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The QBR (quarterly business review) is the bane of every salesperson’s and finance executive’s existence. Salespeople are pushed by their managers to meet or exceed mostly unrealistic expectations for the upcoming quarter in terms of expected deals to close in the sales pipeline. The process is riddled with a combination of sandbagging, happy ears, holdovers, and misunderstood opportunities.

It seems there are few ways to tell whether a multi-million-dollar deal will close in the upcoming quarter, slide into the following quarter, or fall into a competitor’s hands. There is rarely a way to know if the multi-million-dollar deal is real. All a finance executive can do is trust the sales managers’ pipeline and mark the deal in the forecast.

However, behind every sales pipeline is the real story. Here are some tips to help finance executives to engage in the QBR, reveal a more realistic sales forecast, and improve the sales process.

Ask Who

Most high dollar sales involve multiple decision makers inside the customer organization. Understanding with whom the sales team has engaged within the organization will provide greater insight into how realistic the forecast is.

  • Question 1: Who is the economic buyer (the individual with the budget and authority to purchase)? It’s a red flag if the sales team says the champion and economic buyer are one and the same. Every customer’s economic buyer has someone influencing their buying decisions.
  • Question 2: What is the relationship between your customer champion and the economic buyer? A sales representative may have a well-intentioned champion inside the customer organization providing assurance of the sale. But is the sales team’s customer contact an influencer, or are they just a coach?  A customer coach is different than a customer champion. A coach can feed valuable information to the sales team, but lack the ability to influence the buying decision.
  • Question 3: Who is your closest competitor’s champion? Too often, sales teams have blinders on when it comes to the relationship between influencers and the competition. It’s a red flag if the sales team cannot clearly identify the competitor’s champion. Another influencer inside the customer organization must be championing the competition, or else the competition would not be engaged.

Ask Why

Every large purchase has a tangible business case, whether documented or not. Now is the time to put yourself in the customer CFO’s position to determine the business case (why a customer would spend the money).

  • Question 1: What are you presenting to the customer as the business case for buying from us vs. the competition? This is where the sales team should be able to summarize a few metrics that reflect a positive ROI for the customer. A clearly defined set of customer return metrics are a strong indication of momentum for the sale.
  • Question 2: How does our business case align with the customer’s pain points? Identifying customer pain points is the typical first step in any sales process. Great salespeople love to instill the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the customer’s mind. To move a sale forward in the pipeline, the customer business case must align with the initial pain points identified early on.
  • Question 3: Have you presented our business case to the economic buyer? This question is a double whammy. Not only are you asking if the sales team has met the economic buyer, but also if the buyer has bought into the business case. If neither have happened, the sale is not worth forecasting.

Ask When

Deals slipping into later quarters is a significant factor in missing sales forecasts. “Your customer’s timing isn’t always the same as your timing” is an old sales adage. Just asking when the deal will close is not enough. There are some probing questions to ask to understand the probability of delay.

  • Question 1: What are the steps in your customer’s buying process? The sales team should be able to clearly articulate who needs to sign off and what steps are necessary. This includes legal, procurement, IT, and possibly finance departments. If the sales team does not understand the customer buying process, expect delays to a future quarter or a loss.
  • Question 2: Does the customer have all our paperwork, and do we have theirs? Paperwork is the primary reason for most delayed deals the final days of a quarter. Surprises from the customer legal or procurement department asking for signature of regulatory or industry documents can get caught up in your legal department for review and vice versa. Shuffling paperwork for large deals wastes months in closing a sale.
  • Question 3: Has our economic buyer have the sale budgeted or forecasted for the next quarter? In other words, does the customer CFO know they will be writing a big check next quarter? This is often difficult for a sales team to know, but a good salesperson will ask that question sooner than later.

If the sales team cannot clearly answer these questions, the deal is likely at risk. Not only are these questions valuable for developing a more reliable sales forecast, but they are also learning opportunities for your sales team. These questions should motivate your sales team to engage customers in more robust conversations and improve the probably of closing deals.

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