Best Practices in HR
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John Healy
  July 21, 2016

Don’t Smile and Dial, Hunt For Opportunity!

Let me start by saying that I don’t trust anyone who tells me that they’re a one stop shop or that they’re good at everything.  It’s lazy and it’s just not true.  So one of the first questions I ask of any rep/manager/company that I work with is “what do you do well and what do you walk away from?”  The better the answer is to this question, the better your chances are of being successful.

If you can’t clearly articulate those two types of opportunities in detail, you’re in trouble.  It’s hard to recognize opportunity when you don’t know what it looks like.  A good rep can identify a handful of qualities, characteristics, numbers or red flags that you can use to quickly sort opportunities.

To help you get started, try this exercise.  Create 3 columns on a sheet and label them “Sweet Spot” “Yeah, but…” and “Steer Clear.”  Then use your experience, your peers, and existing customers to fill out each of the columns.


I should point out that this is something you do BEFORE you start calling your prospects.  Once you are in the heat of the call, everything looks like a good opportunity and you’ll end up chasing a bunch of bad deals.

“Sweet Spot” is your wheelhouse.  The stuff you knock out of the park 90% of the time.  No one does it better than you.   You need to be discerning here…you can’t tell me that everything is your sweet spot and then close 20% of your deals.  These are the deals that tick all the boxes and have you drooling when you’re listening to the customer talk.  Write down the qualities that make a customer or opportunity your Sweet Spot.

“Yeah, but…” is the stuff that you are technically capable of doing, but there are others that do it better.  If you have a loyal customer, an inside track, or a head start you can probably bring it home but you’re not going to make your living here.  The longer a deal sits in here without you differentiating yourself or uncovering additional areas where you have some unique value, the less likely you are to win.  Remember, time kills all deals.  In this column, write down a list of things you need to learn before you can move the deal to one of the other buckets.

“Steer Clear” is exactly what it sounds like.  These are the deals you’re not equipped to handle, and at best you have a 5% chance of closing.  It’s the desperation zone and every minute spent here is time wasted.  It’s tempting to fill your pipeline with these when you boss is breathing down your neck and it’s month/quarter end, but the reality is that your level of desperation does not make the customer a better fit.  If they’re a bad fit when you have an overflowing pipeline, they’re a bad fit when you have no pipeline.  Write down the red flags that you need to steer clear of in this column.

Now that you know what you’re looking for and what to stay away from, you can start calling your list of prospects.  Remember, yes is the best answer you can get, and the second best answer is a quick no.  These three buckets are there to help you quickly identify which opportunities are worth pursuing further, and which to walk away from.

This exercise will also help articulate your value prop to potential customers. When your customer asks what differentiates you from your competition, look at the Sweet Spot and Steer Clear columns and there’s your answer.

Top Sales people are not optimists or pessimists, they are realists.  They have a clear view into their strengths and weaknesses.  They relentlessly hunt for the right opportunities and quickly move on from customers that aren’t a good fit.

My challenge to you is to create these three buckets and use them as a filter for every customer/opportunity you come across during your calls.  Relentlessly pursue the Sweet Spots, quickly cut ties with the Steer Clears, and push hard to get the Yeah, Buts moving one direction or the other.  You’ll be glad you did!


John Healy is a Sales & Leadership advocate with 15+ years of experience building and leading Sales teams.  You can follow John on LinkedIn as well as Twitter (@John_A_Healy)