happy_ears“They loved the presentation! They loved me! They can’t wait to get started!” 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these sorts of exclamations from reps over the last few years … and how often I’ve immediately written off the deal as a result. If you’ve ever been a sales rep, you can relate -- you get out of a presentation riding a high and can’t stop thinking that you crushed it. But this leads to emotions driving forecasts rather than logic.

Because of salespeople’s emotional bias, I strive to look at each and every opportunity my reps present to me with a clear perspective and a healthy dose of skepticism. In an effort to strike a balance that provides clarity and a more confident forecast, I ask my reps the following three questions to determine if the deal is actually set to go through, or if rose-colored glasses are clouding reality.

1) Why are they looking to buy our product/service? 

The answer I get far too often sounds like “Um ... well … they just know they need it.”

It’s a simple question, but it’s one that sales reps don’t ask themselves often enough. We know the litany of reasons that our product is superior, and we have faith in our charm and charisma as sellers. But, do we know the reason why they need our offering?

Salespeople should have a comprehensive understanding of the buyer’s business and the challenges they’re encountering before they even consider showing them how to fix it. When you go to the doctor, they don’t prescribe medicine without asking a few questions. Then why do salespeople take this tack in their sales processes?

At HubSpot, we employ GPCT (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline) as our qualification methodology, but there are many options to choose from. Whether it’s BANT, Ian Altman’s I3 (Issue, Impact, Importance), or something else entirely, choose a process that works for your organization, and hold yourselves accountable to it.

2) When are they looking to start?

“Well, we have a follow up next week to discuss next steps, and see who else needs to get involved ... ”

This answer immediately tells me the salesperson has no control over the opportunity, or an idea of when the customer might buy. And if we don’t know their drop-dead date, we don’t have much to go on. The salesperson could end up chasing the prospect for months on end.

Furthermore, if the rep hasn’t set firm timelines and expectations, I would argue that they lack credibility. It’s easy for customers to see our time as less valuable if we ourselves don’t value that time. In allowing reps to use arbitrary dates, we introduce sloppiness into our process. Ask anyone on my team, and they’ll tell you it’s a cardinal rule of mine that you don’t close a call without booking time in the calendar for the next meeting.

My favorite coaching sessions are when a rep comes in and says, “The buyer needs to start on [X date] because they understand that results will take three months, and their board is expecting outcomes by the start of Q4 to guide budgets for 2015. We worked back from Q4 and built in some buffer time for the summer, and we came up with [X date]. They’re committed to signing on or before this date.” It’s like music to my ears!

3) Who is signing?

One of the primary things I focus on with my team is making sure we understand who’s driving the project forward and how involved they’re going to be. If a salesperson hasn’t identified the ultimate decision maker as part of the qualification process, they likely have an interminable sale on their hands. Getting the right people involved early and often can only accelerate your sales cycle -- either towards closing or backing off -- which gives back to us our most valuable asset: time.

I love it when a sales rep answers this question with, “The CEO/CFO/CMO/VP of Sales was on the call and is the signatory. Assuming we can get the paperwork to them in the agreed upon timeframe, he/she has committed to signing by [X date.]” This type of response generates a high level of trust between rep and manager. I trust the rep because I know that they’ve ticked all the boxes, and the rep trusts me because they know I have a process and expectation in place. Salespeople want nothing more than consistency and predictability in their roles and active opportunities. This adds much needed clarity to the process that helps us all sleep better at night.

Too often, I think quotas dictate salespeople’s activity, and cause them to cut corners in hopes of accelerating a sale. However, by skipping the above questions, I firmly believe that we only slow the sales process, as we don’t fully understand why the buyer needs our offering, when they need it, and who needs it.

I would far prefer my reps to do fewer fully qualified software demonstrations than take on a high volume of “chancers.” In so doing, we actually gain time to focus on those deals that are closest to reaching fruition.

This post was originally published by the author on LinkedIn. How do you deal with “happy ears” at your sales organization?

Originally published Sep 29, 2014 11:00:00 AM, updated October 30 2019


Sales Qualification