Getting Sales Done #8 – Categories:  Grouping Opportunities for Maximum Return

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The last of the Organize articles in our look at Getting Sales Done, the selling adjunct to David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done book and process.

We’ve previously looked at the criteria for organizing your opportunities, and now it’s time to actually do it. We touched on this last time and you will recall that we created the 27-point Priority Cube using probability and time as the criteria. We then compared three very different opportunities that, surprisingly, had the same priority. Today we’ll look at all the appropriate categories for all twenty-seven priorities and define them.

We’ll use my desk drawers as the illustration. I have three, all shallow, maybe four inches deep, and stacked one above the other. Everything that hits my desk goes into one of them. The top one is for things that I have to get done today. It never happens, but I keep trying. The middle one is for things I should get done this week, and it never happens either, but I keep trying. The bottom one of for everything else, or as I refer to it, Zombieland, because I hope they won’t wake up and bite me.

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Getting Sales Done #7 – Organize Part 4:  Priority

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In the first article in our Organize step in David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, I noted that there are three factors that categorize an opportunity so it can be organized. We’ve covered time and probability, and now we’re ready to see what happens when you link those two. You get the final factor, priority.

Mathematically, Time + Probability = Priority. Or maybe it’s Time x Probability = Priority. It doesn’t matter. It’s not so much a calculation as it is an evaluation.

That’s because there are too many variables in the equation. Time is infinite, and absolute. As we discussed, you must somehow normalize time to bend with your sales cycle while at the same time being meaningful. So we did that with three flexible phases.

And probability defies quantification. Not only variables, but moods and personalities are involved, so forget a precise number. Go with six approximations. That’s the best you can do, and in the imprecise world of sales, it is very effective and accurate.

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Getting Sales Done #6 – Organize Part 3:  Probability

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Categorizing a sales opportunity to organize all of your opportunities has been the subject of the previous two articles in our Getting Sales Done series. Both have dealt with time as the first factor to use to differentiate opportunities for sales tracking, but time is certainly not the sole factor. If it were, you’d always be working on the next opportunity to close and doing nothing to develop your other opportunities to position yourself for this last phase of the sales cycle.

The factor we’ll look at in this installment is probability – what are my chances of winning this sale?

Probability is a simple concept, just a percentage, really, that in practice evades our best efforts to define. What is the probability that I will win any specific sale? There are a multitude of factors to consider in that question, and every one will change the result.

There are customer factors. How strong is their need? Do they have the budget? Are there decision-makers who recognize the need and the value of a solution? And so on. These are factors that you can evaluate and estimate, but they are out of your control, and likely out of your sphere of influence.

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Getting Sales Done #5 – Organize Part 2:  Sales Phase

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In the previous installment on the Organize stage of David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, we looked at time as one of the most important criteria for categorizing an opportunity. We covered the start and end dates of the sales cycle as its defining points, and offered that you need a time reckoning system in sales that is flexible, because your sales cycle will certainly change.

A flexible time reckoning system is not fixed to days and weeks and months. How could it be? Your sales cycles have different lengths, so how could you do the same thing on Day 12 of a 5-week sales cycle that you do on Day 12 of a 5-month sales cycle? So it has to be proportional. This is what most stage-based systems do – they divide the sales cycle into stages for appropriate action at each one no matter what the sales cycle length.

Sounds reasonable, right? At stage one I do an initial call, at stage five I do a demo, at stage seven I send a proposal. Pretty nifty. So now I’m at stage 8 and I follow up on my proposal and learn the close has been delayed. Doesn’t matter why or how long. I’m at stage 8, ready to proceed to stage 9.

But the customer just jumped back to stage 6. Your time reckoning system can’t cope with that, it can’t go backwards. What do you do? You adjust, of course, and you trick your time reckoning system to adjust with you. Not elegant, but it gets the job done.

Doesn’t it make more sense to have a time reckoning system that adjusts automatically? It doesn’t have to go backwards, it just has to adjust. You stay put, time flexes, and you are where you’re supposed to be, doing what your supposed to do. In other words, you have normalized time around you.

This is not as complex as it sounds. You just need to build your reckoning system around something relative, not something absolute like days or stages. In sales, that something is the buying cycle and the corresponding skills you practice as your sales cycle progresses in tandem.

According to Neil Rackham’s groundbreaking work, the buying cycle has three phases – recognition of a need, evaluation of solutions, and negotiation of value. The sales cycle must have three corresponding phases for you to stay abreast of the customer. It’s all relative, to quote Einstein. The buyer back-peddles to evaluating solutions, and your time reckoning system goes with him and you’re in the same place at the same time, just as you’re supposed to be.

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Getting Sales Done #4 – Organize Part 1:  The Sales Cycle

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Sales Cycle

There are five steps in David Allen’s Getting Things Done time management program. We’ve looked at the first two – Collect and Process – and fitted them quite comfortably into a “customer retention cycle” which carries your relationship through the full circle of marketing, sales, and support. Both Collect and Process equate more to marketing and lead management than to opportunity management, but the lines are grey and many of us find ourselves crossing over and back to get the job done.

The third step – Organize – is clearly the province of opportunity management. In other words, full-on sales. So let’s have a look at how we get sales done in the organize stage.

Allen’s Organize stage is built entirely around the need to get your information properly categorized and entered into a trusted system from which it can be reviewed and acted upon as appropriate. There are several concepts here that apply directly to opportunity management.

I’ll start with the first, and I think the most important – Categorize. How do you categorize an opportunity? Well, first of all, it’s an opportunity, and not a lead or a relationship. This is an important distinction. You don’t want to be selling to a lead or a relationship.

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Getting Sales Done #3 – Process:  Sales Process

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Yes No Maybe

In the previous installment, we equated David Allen’s “Collect” to identifying your leads and the need to collect every scrap of information that might result in a sales opportunity. In Allen’s Collect process, you capture every task that clutters your mind to free it from stress. In sales, you capture everything that affects your sales opportunities to increase your success, and at this first stage in selling, that means leads.

The result of this is a heap of everything from disjointed snippets of information to inquiries from ads to specific requests for information, all pointing to particular target customers who may or may not be in the market for your product/service. Heap in hand, we move to Allen’s “Process” stage, the determination of what goes where. In our profession, it’s called lead qualification.

Allen has a very specific workflow, a path to follow at this early stage in order to identify each item and decide what it is and what to do with it. Note that there is no doing at this point, only deciding and cataloging.

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Getting Sales Done #2 – Collect:  Gathering Opportunities

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Collect Collect (or Capture) is the first stage in David Allen’s popular time management process, Getting Things Done. In this stage, Allen emphasizes that everything in your mind that is task-focused must be recorded somehow in a place that isn’t your brain. A scrap of paper, a diary, your computer calendar or task list, text messaged to yourself, just somewhere external that can be later processed.

I won’t go into the background of Allen’s reasoning for this. You would be well-served to read his book for that, and for a lot of other valuable advice that doesn’t apply to our look at his concepts related to opportunity management. The purpose here is to see if there are analogous stages in sales that can be defined and implemented to make you more successful.

In sales, what do we collect that is specific to opportunity management? Leads. They are the raw material of your manufacturing process, and the product you produce is wins. Leads come from everywhere, and depending on what your customer acquisition process looks like, they might well come from you.

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Getting Sales Done #1 – Introduction

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Getting Things Done This is the first in a series of articles that will examine David Allen’s bestselling book and wildly popular time management concepts, Getting Things Done. I’m sure every profession and segment of society has their own take on applying these concepts to their specific environment, but we’ve got sort of an endorsement that relates to sales from the author himself.

From the sequel, Making It All Work:

“But can you really train someone to get things done? Can a definable set of behaviors increase that facility. Popular belief still holds that certain people are by nature more productive while others just aren’t born that way. A similar preconception used to be applied to salespeople until one day someone woke up and realized that there was a characteristic, identifiable sales process. Some individuals understood it more intuitively and spontaneously than others, but it actually involved a particular set of procedures that could be taught, learned and implemented.” (Emphasis mine.)

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Complexity Is the Enemy of Productivity

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When things become complex there is a high risk that productivity suffers. Unfortunately, selling is a very complex profession. For management, this often turns into a nightmare, and there is no doubt that in most sales organizations there is a great potential for increasing productivity. But why is it so difficult?

First, we have to look at why sales is so complex. Sales organizations are faced with dynamically changing markets and increasingly demanding customers. Every customer is different and each asks for solutions tailored to their specific problems. In response, the product spectrum must become increasingly complex.

The buying process can involve many people who focus on different aspects of the buyer’s needs, apply different criteria depending on their job, and have varying influence over the decision. On the seller’s side, there are teams involved as well which may include internal sales, engineering, after sales service, and accounting. Selling often goes across different sales channels simultaneously, with engineering houses, agents and distributors involved.

On top of all this, sales organizations have to manage many sales cycles simultaneously, all of them having a different cycle length, and each situated in a different stage.

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