The Account Is the Opportunity

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When we talk about sales opportunities, we usually think in terms of a single sales order to be closed for a one-time sale. And for most businesses this holds true. But what happens if your company is a tier 1 or tier 2 supplier to the automotive industry, supplying components or systems to an end-manufacturer? What if your business is to sell consumer goods to a chain of supermarkets and your task is to get your products listed? In such cases your effort may not lead to a single order for a specific amount of your products with a delivery time and a fixed value. You may then ask yourself: can this situation be managed like other opportunities? Is it an opportunity at all?

To start with, we have to look at the characteristics of an opportunity. According to Keith Thompson’s definition in his book Sales Automation Done Right, an opportunity is “the chance that the customer gives a salesperson to sell a product or service”. This, of course, will only happen if the customer has a need.

The next characteristic is the existence of a sales cycle. An opportunity has a sales cycle with a beginning and an end. It starts with the day you learn about your customers purchase intention and ends with the customers purchase decision – the closing date. Closing an order is the goal towards which the sales person works.

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Probe – The Most Overlooked Selling Skill

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It seems that many (most?) sales people want to pitch their product from the moment they are introduced to the customer. It’s easy to do. You know your product, you think you know your customer, and you’re convinced that your product will meet all his needs.

But what are his real needs? What is driving his purchase? Did his critical machine break down, crippling his assembly line? Is his boss breathing down his neck to improve something or cut costs somewhere? Is his competition better resourced, forcing his upgrade? Is he out of whatever you’re selling and looking for a cheap replacement? Does he just think it would be cool to have whatever you’re selling?

At this stage, you don’t know. And you don’t know his budget, or his schedule, or even if he is the person making the decision. You don’t know who else he is talking to, and what they have pitched to him. You don’t know, well … pretty much anything.

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