Sales forecasting has always been a challenge. Many times and in many organizations it is a guessing game, a glimpse into a crystal ball that rarely pans out in predictable transactions. I believe one of the reasons for this lies in the difference between issues and events.
In sales we have learned to get to the critical issues (or pains) the prospect is wrestling with in order to propose capabilities that will alleviate those pains. But often, even when we have sharply outlined the critical issues, it is still not enough to bring about a transaction within a predictable time frame. Why? Because issues are not enough. While issues are important at the front end of the sales process, their importance tends to wane over time and are usually overtaken by the perceived risk of a capital expenditure for the solution. Issues become data points with no life and little meaning. Sales Teams need to go beyond the issues and get to the events that transpired to create the issues.
When I say events I mean occurrences and stories with real people, real drama and most importantly, real consequences. Once the actual event is uncovered we can evaluate to what extent the prospect organization can afford to have that event occur again and when in their business cycle that event is likely to occur again. Having identified this and confirming with the client that the cost of the event occurring again outweighs the cost of the solution, then we have an event that is compelling enough to warrant a transaction. When this is achieved we have a good shot at a predictable time line to value, which is co-owned by the Sales Team and the prospect.
How to do this? When in discovery, don’t just settle for the the issues. Let the issues guide you to the events by asking questions like: What’s the story around that? What happened that created this issue? Who called and talked to you about this issue? What brought the issue to their attention?
Once you have a solid answer on the event(s), you can ask: When is this likely to occur again. In what business process did this occur? Who were the people involved? What is the perceived cost of this event occurring again? (both political, and monetary)
Theses events must be co-developed with your prospect and must be consistently re-played throughout the proof stage, negotiation stage, and the rest of the buying process. Before major expenditures, risk is always heightened for the prospect. If the perceived risk of the events outweigh the perceived risk of the expenditure, then a transaction can occur.
Issues are lifeless. Events live and breathe. Don’t settle for issues. Strive to co-develop compelling events and make the buying process come alive.