What Is Opportunity Planning? Use It to Reduce Your Sales Cycle by 25%
In sales, opportunities don’t just fall from the sky.
It’d be great if they did. You wouldn’t even need an umbrella, just a big bank account. But real life has a nasty habit of being harder than we want it to be. If you want opportunities, you have to build a plan to get them.
Hence, opportunity planning: the process by which a sales team targets, finds, pursues, and closes potential deals in (hopefully) an efficient and streamlined manner.
Ask ten sales reps “What is opportunity planning?” and you’ll probably get ten different answers. To help you use this invaluable process, we’re going to give you what we think is the best overall definition of the term and how it can benefit you.
(Spoiler: It can cut your sales cycle by as much as 25%. Nice, huh?)
What Is Opportunity Planning? Here’s the Best Definition
Opportunity plans are action plans focused on building a value-based strategy for a specific customer or prospect opportunity.
It involves three key parts:
- Learn About the Customer
- Build a Value Case
- Move From Contact to Close
The goal is to take a potential customer that you’ve identified as fitting within your target market and essentially say, “We’re going to learn how to sell to this customer based on what they need, and here’s how we’re going to do it.”
You’re probably already opportunity-planning to a certain extent, but here are three solid steps you need to take to increase your sales cycle!
1. Learn About the Customer
You can learn a lot about a potential customer by using customer intelligence to understand:
- Any changes or developments within the company over the past 12 months (new hires, new products, promotions, acquisitions, layoffs, funding rounds, etc.)
- The names and titles of the people you’ll most likely want to contact and what their challenges and goals might be.
- Any competitors they may be working with now (or have worked with in the past)
- Relevant financial details (revenue increases/decreases, product sales figures, fundraising, stock-related news, etc.)
- The internal structure of the company (i.e. business units, divisions, teams, groups, and other entities that you’ll need to know about)
- Customer reviews
- Anything in the press or online that you can find about the company
All of this information can be useful. Not all of it will be. But you have to know what’s going on. Don’t go in blind. Starting the contact approach without doing your homework – without getting and using those crucial customer insights – is how opportunities are lost before they ever really materialize.
2. Build a Value Case
Once you understand more about the customer, you should plan out how you think your company can meet their needs.
Of course, you have to figure out what their needs are, first.
You can get a good idea of what their needs are by using the customer intelligence that you collected in step one. And, if you’ve defined your target market correctly, you’ll probably know where to start.
It helps to outline what you’ll offer and why it can help. Start pulling together messaging that’s relevant to your customer and the value you can bring them. Assemble resources such as collateral and other content. Get your current customer referrals lined up and prepare to show them how you are going to help them reach their goals.
You want to have a smooth and seamless relationship with your customer, and that means knowing what your messaging will be (at least initially) before you go in.
Here’s the most important part – the most crucial part – of the whole opportunity planning thing: building a customer-focused case for the value you can bring to the table.
Everything should be presented as it relates to the customer’s perspective. Your plan should reflect benefits, not features, and what your customer wants, not what you want from them. Remember – your end goal is to present your case to the decision-makers, so you want to go at them from their perspective.
So many opportunities fall apart because they don’t start with value in mind at the very beginning. But that’s why we plan for opportunities: because we want to have a strong value case that the customer thinks is just for them (because it should be).
3. Move From Contact to Close
Finally, your opportunity plan needs to have a process that takes you from initial contact all the way through to closing the deal.
The initial contact is key. That’s why you need to come up with the multi-channel approach you’ll use. You need to answer:
- What channels will you use?
- Who are you contacting and why?
- What personal/professional details can you use for that initial contact?
- Who are the key decision-makers you want to eventually reach?
You’ll naturally fill in a lot of info about the account – including the relationships you’ll navigate, the people who have the most influence, and the business units you’ll go through – as you work your way through the selling process.
But there’s a lot you can plan from the beginning. This is also a great time to prepare for any resources you plan on utilizing as you sell. Work with your sales and marketing teams in addition to all the material you’ve already identified.
You can even go into detail about how many calls and emails you’ll make. But at a minimum, you need to take those messages and selling points you came up with in your value case and plan when and how you’ll use them.
Opportunity Planning Tools You Can Use
A CRM like Salesforce is a great place to start planning your opportunities. It’s a great place to store all of that valuable customer data you will gather.
To round it out and really upgrade Salesforce, a key account management and account-based selling tool can give you a more holistic view of a target account and tie in your fellow team members. And a relationship mapping app can help you dynamically plot the contacts and their relationships within an account (or account plan), so you know who to talk to (and who to avoid).
As you talk to more contacts and get more info, your CRM will help you fill out your plan of attack. And you’ll sell with purpose, intent, direction, and drive – not leaving it all up to chance as so many sales reps do.
Opportunity planning can blow your quota out of the water. It doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, it shouldn’t be. A little planning goes a long way.
Get started with opportunity planning – start using this checklist today!