// Blog

The Secret to Driving and Winning a Sales Opportunity

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

Too many sellers have the following problems:

  • Bloated pipelines filled with dead wood
  • Lack of clarity on what opportunities to focus on

In our article, How to Clear Your Pipeline of Dead Wood, we shared how to make your pipeline real and manageable. Here, you’ll find a framework that will allow you and your colleagues to define and focus on the best sales opportunities with clarity and confidence.

Sellers often treat their pipeline opportunities the same. They define need, qualify, propose, present, and wait for a win or loss. Maybe a few bubble up for more focus, but it's not always the right ones.

Without a rigorous, consistent, and thoughtful approach to deciding which opportunities to pursue, you're likely to:

  • See lower overall average win rates
  • Open yourself up to discounting and price pushback
  • Spend tremendous amounts of time and effort with little or no return
  • Pursue most sales opportunities with an average focus, whether they're deserving of your attention or not
  • Get frustrated and demotivated with your lack of success in selling

The truth is that some opportunities should get much more focus, enough so that you make big plays to win them. Others should get less focus, even to the point where you actively try to minimize your time on them. (This rarely happens without forethought and a framework for analysis like the one we provide here.)

If your pipeline is full enough, you need to make choices on where to spend your time so you can yield the most wins. If your pipeline isn't full enough, you need to make the same choices in order to maximize your prospecting time.

For each opportunity, the key is to define your pursuit intensity.

What is Pursuit Intensity?

The framework we teach in our Driving and Winning Sales Opportunities workshops and online learning program is the CARE framework. CARE serves as a mnemonic device, but also reminds you to be careful, thoughtful, and disciplined as you make the decision to pursue your sales opportunities.

For each opportunity, we assign a relative weight and score for each category. If you take the average of all, you'll end up with an overall score that gives you a straightforward way to distinguish which sales opportunities are worthy of your time and which ones aren't.

Competitive Position

Evaluate yourself for this sales opportunity against the following 5-point scale:

  1. Pole: (As in pole position—the best starting position—in a car race.) You have a superior relationship with the buying team, have been involved in the buying process early (and may have shaped the buying process), fit the buying decision criteria, and have proven that results are achievable with clients of similar industry and size.
  2. Challenger: You have a good connection with some of the buying team, have been involved in the buying process early, fit most of the decision criteria, and have proven results are achievable.
  3. Upstart: You have a connection with some of the buying team and have advantages that can make you an attractive option to the buyer.
  4. Pack: You have a surface-level relationship with the buyer, have been looped into the process along with other competitors, have a somewhat good understanding of the decision criteria, and have had a limited discussion on your ability to deliver desired results.
  5. Late: You have no prior relationship with the buyer, have been looped into the buying process late, are unsure about the competition and decision criteria, and haven't had an opportunity to demonstrate that desired results are achievable or that you deserve stronger consideration.

Depending on where you are in the sales process and future interactions you have with the buyer, your competitive position may change. As you uncover more information, you should update your pursuit intensity ranking and adjust your plans accordingly.

As you evaluate the competition, ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of all the competitors involved in the sale?
  • Are you aware of the current advantages you have over other competitors?
  • Have you demonstrated the advantages of your solution to relevant stakeholders?
  • How do you usually stack up against your competitors?
  • Does the buyer have a preference for working with one of your competitors?
  • Have you substantiated your advantage over the competition?


Attractiveness is often the most important category when analyzing pursuit intensity. Assign a 1-5 score within each of the criteria for this category and add up for an overall attractiveness score.

Decision Timing

  • Has the buyer indicated a time frame for making a decision? Is it favorable?
  • How many people are involved in making the decision? Will multiple stakeholders slow down the process?
  • Is the buyer waiting for a budget cycle?
  • Is there anything that might delay the decision-making process?
  • Does the buyer have a history of 'having a time frame' but then pushing it off?

Note: A longer time frame isn't a bad thing. When driving demand and shaping a buyer's agenda for action in big ways, it might take longer to make a decision.


  • Is the potential for revenue with this buyer desirable?
  • Is your profit margin favorable?
  • Is there a favorable recurring revenue stream?

Growth Potential

  • Is the buyer in a profitable industry for you?
  • Do you have other offerings that the buyer may buy from you in the future?
  • Has the buyer's company been growing?
  • Does the buyer have the financial capacity to keep buying from you?
  • Is there a potential to expand into different departments, geographies, or buying centers?

Attractiveness of Logo

  • Will winning this company draw other companies to you?
  • Does the buyer have an attractive and recognizable brand?
  • Is the buyer in an industry where you want to build more depth?

Relationship Strength

To evaluate the strength of your relationship with buyers, you should ask yourself:

  • Does the buyer see you as a partner?
  • How does the buyer view the value you deliver?
  • If you were to end the relationship, how would the buyer perceive that loss?
  • If someone else proposed to the buyer that they should replace you, how would the buyer view that?
  • To what extent are you required to participate in a buyer's competitive bidding process?
  • How likely are your buyers—specifically the people with whom you have direct relationships—to replace you on their own?
  • Does the buyer recommend you to others?

Click here for more detail on how to evaluate your relationship strength.

Effort to Win

To evaluate the amount of effort it's going to take to win the sale, you need to answer the questions in each of the following categories:

Time Investment

  • How much time do you anticipate investing in this opportunity?
  • How easy is it to work with the buyer?
  • Will you be unduly looped into the implementation phase which may take away from your core selling activities?

Financial Investment

  • Are you pursuing a Big Play Strategy that's costing you money to win the sale?
  • Are you giving away samples, trials, etc. that may be above and beyond what you usually do?

Resource Strain

  • How many resources do you need to loop into the process to help win?
  • Do you have access to necessary resources?

Political Clout

  • Do you know the Domino or other decision makers internally who may make your life easier to win the sale?
  • Do you have a long-standing relationship with the buyer and organization?
  • Do you have any prior bad experiences that may give you a negative perception among buyers internally?

To learn more about Decision Roles, click here.

Cultural Fit

  • Do your work styles, missions, beliefs, and values align?

Don't leave your selling efforts to chance. Take a structured approach to assessing pursuit intensity and you'll gain time to focus on the best sales opportunities and win more than your fair share of them.

RECOMMENDED READING >> How to Clear Your Pipeline of Dead Wood


Subscribe today to get the latest on virtual selling, insight selling, strategic account management, sales conversations, and more straight to your inbox.

Topics: Sales Process Sales Opportunity Management