glass door to office glass door to office

Successful Sales Skills

Increasing Win Rates and Profitability

By David Yesford

The old adage “People love to buy, but hate to be sold to” is rephrased from the seller side to “Salespeople love to win, but hate to lose.” Sales management might say, “I want to help salespeople win, but win the right business,” because the hot pursuit of a win can backfire if salespeople are going after deals that aren’t profitable.

Selling has grown increasingly complex and difficult. As research by CSO Insights and Aberdeen shows, over the past five years, win rates have fallen from 50% to 47%. No-decision rates have grown from under 20% to over 25%.

So how can salespeople, sales managers, and organizations increase win rates and reduce no-decision rates? The short answer—discipline. If you want the longer answer—discipline in articulating the opportunity, discipline in the analysis of the opportunity, discipline in gathering evidence, and discipline in making go/no-go decisions—please read on.

Over the past five years, win rates have fallen from 50% to 47%. No-decision rates have grown from under 20% to over 25%.

High-Probability and High-Profitability Opportunities

The discipline required in identifying high-probability and high-profitability opportunities starts with understanding clearly and accurately what the customer organization is trying to accomplish. Effort here focuses on collecting compelling evidence and analyzing which opportunities lend themselves to increasing win rate. This approach invites dialogue among everyone involved in a sales campaign to make an informed go/no-go decision to pursue an opportunity.

You have to be prepared to describe the opportunity—the “deal”—by articulating . . .

  • What the organization is trying to accomplish
  • The customer’s main criteria for an ideal solution for accomplishing the above

. . . and then answering three questions:

  1. Will the customer buy something?
  2. Does this opportunity have value for me and my company?
  3. Will the customer buy from me?

Let’s unpack these questions and see what’s inside each one.

Defining the Opportunity

An opportunity worth pursuing is one anchored to a business imperative. If you are not able to articulate a problem statement, or what the organization is trying to accomplish, there likely isn’t much need for a solution. If the opportunity is tied to something inside the business, in response to that problem statement you must next be able to answer, “What are the customer’s main criteria for an ideal solution?” or “How does the customer define value?

1. Probability Analysis: Will the Customer Buy Something?

In an effort to conduct an intelligent, informed discussion around, “Shall we pursue?” the first “Yes” comes from a moderate to high probability the customer will buy something. If there is low probability, you may need to rethink if it is worth time and resources to commit to pursuing the deal.

In the probability analysis, your radar must be up, continually listening for and gathering evidence that the opportunity on the table has strategic importance. If you don’t know, a disciplined approach to determine strategic importance becomes the focus of the next customer conversation and/or gathering of evidence in the field or from media, annual reports, or the MD&A in financial reports.

If an organization puts out an RFP, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean the opportunity has strategic importance. Don’t assume. The customer may just be fishing. If the person you are calling on claims the deal is important but you don’t have compelling evidence to support it, the question for you as a salesperson (or sales manager) becomes, “Is this enough evidence—is it believable?” The discipline comes in the discussion between salesperson and sales manager considering, “Are there additional data points that support it is important?” Further analysis and evidence gathering may be necessary to determine the business imperative or strategic importance of the opportunity.

The next key consideration in your probability analysis is determining if there is a level of urgency or a compelling event pushing the customer toward a buying decision. Reality is, if there is no compelling event, little to nothing gets done and the decision gets delayed. If the level of urgency is not moderate to high, you will spend a lot of time and energy likely getting to no decision.

Think of the discipline of probability analysis as a necessary speed bump that doesn’t stop the process, but may slow it down to consider if you’re pursing a losing proposition.

2. Value Analysis: Does this Opportunity Have Value for Me and My Company?

The discipline around a value analysis enables you to discern if this is business you want. Again, the answer must be “Yes,” and it’s best to discover the answer early in the sales process.

Key in value analysis is not only establishing the size of the opportunity, but also paying attention to the cost of the opportunity—estimating the salesperson’s, sales executive’s, and support team’s time and expense to determine if it is profitable and good business for the company.

3. Position Analysis: Will the Customer Buy from Me?

If you have said “Yes” to the question, “Is there compelling evidence that this organization will buy something?” and “Yes” to the question, “Is there compelling evidence of appropriate value?” the next “Yes” needs to be your response to “Is there compelling evidence that this organization will buy from me?”

In this analysis, your position relates to evidence of how well your offering matches the customer’s needs better than the competition, the value the customer places in your offering, your credibility with all decision makers, and your reputation. This type of evidence enables everyone involved in a sales campaign to discuss the relative strength of your competitive position. And if you lack evidence, it is incumbent upon you—salesperson, sales manager, or support staff—to dialog, ask questions, listen, and determine the strength of your competitive position for increasing your win rate.

Recall a time when you wish you would have lost a deal you won.

David Yesford

David Yesford, Senior Vice President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. and Managing Director of Wilson Learning APAC, has more than 30 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions around the world. He brings valuable experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Mr. Yesford is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level. Over the years, he has held strategic roles in our core content areas of sales and leadership, as well as e-learning and strategic consulting. He has also held managing director positions in both China and India.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. He has also been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Mr. Yesford frequently speaks at international conferences and summits, focusing on issues such as sales and sales strategy, leadership, employee and customer engagement, brand, and strategy implementation.