The Complete Guide to B2B Opportunity Planning
What Is Opportunity Planning?
Opportunity plans are coordinated action plans, built on a value-based strategy for a specific customer or prospect opportunity, that create more revenue per customer over a longer period of time.
Put another way, an opportunity plan finds and farms potential. They not only help you find more relevant stakeholders; they also help you up-sell and cross-sell within that account.
The goal is to basically say, “We are going to give this customer what they need based on a deep understanding of their pain and priorities, and this is how we are going to make it happen for each given opportunity – not just this quarter, but for each quarter to come.”
Opportunity planning overlaps a lot with account planning, but differs in that it also helps map a pathway from first contact to final close for each potential deal.
Ideally, with an opportunity plan, there are no surprises during the process. You can chart a smooth course that increases the chance of finding and landing potential every step of the sales cycle.
In short, the process for opportunity planning can be broken down into 3 simple steps:
We’ll talk more on how to put together a solid opportunity plan later. For now, we’ll explain more about why opportunity planning is not only worth doing, but essential to success in today’s environment.
The Benefits of Opportunity Planning
Opportunity planning is a powerful B2B sales process because of the results it delivers for high-performing sales teams that incorporate this process into their everyday selling.
Here are a few great things that can happen to sales orgs who take opportunity planning to heart.
Faster Sales Cycles
In competitive B2B sales, speed isn’t everything, but it counts for a lot.
The faster a sales team can move through its sales cycle with an opportunity, the more revenue they can close in a quarter. Given how new customers can easily become repeat customers with opportunity planning (we talk about that more in just a moment), a faster sales cycle this quarter leads to more revenue in subsequent quarters.
Opportunity planning (especially in conjunction with a CRM like Salesforce) has shortened the sales cycle for B2B sellers by an average of 25%.
More Collaboration Across Your Company
B2B sales is a team effort. The company that sells together wins together – and that means a concerted and coordinated campaign involving sales, marketing, ops, customer success, the C-suite, and more.
This kind of total team approach pays dividends. The majority of sales professionals report that collaborative selling across their entire organization boosts productivity and pipeline growth by an average of 25%.
More Success with Scaling Current Customers
One of the best ways for sales teams to consistently hit their quotas is by scaling their current accounts.
Obtaining a new customer is a lot of work. Sales teams spend an awful amount of energy and resources to research, pursue, and close deals with new customers. Sales reps also report that prospecting is among the toughest parts of their job.
It’s much easier to find new opportunities and drive growth within an account you already have developed a relationship and trust with. You already have connections; the amount of research you need to perform is lessened; you have a deeper knowledge of a company’s needs and priorities; and total time spent inputting new prospect data is cut drastically.
Case in point: one study found that landing a new account is five times more expensive than nurturing a current one. Customers also report that they’re much more likely to buy when a seller has a deep understanding of their company.
In short, the average lifetime customer value (LCV) increases substantially when a sales org uses opportunity planning for cross-selling and up-selling than when it doesn’t.
Better Selling Into the Enterprise
Opportunity planning is a perfect method for organizing a plan of attack for enterprise accounts, which are larger and offer more total deals (with a bigger average deal size) than smaller accounts.
Why? Enterprise accounts are more complex. They have more moving parts. Enterprise sales reps will need to speak to more people, make more connections, and pull together solutions that are more complicated and impact more divisions and BUs than in smaller accounts.
For these big prizes, superior organization is a must.
How Is Opportunity Planning Being Done Today?
Unfortunately, no matter how potent opportunity planning can be, sales reps today are long on the opportunity, short on the planning.
Sales teams are being held back by:
- Siloed selling (every rep for themselves)
- Little to no coordination with other departments
- The wrong sales tech stack
- Sales tools that don’t work well with one another
- A lack of shared account data
- Inefficiencies with communication
- No clear paths to close deals
- No dedicated plan for cross-selling and up-selling
Even sales orgs that use account plans usually don’t meet their growth targets. Why? Because there’s no plan in place for bringing everything together under one roof, and one effort, to grow holistically over the long term.
Companies that do find success, however, use opportunity plans as a core sales function. They use their CRM to collect and analyze data, pinpoint opportunities, coordinate efforts to pursue and develop them, and create clear paths to close that don’t leave anything out and take nothing for granted.
Considering how the closing stage is where many deals fall apart (due to last-minute negotiation, legal hang-ups, procurement issues, or something as simple as a key stakeholder not being involved until late in the process), this type of coordination is essential.
How to Build a Successful Sales Opportunity Plan
So, how does a sales team go about creating an opportunity plan?
It starts by learning everything you can about the customer using whatever customer intelligence tools and processes you have access to.
- Any company changes over the past 12 months, such as new hires or promotions, product/service launches, funding, acquisitions, and any other key developments
- Your ideal contacts and what they care the most about (especially the issues that keep them up at night)
- Competitors that may already be associated with the account (or have done so in the past)
- Financial details that can inform the sale, such as revenue and sales figures
- How the company is structured internally among business units, teams, buying groups, etc.
- Anything online that shines light on the company (including customer reviews)
- Goals, KPI’s, and other details that the stakeholders are measured on
- The desired outcome of implementing your product or service (What does success look like)?
Not everything you find will be useful, but you’ll never know until you get that deep level of understanding that drives success.
Don’t go into an opportunity blind. Not only will you miss out on crucial insights for this deal; you’ll also miss out on potential deals down the road.
The next step is building a solid business value case. This means planning out the best way your company can meet the needs and priorities of the customer.
The best way to get a solid idea of what their needs are is to talk with contacts who can help highlight issues. Note that priorities differ from BU to BU, division to division, team to team, and even person to person within the same team. The sales team’s job is to find common ground among all key stakeholders and put together a compelling solution that hits on the customer’s key success metrics and solves their most pressing issues (even ones they may not be aware of).
Of course, it helps to nail down your company’s value prop and messaging before you go in, even if that message will change as the sale develops.
But the crucial part of this process is building the value case focused on the customer, not your company. You want to lay out the most relevant benefits in a concise manner, from the key stakeholders’ perspectives.
A lack of a solid business case, focused on value from before the first contact, is why many opportunities fall apart. Fortunately, opportunity planning is a superior way to really understand an individual customer and tailor solutions to them – not everyone all at once.
The final step is moving from contact to close.
Start by planning out the multi-channel approach that works best for your organization. Answer these questions:
- What are your main channels/approaches you’ll use?
- Who are you contacting? Why them?
- What personal/professional details can help you jumpstart a conversation?
- Who are the key decision-makers and most influential contacts you will need to talk to eventually?
Once you know who you need to reach and how you’ll reach them, you can prepare by aligning resources you’ll need – especially from marketing, customer success, and leadership – and plan activities that’ll get you into the account (or into a new opportunity within the same account).
Along the way, you’ll need to find those key success metrics that your solution will have to hit. You can then plan how your demo and proof of concept (if applicable) can focus on those KPIs and highlight real ROI potential.
Note that customers aren’t always the best at forecasting ROI themselves, let alone with a vendor’s products. That’s one big responsibility a sales team has that – if met – drives success like nothing else.
To prep, you’ll want to know:
- Your minimum profit margin and any other internal metric you need to hit
- What your product/service can and cannot do
- Any internal pricing or logistical constraints
- The customer’s budget and who has the authority over it
- Typical approval timelines and your company’s typical delivery/implementation timeline
- Any previous deals the customer has made with you, and which contacts were responsible for them
- How much an opportunity is worth based on the resources you think you’ll need to land it
- Case studies, testimonials, and other relevant customer results you can use
Finally, you’ll need to figure out who all has to sign off on a deal and any procedures, processes, or red tape you’ll have to navigate before the opportunity officially closes and the solution can be implemented.
Next, we’ll go more into the specific action steps you can take by exploring why deals close and how you can influence those factors.
The Five Factors of a Successful Sales Opportunity Plan
The best opportunity plans are based on the five fundamentals of every successful deal. These five factors take every potential deal from initial discovery to building better relationships, creating a mutual plan for success with your customer, proving business value, and creating a clear path to close.
For each factor, a sales team has certain steps it can take to increase their win probability. These action steps are outlined below.
Factor 1: Discovery
The more you understand a customer, the more likely you are to succeed. Discovery is where a sales team uncovers initial info that’ll inform the rest of the sales process.
- Establish whether or not the team has a budget
- Explore their current processes and structure
- Understand the customers’ challenges
- Identify competitors they’re evaluating
Factor 2: Relationships
Sales are made through people, not process. The more you understand the relationships inside an account – including who influences who, and which contacts can help you move the deal along – the more successful you’ll be.
- Find and understand your champion (the contact who will do the most to help move the deal along)
- Gain insight into and recruit at least one supporter (a contact who can help you find champions and inform the ideal solution)
- Identify potential blockers (contacts who impede the sales process or are irrelevant to the sale and should be avoided or circumvented)
- Outline the key stakeholders who have the most influence over the deal
Factor 3: Mutual Plan
The Mutual Plan helps you coordinate your internal resources and align them with the customer’s journey, buying process, and timeline. This ensures synchronization between everyone involved in the deal.
- Outline and understand the customer’s buying process
- Clarify the customer’s ideal go-live timeline
- Breakdown the milestones, outcomes, and stakeholder responsibilities for each step in the Mutual Plan
- Delegate and align your internal team around resources needed for each milestone
- Establish mutual buy-in and agreement between clients on the proposed plan
Factor 4: Business
A deal needs to provide solid business value to the customer and to your team, based on KPIs and potential ROI. This factor helps determine if an opportunity is viable from a financial sense.
- Identify the customer’s KPIs and key success metrics
- Quantify your product/service ROI
- Present the business case to the customer’s leadership or decision making group
- Receive buy-in or agreement on the deal’s potential ROI
Factor 5: Clear Path
An opportunity needs to have a clear path to close. This goes beyond just getting a “yes”; it involves making sure you know the steps it’ll take to meet all requirements, overcome potential hurdles, and bring the deal to a successful conclusion.
- Ensure that the customer has the bandwidth and resources to implement
- Recognize any and all competing priorities within the company
- Define a clear strategy to take the deal to the finish line
- Align the procurement process and steps to sign a contract:
- Purchasing approval
- Their timeline syncs with yours
- Third parties who have to be brought on board or consulted with
- Red flags that may derail the close
Using these five factors to plan your attack before it even begins is the key to successfully using an opportunity plan. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.
You’ll see your win rates increase because you’ve built a solid process based on what makes sales happen – and that’s the essence of what an opportunity plan does.
Opportunity Planning Tools to Help the Process
No B2B sales organization today should be operating without a CRM. Whether it’s Salesforce or another platform, a CRM ties together all of your important customer data and sales tools in a way that your entire team can make use of them.
As you find more info about your customer by talking to more contacts and assembling more data, your CRM will become an indispensable tool. However, your base CRM capability may not have the full spectrum of functions you need to drive truly successful opportunity plans.
For example, many CRMs need a key account management and account-based selling tool that has advanced methods for mapping out sales cycles, finding cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, and coordinating across all relevant team members.
Additionally, a relationship mapping app can provide a way to bring a customer’s organizational chart to life by identifying who influences who and categorizing contacts by role (champion, supporter, blocker).
Ideally, all of these tools are under one roof, without having to use a lot of disparate systems that don’t really work well together and waste a lot of time (including spreadsheets and documents that quickly spiral out of control).
Opportunity planning, more than anything else, drives consistent and predictable growth over the long term.
It may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can grasp the key elements and start putting them into place, your sales efforts will soar past a lot of sales teams who don’t make use of opportunity planning at all.
A little planning can do a lot. Use opportunity planning to boost how your team goes after growth, and you’ll see results – and it won’t be due to chance.