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All sales leaders are keen on measuring how opportunities are progression towards closure. This activity is central for predicting sales quarter by quarter. For established businesses we use milestones in the sales process as measuring points for the funnel. But as we move towards less mature opportunities these milestones become less accurate. The main suggestion here is to measure progress towards customer buying journey milestones instead.
The complexity in understanding how far we have advanced in a deal
As sales opportunities get more complex, it gets more difficult to predict sales progress. And even more so when we work with novel opportunities with launch customers. An increase in complex deals and/or innovative deals reduces your business predictability.
In the past we could track each deal could towards predictable advances. Both on opportunity and funnel level. But shift occurs as digital transformation starts affecting sales. The amount of complex opportunities increases. Opportunities where you need to spend more energy. To understand and address customer’s business situation in detail. Further, the amount of innovative pursuits increases. Innovative pursuits start earlier, with less facts and a higher degree of uncertainty. And a higher degree of innovative pursuits is not resulting in a successful deal. The third aspect is your customers are transforming. Customer either transform to meet a new market reality. Or market demand and potential is shifting to new customers.
With complexity, innovation and transformed customers you face a new sales management reality.
Tracking towards sales process milestones is getting obsolete
One of the areas you can decide to attack is to review which processes and which milestones you use when predicting your business. The default is to use your sales process and well existing sales milestones. An approach that put your perspective of the business and the sales job in focus. How far make we come in the demand generating marketing activities? How far have we come in the conversion of opportunities to sales? A model assuming that the job to be done is a marketing and sales job done by us. And where we follow the customer along a well-defined path.
But in a reality characterized by either complexity, innovation or new customers the path is less clear. And the path might by unclear to both you and your customers. And you can be further down the sales journey, with your customers further behind on their buying journey. A scary situation since the buyer set the pace. If you in this situation apply an old and inside-out focused measuring stick, you lose accuracy.
Adopt milestones in customers’ decision journeys
An alternative approach is to start with an outside-in driven approach. You start with your customers buying/decision process as your map of the reality. Instead of using your sales process. By adopting a buying process, you get focus on how your customers progress on their journey. Rather than focusing on how far you have reached decoupled from your customer.
By adopting your customers’ buying processes as your measuring stick you get new measures. A journey with more steps along the journey. Each step on this journey representing a decision en route to purchase. And reflecting a journey with many small decisions taken in a sequential flow. Rather than one big one.
To pursue this model, you need an insightful and crisp view on your customers buying behavior. Not what they buy, but what their buying journey look like. At first you might believe the journey to vary with and within customers. But you will see similarities and patterns clearer than you think. Both seller and buyers are working to put structure in place to deal with complexity and innovations. Something working in your favor.
Integrated buying journey for marketing AND sales teams
To succeed with this model, you need to join forces with your marketing team. Both marketing and sales efforts are dependent on a clear customer buying journey. And both should use the same map of the customer buying journey.
Your marketing material serve a crucial purpose of helping customers at each decision point. Where you and your insights can be a key part to advancing customers along their buying journey. A job where marketing is dependent on continuous details from the first customers. Nothing is clear for the first customers, but must be clear for the second customer.
And this approach represents a win-win for both seller and buyer. You work towards a map putting your customer in focus. You both know what is important at each decision point along the road. And you have a superior and accurate yardstick for pursuit and funnel progress. And your business predictability capabilities are now redefined to thrive in a new reality. Where complexity, innovation and transformed customers are table stakes.
Great questions to ask yourself and your team
- Which measures do we use for measuring pursuit/funnel progress today – understand your starting point.
- How accurate are the business predictions made with your current process – if it ain’t broken don’t fix it.
- What do you see as the root cause for reduced prediction reliability – complexity, innovation, customer expansion or something else.
- How well have you defined your customers’ buying/decision journey – the starting point for an outside-in centric approach.
- Are the key buying decision points articulated – vital as decision points become your new milestones.
- How many different journey do you envision – you need to put a limit on the amount you can handle.
- Are sales and marketing aligned around a common journey – you both have to travel with a common map.
Additional reading suggestions
- Marketers need to drastically rethink the customer decision journey [BLOGPOST] – by Forbes
- The new customer decision journey [ARTICLE] – by McKinsey
- Understanding the buyer’s journey [BLOGPOST] – by Salesforce
- Do you really understand how your business customers buy [BLOGPOST] – by McKinsey
- How to design a sales process that supports the buyer’s journey [BLOGPOST] – by MarketingNinjas
- How the 2015 B2B purchase decision process has changed [BLOGPOST- by Heidi Cohen
- Making sense of changing decision processes [BLOGPOST] – by Marketing Science Institute
- B2B Buyer journey mapping basics [BLOGPOST] – by Forrester