Taking a Hard Look at “Must Win” Sales Opportunities

Many of our clients report that their sales pipelines include a distribution of different opportunity sizes – a mix of small transactions, moderate-sized deals, and a few large strategic opportunities. In some cases, the impact of the large opportunities is extremely significant. They often make or break achievement of sales goals. These big deals are typically “must win” opportunities, and they require special care and scrutiny to ensure their successful closure.

As the end of the year approaches, we are often asked by our clients to help them validate their plans to win strategic opportunities. We follow a structured review process that determines the accurate status of each opportunity, and then identifies what specific actions must be taken in order to maximize the probability of winning the business. After a thorough review, the odds of winning “must win” deals can be improved significantly. Some of our clients report win rates of nearly 90 percent on strategic deals, after conducting formal opportunity reviews.

This high win rate is possible for two reasons. First, an objective review reveals what specific actions and resources are required to make it easy for the customer to buy. An opportunity review can uncover aspects of the buyers’ evaluation and decision process that have not been adequately addressed, which puts the entire opportunity at risk. The sales team can focus on those specific actions that make the most difference, and not waste time doing things peripheral to enabling the buyer to make a positive decision.

Second, an opportunity review presents a realistic picture of the likelihood of securing business in a defined amount of time. In some cases, an opportunity review reveals that a strategic deal is most likely unwinnable in the time remaining before the end of the planned period. This finding is often a bitter medicine to swallow, but it means that a sales team can focus their energies elsewhere, on opportunities more likely to close sooner. They can also schedule the opportunity in question in a realistic timeframe, and set proper expectations for when that business can truly be secured. Trying to rush buyers to buy before they are ready rarely results in a good outcome, for either the buyer or the selling organization.

It Takes Some Courage

To our surprise, we find that some sales leaders are unwilling to conduct opportunity reviews on their “must win” deals. There is far too much wishful thinking in many sales pipelines, especially as the pressure to achieve goals increases as the end of the month, quarter, or year approaches. We sometimes find strategic opportunities in clients’ pipelines that are forecasted to close, with little evidence that they will actually come to fruition in the prescribed period. In too many cases, winning a “must win” deal is based largely on hope, and not on objective facts. It takes some courage to step back and take stock of what is really happening in large opportunities, and then make rational decisions to bring them to a successful conclusion, for both the seller and the buyer.

How should sales leaders conduct reviews of “must win” business?

  1. Start by using the Successful Sales Formula to determine the strength of a potential sale and the degree of alignment with buyers, in order to identify tactics that will move the opportunity towards a win.
  2. Re-evaluate the opportunity’s competitive strategy using the Competitive Strategy Selector to determine if the team is using selling resources in the optimum fashion to win.
  3. Evaluate the extent and rate of progress of the opportunity through the buying process. Reviewing the quality of verifiable outcomes – observable customer behaviors at each stage of the buying process, which indicate alignment with the seller – shows how far and how quickly a “must win” deal is progressing towards a desirable decision. We’ve prepared a checklist that helps evaluate the progression of an opportunity, which you can download here.

As mentioned previously, we often find a lot of emotion entangled around strategic “must win” opportunities. After all, they are nearly always critical for individual sellers and sales teams to have a good year. For this reason, we recommend using an objective facilitator to guide the sales team through their opportunity reviews and keep them free of subjective influences. This will produce higher quality decisions and optimal plans of action.

The end of the year is fast approaching. Now is the time to take a hard look at the opportunities in the sales pipeline that will make the biggest difference in your team’s success.

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