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Rating Prospects: Selling

August 11th, 2015

Rating SystemHow likely is this deal to close? What percentage would you attach to that? What does the pipeline look like?

Rating prospects helps you project new business and highlights where you should focus your efforts. Unfortunately, many rating systems and CRM pipeline features don’t really help you do that. Here are common approaches that don’t work well — and what to do instead.

Your gut is a poor guide

Most salespeople rate their prospects. Unfortunately, too many let their gut do the talking. They leave a meeting with a prospect feeling good, bad or somewhere in the middle. Their rating system is based on rapport and how things “went.” Even salespeople keenly aware of qualifying issues often fall into the trap of relying more on feelings than on facts or information given to them by the prospect. For example:

“This guy obviously has enough assets for me to work with” is your gut talking. His financial statements would show if that is fact.

“They seem really excited about moving forward” is your gut talking. The prospect saying that aloud would be more reliable, though actions still speak loudest.

Letting your gut be the guide creates a roller coaster of emotion and expectations. The ride isn’t fun and it saps your energy.

Some of what helps you succeed can also get in the way

Successful sales reps tend to be optimistic and feel a high level of ownership, including toward overcoming challenges and objections. In fact, sales reps are often attracted to challenges. This trait has many positive elements in selling but it also means reps can be less objective about prospects.

On the other side of the coin: Some people try to avoid an emotional roller coaster by trying not to get too excited about a deal until the ink is dry. Don’t want to jinx it, right? There is certainly value in this kind of caution but it can also mean there is no analysis of prospects during the sale, which again makes it hard to know where to put your energy.

“No” doesn’t help predict “yes”

Lots of salespeople (and their managers) spend time and effort analyzing only the deals that seem stuck or did not close. Think about that for a minute…will that clarify trends pointing to “yes”? Nope.

CRM pipeline or funnel features often fail, too

Most of the big-name CRM design their pipeline features around their own sales cycle, which is focused on enterprise-wide selling –we’re talking huge companies. Whenever we’re selling to smaller companies, or to individuals, those features just don’t fit. As for the nifty funnel…that concept is most valid for looking at all of the pipeline as a whole, not for single potential deals.

Alright, enough about what does not work. What makes a rating system effective?

Rating prospects: What works

A good system is not linked to a linear process or certain events because sales rarely operate that way. It uses qualifying criteria, instead, which provides a clean fit with selling itself, no matter what your normal “process” may be. A good rating system also lets you apply logic without dragging down optimism. It brings in your gut-feeling without letting it run the show. And it does all of that simply and consistently for all prospects in the pipeline. But let’s cover some basics before describing the system.

Rate who and when?

Rate only those prospects that are in your sales pipeline. The cleanest way to define “sales pipeline”: All prospects with whom you had at least one actual sales conversation. (Not prospects you’re calling to ask for that opportunity. Not even prospects who have scheduled a sales meeting.)

Got data?

The only way to take your gut out of the lead is to use actual, received-straight-from-the-prospect information and data. This means the prospect has to give you information in a straightforward manner. It doesn’t count if you supposedly got information because the prospect implied, inferred, hinted or raised their left eyebrow in a meaningful way.

To get useful information you have to ask effective questions and then pay attention to what prospects say and don’t say about key points or issues. This falls into managing effective sales conversations, and under the heading of “qualifying” in particular.

The basic rating system

The basic system has a total of six factors. Five are positive points, one is negative.

  • 1 positive point: Prospect has and sees needs, wants and interests.
  • 1 positive point: Prospect places high priority on meeting those needs, wants, interests.
  • 1 positive point: A person you’re selling to has direct control over existing budget, or has authority to create budget.
  • 1 positive point: You know their decision process and you’re speaking with all of the key players.
  • 1 positive point: The timing is right.
  • 1 negative point: Use this point to apply any negative gut feeling and other things that can negatively affect a sale.

The first five factors are the minimum issues for qualifying most sales situations.

The negative point lets you bring in that gut feeling—which does have a place in successful selling. Use only one negative point per prospect. However, that negative point may differ for each prospect and may even change for any single prospect. Examples:

  • Prospect raised a lot of objections, or kept going back to the same objection.
  • You have a feeling the prospect isn’t being fully honest with you.
  • Prospect is slow to respond or is suddenly not responding to email or voicemail.
  • The organization is going through structural, personnel, or other business changes.
  • This is a first-time purchase, or they usually use in-house resources, or they usually use a vendor who is not available.

How the rating system works

Analyze the prospect after each sales conversation. Add or subtract points as you uncover the information or as things change throughout the sale. For example:

  • If there is more than one player and you have not yet spoken with the others, do not add that point until you have.
  • If you have not yet asked about their decision process, do not add that point.
  •  If the prospect told you he places a high priority on meeting the need, add a point. If he later mentions he’s working fewer hours because his daughter needs his help, subtract the point because his priorities are now elsewhere (as they should be, of course).
  • If the prospect said budget is approved and under her control, add a point for that factor. If that person leaves the company or gets a new boss, and if you have not yet confirmed things are still moving forward, subtract that point.

Add existing points to get a rating: The greater the total points, the higher the probability of closing. Remember: apply points only for known information. No guessing!

Key tip

This rating system will help you identify where you want to expend the most energy or effort. But its power is only as good as your ability to use actual received information or data. To strengthen that ability, analyze each prospect some time after each sales conversation—hours or even a day or two afterward.

How to add dates and dollars

Sometimes a rating system also needs projected close dates and dollar value. The dollar value is easy to deal with: just show an estimated amount. It’s easy to show a projected date, too; however, you may want to define “close” more specifically. Examples:

  • May want to show the date prospects say they will make their decision.
  • May want to show the date the contract is projected to begin.
  • May want to show the date the first payment would be received.

Make sure the whole sales team uses the same factor and definition or the data won’t be valid. And, as with all other factors, base the date on information received direct from the prospect.

What using the system can do for you

Using a good rating system keeps you off the roller coaster, or at least significantly calms the ups and downs. A good rating system also helps identify when it’s wise to work through the challenges or walk away.

One Response to “Rating Prospects: Selling”

  1. […] rating system described here focuses on marketing (see this one for selling). It can be applied […]

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