Salespeople make a lot of assumptions about their book of business and tend to paint a rosier picture about how their clients perform in terms of actual sales dollars. Salespeople love to give their customers the benefit of the doubt because in the eyes of the salesperson, their paycheck depends on it. In fact, when we don’t look critically at our book of business with real data, we often over-inflate what we believe to be great clients and undervalue others. Like a farmer in his orchard, we must deadwood our apple trees to make room for new fruits.
I recommend that salespeople (with their manager) review and, if necessary, purge their list once a quarter or no less than twice a year. Most won’t even do this once a year, so this recommendation may sound like a lot, but perhaps it is not. The benefit of keeping your finger on the pulse of the quality of your book of business is that it helps you to identify new opportunities faster while freeing yourself as much as possible from the things (clients) that weigh you down. You may discover that a client hasn’t been producing as well as you expected and reviewing quarterly may help you to discover a service issue on your end that can be corrected before it is too late.
The biggest obstacle for salespeople in reviewing their pipeline is having accurate, timely and concise information. I understand that many of you may not even be able to get a decent sales report on time. Do whatever you need to do to advocate for yourself to get good information to make great decisions.
When requesting information, you want 3 data points.
- First, what are the client’s closed and pending sales year to date?
- Second, what was the expected closed and pending sales year to date (how close are we to our goals?).
- Third, what were the client’s closed and pending sales year to date one year ago at the exact same time (are things improving, the same or getting worse?). When we are able to review with this level of data, we can catch issues early and perhaps discover clients that aren’t producing, won’t produce and therefore should be purged.
For those who just don’t have a chance at getting that level of detailed information, you can still find your own process for evaluating your book of business. Many times our gut alone can tell us that there are clients that have been dead weight for years and have been just stringing you along to get competitive estimates to keep their current vendor client. They love to bait the hook with hope, but there must come a time to walk away as they types of ‘clients’ consume too many resources (especially your time). The hardest part is being honest with yourself, your manager and that client about what the reality is. There is no opportunity. There never was. You are in that client’s friend-zone and you never had a chance at a kiss. It is time to purge them to make room for new opportunities.
When you have a sales plan that identifies your opportunities for growth, letting go of these old never-would-be’s isn’t so difficult. A plan makes for a healthy pipeline free from the congestion of time-consuming tail chasing. Your sales plan becomes a great checks and balance tool when you are reviewing your pipeline to see what must be purged.