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5 Elements of a Sales Opportunity Plan

Sellers who win consistently plan to win from the start. They're methodical. They carefully match their sales process to the buyer's, set goals for every meeting, and do an exceptional job of communicating value.

Top sellers build strategies to drive sales opportunities, and use planners to help guide them through to the win.

RAIN Group's Sales Opportunity PlannerSM, made up of 5 core elements, has been seasoned over years of use at client sites. It's proven to be effective in increasing win rate.

The running theme of the Sales Opportunity Planner? Maximizing value for the buyer.

Successful sales opportunity plans are built and aligned around buyer value—creating it and communicating it.

Everyone claims their company is buyer-focused. But consider the following from our soon-to-be-published study, The Top-Performing Sales Organization:

  • 35% of respondents did not agree that their sales organization focuses on driving maximum value for the customer
  • 52% of respondents did not agree that their sales process was customer-focused

Companies like to say they are customer-focused, but what they say and what's true often aren't the same. For example, many opportunity planners contain prompts for capturing seller mission, sales objectives, sales positioning, etc. What about the mission for the buyer? A value case for buyer value? Buyer objectives and possible solutions?

It's tough to have a buyer-focused sales organization when the planning tools and prompts are all about the seller and their goals. While it is important for sellers to analyze their own situation, this type of thinking should accompany similar analysis on value for the customer.

When planning frameworks are too focused on sellers, their behavior and thinking becomes seller-focused. That's not good for driving maximum value.

The 5 Elements of a Value-Centered Sales Opportunity Plan

What should your plan include? Here are 5 elements of an effective, value-centered sales opportunity plan.

  1. People

    Write down all of the people who will be involved in the sales process, including the buyers and sellers.

    • Your Team: Keep track of everyone who will be involved, not only those on your direct selling team, but people who may contribute in other ways. Maybe they'll have innovative ideas to contribute in meetings, or have personal insight into potential value for the buyer.
    • The Buyers: Uncover and keep track of anyone who may have a say in the purchase decision. Analyze the decision roles they play: Are they Approvers, Business Drivers, Champions, Dominos, or Evaluators?

      Read: The 5 Buyer Decision Roles in Every Sale

  2. Needs

    Selling is about change. It's about persuasion. It's about helping buyers get from one place that's not as good as it should be to somewhere much better.

    Without understanding buyer needs, sellers don't have the knowledge to inspire and persuade. They can't accurately juxtapose the buyer's current reality with the possible New Reality. One of the merits of sales opportunity planning is that it prompts sellers to be more thorough in this crucial process.

    There are 2 categories of needs to dig in to:

    • Rational Needs: There are explicit rational needs that are stated by the buyer, usually financial, technical, or strategic. There are also hidden needs that the buyer may have, but hasn't yet disclosed. You'll need to come up with a plan to draw these out.
    • Emotional Needs: These can also be explicit or just suspected. Some common themes of emotional needs are professional, social, or psychological—and they can be just as powerful as rational ones.

  3. Opportunity Goal and Value Case

    Once you have a strong grasp of the buyer's needs, you can tackle the details of crafting your solution and building the value case.

    Start by noting all of the relevant components to your offering. Then, link each component to the value it provides for the buyer. These points will eventually come together to create your value messaging.

    The 4 Questions Sellers Must Ask to Build a Value Proposition

  4. Competitors: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Vulnerabilities

    To win sales you have to know how you measure up to the competition from the buyer's point of view. What are the strengths and vulnerabilities of each competitor compared to your own? How can you emphasize your strengths and neutralize your vulnerabilities? What does the buyer value that you bring to the table but your competitors can't or don't?

  5. Advancing to the Sale

    Know what needs to happen next to move the sale forward. Consider:

    • Possible objections and roadblocks, with response strategies for each.
    • Ideas for a Big Play. A big play is a bold, atypical action a seller can make to inspire buyer action, and set themselves apart from the competition. Think of a Big Play as going the extra mile to win a sale. For inspiration, read 4 Examples of Big Plays to Help You Win Major Sales and Grow Accounts.

    • Valuable insights your team can bring to the table. We know that sales winners are much more likely than the rest to propose ideas that are new, noteworthy, and non-intuitive to the buyer. This doesn't often happen spontaneously—it requires planning and collaboration with the buyer.

    • The Buying Process. Top sellers think "buying first, selling second." You need to know the buyer's buying process and match it to your sales process so you can plan what steps to take next.

    • The Action Plan. Once armed with the information above, you can develop an action plan that maps out the steps you need to take now, next, and throughout the rest of the process to win the sale.

As you work through your sales opportunity planning process, note that the plan building itself is nonlinear. Writing your plan is like writing a book (but with a lot fewer words). You don't start on page one with the first word and continue straight through to "The End." You move back-and-forth between sections to edit and adjust as you refine your thinking through research, meetings, discussions with the buyers, etc.

When your sales opportunity plan contains all 5 elements and explores them thoroughly with maximum value for the buyer, you're much more likely to win. 

Additional Reading
The #1 Way to Decrease Anxiety and Gain Leverage in Sales Negotiations

Alison Brooks and Maurice Schweitzer, two researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted an experiment to induce varying levels of anxiety among negotiators.

One group was subjected to the not-so-melodious screeching strings from Psycho. The other group was treated to calming Water Music by Handel. After listening for a while, the groups were sent off to conduct simulated negotiations.

5 Ways to Create New Business in Your Accounts

What is it that strategic account managers must do to grow their accounts? Surely, most would agree SAMs should be proactively driving strategic sales opportunities rather than simply waiting and reacting to buyer queries. That is to say: to make new sales, SAMs should be prospecting inside their accounts. Yet, in most organizations, this doesn't happen.

How to Clear Your Pipeline of Dead Wood

It's an all too familiar story. A seller's pipeline looks full! Bursting. Exciting. It stays like that for 2 months, 5 months, 10 months… more keeps going in. Nothing comes out.

It looked great, but it wasn't great. Not even good. Too many sellers have lots of opportunities in their pipelines that shouldn't be there. Neither managers nor sellers want mirage pipelines with visions of promised lands that simply aren't there.

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