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A Process for Planning and Winning Strategic Sales Opportunities

By Susan Hall

Can you determine if your company should even pursue this sales opportunity? Do you understand if you can reasonably expect to win this opportunity? In this video, Susan Hall, Bob Parks, and Jeff Filipski discuss a process for planning and winning strategic sales opportunities in today's competitive market.

Susan Hall: 00:01 Hi, I am Susan Hall, and I'm vice President of Business Development and Performance Improvement with Strategic Enhancement Group. Today I'm with two of my dear friends and colleagues, Bob Parks, who is Managing Partner at Strategic Enhancement Group, and also Jeff Filipski, who is Senior Performance Improvement Consultant.

Susan Hall: 00:29 And gentlemen, you represent about 90 years of experience in sales, sales management, senior and executive management, coaching, and consulting. So you've seen a lot, and here's my question. Selling today is more complex, more detailed, and more competitive than ever before.

Susan Hall: 00:49 Success requires a new generation of tools to manage complex selling. So, in your opinion, what is the best way to handle this new reality?

Bob Parks: 00:58 Well, basically, Susan, the answer is to manage your opportunities. Have a process for planning and winning strategic sales opportunities. Usually, the larger strategic opportunities have a longer sales cycle, tough competition, and they have multiple people making the buying decision.

Susan Hall: 01:18 Tell me a little bit about what this process you describe actually could look like.

Bob Parks: 01:23 Well, first, you need to systematically evaluate each sales opportunity. We here use an opportunity evaluation worksheet, and it helps us answer nine critical questions in three very important areas.

Bob Parks: 01:40 So first, we ask the question: should we even pursue this opportunity?

Bob Parks: 01:47 And given the time and money that each opportunity uses, we need to know what is the client's business initiative? Do they have the budget to do this project? What is the compelling reason for doing this project or buying our product?

Bob Parks: 02:02 Second, we need to know: can we efficiently and effectively compete for this opportunity? Does the client see us as a viable supplier for this product or service? Do we have the sales and implementation resources required? And what's the specific business value of our solution?

Bob Parks: 02:25 And then, thirdly, can we reasonably expect to win this opportunity? What is our ability to impact the client's decision process? Are we credible with the client's executives, and do we have their support?

Bob Parks: 02:40 And then, finally, are we aligned with the relevant executives in the organization? So then, based on these answers, we can determine if we should proceed with sales planning and begin spending time and money on this opportunity or not.

Susan Hall: 03:00 Those are amazing questions. So Jeff, I'm curious, from your perspective, what are some of the considerations in understanding how a decision is actually going to be made?

Jeff Filipski: 03:10 Well, traditionally, typical questions that are asked are: Who else is involved in making the decision? What people will be involved in the evaluation? Who has the budget control for the decision? What will be the most important criteria? And who else are you evaluating? What are the pros and cons?

Jeff Filipski: 03:30 What's interesting is that many of the questions are usually discovered through the discovery process, as you're getting familiar with the needs and the wants of the customer. What can cause issues in many sales processes is that missing information is usually a little bit more difficult to get because salespeople don't adequately plan their calls strategically.

Susan Hall: 03:50 So my experience is that in all companies there's also that formal decision-making process, but then there's that informal decision-making process, and there are always multiple stakeholders involved.

Susan Hall: 04:04 I know that many salespeople get blindsided because they make assumptions about who the decision-makers are. So can you talk a little bit about the different rules that salespeople should be on the lookout for?

Jeff Filipski: 04:17 A lot of salespeople trip up on this. A typical formal process usually involves the following people: Approver, or those who have the financial or budget power to purchase the solution.

Jeff Filipski: 04:29 The decision-maker, or the person that has the formal responsibility for the implementation of the new product or system. And that could be delegated to. Evaluators are the people that look at the specifications of a solution and how it may be implemented. They can also be implementers.

Jeff Filipski: 04:45 And then the Owner is the people who ultimately roll it out, maintain it, problem solve it, and use it. They may not always be on the evaluation team, but their opinions count. These people can come from different departments, and some people may have multiple roles. Many salespeople cover these areas fairly well, as they're usually well defined by the level of authority and follow an organizational chart to some degree.

Susan Hall: 05:12 That's a lot to know about, isn't it? What about the informal decision-making process?

Jeff Filipski: 05:17 Well, one area that is not usually covered or discovered in questioning, unless planned for, is at the informal decision criteria and who has the influence inside the account. These influencers are not readily obvious and can be at various levels in the organization and carry different levels of influence on the decision-maker, regardless of what level they are at in the organization.

Jeff Filipski: 05:42 Understanding that level of influence is important and whether they're aligned politically with the approver, decision-maker, or evaluator. Many times, owners can be influencers in the informal decision-making process.

Jeff Filipski: 05:57 Four categories for influencers are a Sponsor, someone who totally supports the solution you're proposing. They typically endorse behind closed doors; we sometimes call them our coach.

Jeff Filipski: 06:09 Supporter is someone who's favorable towards the solution compared to others. They may or may not support the solution in private; they may be swayed from their position.

Jeff Filipski: 06:20 And Neutral; they do not have an opinion when comparing the competition. They may support the status quo or go with the majority.

Jeff Filipski: 06:27 And lastly, is that Competitive Sponsor. Someone who supports a competitor's solution and is vocal in their support. It is critical to find these informal roles and not only understand the influence that these informal roles have, but what level of influence that each person has inside the account. The level of influence can be determined by the capabilities of the individual, their value to the organization in their role, who they're connected to outside of work, and lastly, do they contribute to the direction of the organization within their assigned area responsibly?

Jeff Filipski: 07:03 All of these things should be considered so you can fully ascertain the sales situation and markedly increase your chances of success on your next sales opportunity. Purposeful planning prevents surprises as you move the process forward.

Susan Hall: 07:18 So we've talked about the importance of understanding both the formal and the informal decision-making process, and we've also discussed the different types of influencers and roles that clients have in this decision-making process.

Susan Hall: 07:32 In our next video, we'll take a deeper dive into how to develop your sales strategy and also your value proposition to put you in a more favorable position to differentiate and win business that's good for both you and your client.

Susan Hall: 07:47 If you're interested in helping your sales team close a higher percentage of proposals, reach out to us at


Published: June 19, 2024

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Susan Hall

Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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