Rating prospects helps you project new business, and indicates where you should focus your efforts. This article is an overview of what does not work well, followed by what does. We begin with this advice: Detach rating prospects from your pipeline.
Your pipeline shows where potential deals are in your typical sales process. That’s just where things are, not whether deals are more or less likely to close. Now onto rating prospects.
Your gut is a poor guide
Many sales reps let their gut do the talking. They leave a sales meeting feeling good, bad, or somewhere in the middle; and rate deals based on rapport or how things “went.” These reps also tend to rely on feelings more than information from 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 is 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 saps your energy.
Some of what helps you succeed can also get in the way
Successful sales reps tend to be optimistic, and have a high level of ownership for overcoming challenges and objections. In fact, sales reps are often attracted to challenges. That trait has many positive elements in selling, however, it can also make us less objective.
Potential deals with tons of challenges and roadblocks still get a high rating, which leads to focusing on the wrong potential deals and making unrealistic forecasts.
“No” doesn’t help predict “yes”
Lots of salespeople (and their managers) analyze only the deals that seem stuck or did not close. Think about that for a minute…will that clarify trends pointing to “yes”?
CRM pipeline or funnel features often fail, too
Many CRMs mush pipeline and rating into one component, their rating feature uses a linear process.
Sales discussions are rarely linear in the real world. Discussions take one step “forward,” two steps “back” or sideways, two “forward” again, and so on. This is normal and does not necessarily indicate low likelihood of closing. The flip side is also true: potential deals that flow smoothly do not necessarily have a higher probability of closing.
A pipeline is indeed supposed to show where specific deals are in your typical process. But deals at a later stage are not necessarily more likely to close, they’re just at a later stage. For example, submitting a proposal often occurs at a later stage in a process. The issue is what typically drives deals to this point in your industry:
If proposals are only submitted when prospects say: “You’re in the running and we want a proposal,” deals at that point do deserve a higher rating.
But if proposals are generally expected or required — no particular encouragement from prospects involved — getting to that point is neutral.
In addition, even when getting to proposal stage is a solid positive for your industry, there are other factors to consider.
As for the nifty funnel image: That concept is valid for looking at all deals in 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 uses qualifying criteria, which provides a clean fit with selling no matter what your typical overall process may be. A good rating system lets you apply logic without dragging down optimism, and brings in your gut-feeling without letting it run the show. A good system does all of that simply and consistently for all prospects in the pipeline.
Rating system link provided below. But first…
Rate who and rate when?
Rate only those prospects that are in your sales pipeline. The cleanest way to define “sales pipeline”: prospects with whom you had at least one actual sales conversation.
Do not rate prospects you’re calling and emailing to generate that opportunity. Do not rate prospects who have only scheduled a sales meeting with you.
Use the right information:
The only way to take your gut out of the lead is to use actual, received-straight-from-the-prospect information.
The information must have been delivered in a straightforward manner. Information based on what the prospect implied or hinted at while raising their left eyebrow in a meaningful way does not count.
To get useful information:
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.