Should you enforce Mutual Close Plans?
I’ve had an interesting history with mutual close plans. I began at a startup where this was not a topic of discussion, let alone a term used at all. I did not understand the popularity of this idea until my company got acquired by one of the largest tech companies in the world, Salesforce.
To take a small start-up culture and throw it into a very processed and established company was a change to say the least. While change is not always taken well, I will never forget some of the new things that I learned through the experience. I also discovered the true meaning of a mutual close plan.
What is a Mutual Close Plan?
So what is a mutual close plan? It is simply a mutual agreed upon dated plan to get to the close between the prospected company and the sales rep. The idea is that if the plan is proposed and the qualified company agrees to the plan, the close date will be a secure and concrete forecasted date the agreement will be signed. The old habit of putting the close date at the end of the month should slowly diminish.
Now you can probably guess the many objections from sales reps that come up with this idea.
“I don’t want to pressure the company to buy.”
“They haven’t fully decided anything...that’s what I’m trying to get them to do.”
“They won’t agree to a plan if I were to propose it.”
“They aren’t the right person so they probably don’t know.”
The biggest thing that a sales leader can take away from a conversation like this with one of its sales reps is, there is a hurdle we need to overcome. Whether it’s that the opportunity wasn’t fully qualified, we’re not asking the right questions to fully understand the compelling event, we’re not talking to the right person, or there is a level of confidence a sales rep is missing, it is the job of the sales leader to speak to these issues and fix them. A sales leader should follow with coaching and enablement that will lead to not only the common use of a mutual close plan but better pipeline management, accurate forecasting, and more revenue.
So if you want more revenue, which I’m sure you do, how do you enforce a mutual close plan when a sales team does not use one today?
If I had to go back and do it again, I would have clearly defined, outlined, and taught all things mutual close plans before enforcing this upon my team. There are many best practices around mutual close plans, but I strongly recommend researching Sandler Sales Training. While this is usually paid for and organized by the company, you can download content, books, and read blog posts to educate yourself as well.
After researching and outlining all the benefits of a mutual close plan and answering the “why”, you need to clearly establish the expectations of how and when to use them. Ask yourself questions like:
“At what stage should the mutual close plan first be presented?”
“Is there a specific template to use?”
“Should you present at the beginning or the end of the call?”
You also want to speak to all the spoken and unspoken objections of the sales reps you lead. What are they asking and what questions are left unanswered that you know will come up later?
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes perfect so it’s crucial to get the jitters out before they start doing these live with your open opportunities. Try some role playing and welcome corrective criticism from peers and managers. Then it’s time to put this plan in action. Make sure to spend time riding shotgun with your reps to not only keep them accountable to this action but also to give them feedback on ways to improve.
So as a leader, what should you be giving feedback on?
While every company may differ a little from another, there are a few things you should be observing.
When is the mutual close plan being proposed? I recommend this be proposed as early as possible but not before you fully qualify. I prefer that qualification be done by using 2 out of the 4 BANT criteria (budget, authority, need, timeline). You should also not propose this idea before you can point out the benefits of the product to the company. Without the benefits being fully understood, they will shy away from committing to any further conversations with you. Another important step is finding the compelling event. This is important because this will allow them to tell you when they need your product or service by, which will act as a guide for your mutual close plan end date. Examples of this could include a quarterly business review, tradeshow, or user conference. A compelling event should be found in the discovery stage and might not be easy to uncover, but that is the job of a sales rep. The sales reps should discover the problem even if they are not aware they have one today. They can then connect that back to a specific event where that problem affects them or their business in a negative way. Be on the lookout if the rep is calling a promo or discount the compelling event. We are looking for the prospect’s compelling event, not the sales reps.
How should the mutual close plan be proposed?
I am a big fan of a working powerpoint slide. Whether you do your entire sales meeting via a presentation or demo environment, finish that specific call with a one page outline of the plan. Look for reps that clearly walk through the document, rather than just show it. The sales rep should get confirmation on each step, that the plan will work for both sides. If there are any edits that need to be made, do this on the screen share so the potential customer can clearly see that you have heard them and are making revisions live. Once this is covered in the screenshare, follow up with an email to double confirm the plan you both have put in place.
What should this mutual plan look like?
This should mimic the normal sales cycle that the average customer takes. By knowing the average timeframe, this should help guide you in the steps and time between each stage. Each step should start with a specific date (as well as time if this has been established on the calendar) and a clear explanation of the point and benefits of the call. This should not be a large paragraph but a quick 1 liner that is specific and to the point. It’s also great to cross off the steps you have already taken to see the progress you have made. Most importantly, the mutual close plan should always end with an expected signed contract date.
How often should a mutual close plan be discussed?
You should bring up the mutual close plan on every stage outlined in the plan itself. As a sales leader, you should be discussing this in your weekly 1:1s and using it to get in front of any potential hurdles or objections, talk through strategy, and also help with pipeline management and forecasting. With a clear plan to discuss on every opportunity, your 1:1s will be beneficial to not only you but to the sales reps as well.
What should I expect after a mutual close plan is established?
We’ve covered a few of these above including more beneficial 1:1s, better forecasting, and an accurate pipeline. However, the true value is what these changes can lead to. If 1:1s are more efficient and rewarding to the sales rep, they will be more susceptive to coaching and in turn improve their sales skills. Better forecasting will allow you to predict outcomes clearly to your top level to give them better visibility and allow you to plan accordingly for any mishaps that you may face. An accurate pipeline will allow you to report on aspects of your business and answer questions like:
“What causes a company to close?”
“What red flags should we look out for?”
“How is our team improving over time?”
You can gather insights about your sales team that will gain more revenue for your team.
In conclusion, I truly see the value of mutual close plans for companies of all shapes and sizes. The biggest hurdle you will have to get over is the installation but stick with it and the sales reps will see for themselves that you made them better sales reps and became a better leader. The biggest reward is more revenue so give it a shot and in a few months, you can look back and be lucky that you did.
Want a few more tips on becoming a data-driven sales leader? Grab a copy of our Sales eBook today!