If you’ve spent any time in sales within a professional setting, your boss has likely asked you, “What do you have lined up?”
In some workplaces, it’s an informal check-in where your boss wants to know what you’re working on, or for you to give him or her an idea of upcoming project scheduling and, more importantly, cash flow. In others, it can be more structured, with sales team members delivering regular status updates to their manager on where prospective clients stand.
Like everything, proper client management follows a structure. Read enough how-to books on selling, or attend enough seminars, and you’ll see that sales coaches all seek to differentiate themselves by putting their own label or spin on the process. One famous analogy for managing the sales process (the one that I’ve adhered to) is the sales funnel. The funnel paints a mental picture of prospective deals entering your orbit and spiraling closer through the client’s decision-making process. With your assistance, it leads to the ultimate goal: a signed contract and getting paid for it.
The funnel is also a useful analogy because it helps us recognize that the sales process is not always linear. Some clients take more time to close and others less. In the case of large deals, there are any number of steps along the way or outside factors that can alternately quicken or delay the final approval.
There are many ways of describing the phases a prospect passes through on the way to closing as sales gurus are trying to sell you their book. What’s important is not so much the labels you use, but to understand that different prospects will move through the process at different rates and may or may not move through every phase, or even in the same order.
You can think of the first phase as a qualification. Qualifying leads accurately helps salespeople determine needs, budget, authority and timeline. The timeline of your prospects is especially significant. Some will be ready to move forward immediately. Others will need more time (sometimes a lot more time). This is where customer relationship management (CRM) becomes crucial: Keep track of longer-term prospects and nurse them through your sales funnel, so they don’t vanish.
In the proposal phase, details will be roughed out and refined over time, often through many meetings, and the final deal will begin to take shape.
Follow-up isn’t as much a phase in the sales funnel as it is a responsibility of the salesperson and a part of their professional process. Regardless of whether the prospect’s timeline to completion is short or long, the burden is on the salesperson to stay in contact and have a clear picture of where the prospect is in their decision-making process.
The closing stage is the bottom of the funnel. This is where: the prospect signs a deal or they decline. Keep in mind, this could be for reasons that are outside your control or otherwise. When deals fall through for reasons you can’t control, such as budget issues, it’s a good idea to keep track of them. Plus, if you maintain cordial relations, an opportunity may arise to do business with them in the future.
So what’s the best way to manage the progress of your prospects through the funnel? That is best done through the use of some CRM. The advantage of using a CRM tool is that it will regiment the sales process by helping you organize your data about your leads and prospects. From there, it allows for timely and appropriate follow up. Which CRM you choose to use is up to you. But having it and using it effectively makes it a lot easier to prepare for when your boss asks, “What do you have lined up?”