That initial close date is one of the hardest dates to pick for most sales reps. Most think, “Who cares? It’s going to change anyway once we get into the deal.” And that may be the case, but if you try diligently to get as close to the mark as possible from day one, it’ll serve you well the rest of your career. You’ll get so good at it, you’ll notice that you’ll be mad at yourself when you have to change your close date, every single time.
In fact, a good contest for sales managers to run is a “Closest to the Pin” style contest, but focused on close date. Make the contest for the quarter, log initial close dates for every opp, log the actual close dates, then add up the differences (number of days) between initial & actual. The key is that it must go in both directions. If the reps closes it faster by 14 days, then that counts just as much as closing it 14 days late. The goal here is precision. The rep with the lowest number of days at the end of the contest wins. Include a deal minimum (i.e. Must have closed at least 3 deals and deals must be greater than $50k…something like that).
In another post, we wrote about The Difference Between Decision Process & Paper Process. These are literally the only two components of deal timing. Yes, there will be a bunch of subtasks and milestones within these two categories, but once a rep grasps that these are the only time periods that matter, the complex sale doesn’t seem so complex. In that post, we provided some meaningful questions you can ask to root out the process for each of these categories.
In general though, the decision process is all about finding out who owns the budget, who’s involved (influencers/evaluators/decision maker), and how/when they intend to make the final decision. Here are two approaches a rep can take (Working Forward or Working Backwards from Go Live) to determine timing.
- Figure out Decision Process & Timing
- Figure out Paper Process & Timing
- Estimate Kickoff
Recommended Sample Conversation:
- So it seems like you’re going to be gathering information over the next 3 weeks, with full demonstrations being completed in week 4 by all vendors. Do you plan on creating a shortlist, then finishing up the evaluation, or do you intend on making a final decision after product demonstrations?
- Got it. Shortlist, then technical feasibility, then final decision. Since you’re narrowing down to only two vendors for technical feasibility, how long do you anticipate the technical feasibility stage to be? We see this a lot on our side and it takes about 3 hours of technical conversation to validate things, which typically occurs in 2 meetings.
- Two weeks? Awesome. So, we’re looking at about 6 weeks of scheduled time. Let’s throw an extra week in there for a little buffer, just in case, which brings us to 7 weeks.
- Since you’ve made a purchase of this size before, what was that procurement process like from a timing & complexity perspective? Some companies can onboard new vendors in a matter of a couple of weeks and some take months. I just want to ensure I’m planning properly.
- So, about a month? Perfect.
- This means we’re looking at about 90 days for the evaluation, vendor selection, and contracting, which means we can probably kick off in 3 months and go live in 5. Does that sound like it matches up with your internal timeline expectations?
From here, they can either agree or disagree. If you feel like they agree too quickly or without true thought, that’s a red flag. Try to validate that timeline with other stakeholders, just to be certain. If they disagree and give you logical reasons (i.e. we’re trying to go live in 4 months because of “INSERT COMPELLING EVENT HERE”) then that’s a positive thing. This will let them know they need to expedite either their decision process or their paper process and you’re the vendor that shed light on this (already adding value).
Initial Close Date: Set for 90 days out, if they agree with this timeline and you can validate with another stakeholder. Then, send out the evaluation plan to the prospect so you can reference it in the future when the buyer falls behind on something. The evaluation plan is always a great excuse for outreach when you need it.
Working Backwards from Go Live:
- Identify Desired Go-Live Date
- Figure out Paper Process
- Estimate when Decision Process Needs to be Completed
Recommended Sample Conversation:
- Ideally, when would you like to be able to go live with this solution in production?
- Early September? That’s about 3 months out. Let me just validate quickly that this is feasible. It will take us about 2-3 weeks of setup to get you live. Let’s assume 3 for planning purposes. Since you’ve made a purchase like this in the past of a similar size, what was that vendor contracting process like from a timing and complexity perspective?
- Perfect, so 30 days is about average and since this transaction is less than $250k, we avoid the board review. Great.
- That’s about 2 months gone right there, which leaves you with about 30 days for making a decision on the vendor before moving into contracting. May we have a quick conversation about your decision or vendor-selection process to make sure we can get this done within the allotted time in order to hit your desired go-live date?
Most people don’t say no to that last question. At the end of the conversation, you as the seller have some decisions to make in terms of timing.
- If the stakeholder says they can make the decision process happen within 30 days and you think they’re nuts, especially given the number of stakeholders involved, then go with your gut. Add a couple of weeks, or longer, to your timeline.
- If you feel the stakeholder knows how to manage the decision process and has the experience to call it as 30 days, then stick with the 30 days.
- Many times, the stakeholder will have to get back to you. Hopefully they socialize YOUR timeline, in the form of an evaluation plan/close plan/mutual action plan, internally for feedback. As long as they come back with what seems like a well-thought-out plan or answer to your question, then go with it.