.

Note to sales reps: I can assure you, your upper management would prefer you do something like this and remove the bloat from your pipeline in an honest, true, and sincere way. Your reputation internally within your organization will increase.

Note to sales managers and senior executives: Give your team time to implement this strategy and properly refill the pipeline and your pipeline, forecast, and revenue will improve.

Note to all sales reps, sales managers, and senior executives: If you do not allow for the proper sanitization of your sales pipeline you will just end up back in the same spot at the end of the next quarter.

Curious what other strategies people use to qualify timeline in sales?

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