Opportunity Portfolio Management

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This article continues the idea from a previous one that a sales opportunity has a persona. Why would I want to anthropomorphize something so basic as that? Salespeople are well aware of what an opportunity is and that it must be discovered, worked on, and, in the long haul, won more often than lost. The main reason I do it is to point out an unarguable fact in sales—salespeople like some opportunities more than others. It’s only natural, and my previous article points out some of the reasons that this happens.

There is a dangerous corollary to this, however, and that is salespeople prioritize their time and attention to the situations they are more comfortable with.

Any of us who have been in direct field selling knows the feeling. “Shall I plan a visit to customer A on my trip next week, when I know he or she will use any excuse not to see me. Or, maybe I will visit customer B, where I’m always welcome and don’t even need to call ahead.” Or, maybe it goes like this: “I’ve sold four Am-29’s this year and this customer will make my fifth sale, I’ll prioritize a visit tomorrow.” And, what about this one? “Out of the twenty deals I’m working on right now, ten are in the process of closing. I’ll take care of those first, which will give me a great third quarter.”

Let’s look at that last one. Prioritizing opportunities in late stage sales cycle (Close) is a common modus operandi or workflow for salespeople. After all, closing deals provides the adrenalin rush and short term gratification, if you win them. There’s also a lot of external pressure on salespeople to focus on closing  because the business wants the revenue. We talked in earlier articles about relationship and opportunity focused styles of selling. Opportunity focused salespeople love to have their current deals heavily skewed toward closing, but in the scheme of things it’s not a wise thing to do. Which leads me to the whole concept of Opportunity Portfolio Management.

The list, basket, grab bag, or whatever, of opportunities currently being worked on is the salesperson’s raison d’être, or reason for existence. A lot can be said about this list, but one thing is for sure—it is dynamic, under constant change, review, and hopefully, adjustment. If the opportunity has a persona, then the persona of the list itself takes on the combined flavour of the opportunities within it. We are going to give the list a name—we will call it an Opportunity Portfolio. This term is appropriate because the process of extracting the most from the opportunity portfolio (won deals) is surprisingly similar to managing a financial portfolio for best return on investment.

If you are lucky enough to have a portfolio of investments, then you are probably aware of something called Modern Portfolio Theory. The idea is that managing the portfolio as a whole, rather than applying too much attention to the individual investments within it will get you a greater return with lower risks. Return and risks are words you can also use to the portfolio of sales opportunities. In future posts we’ll discuss that in detail.

Applying this line of thinking, i.e., managing the complete collection of opportunities—specifically in terms of committing resources (salesperson’s time)—will show more success with more sales won, than focusing on individual deals under a more random prioritization process. Of course, individual opportunities will still need focused attention, but maybe not to the degree that might be expected. Some will be won with less effort and no increased risk of loss. That being the case, time saved can be applied elsewhere to create increase value of the portfolio.

The earlier example where the salesperson likes the portfolio that is loaded with closing situations goes counter to the principles of Opportunity Portfolio Management. The OPM way is to find opportunities as early as possible, best at the start of the customer’s buying cycle—then apply sales effort uniformly and proportionately throughout the sales cycle. This creates enough deals in the portfolio to ensure good closing numbers. But there’s an added spin off—won/lost ratios improve because of earlier groundwork builds a better base for closing successfully.

SalesWays’ OPM methodology provides the framework to apply structure and prioritization to ensure that the portfolio of opportunities is always topped up, optimized for best time allocation, and ready to deliver the best return on effort.

We’ll use future articles to show how the principles used to make this happen.

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