Armand Farrokh
April 19, 2024
Screenshot 2024-04-15 at 2.09.12 PM

In sales, it's not enough to find a problem. When I was the VP of Sales at Pave, many of my reps would win a deal that I had closed-lost 6 months prior (which they'd rub in my face of course).

And 9/10 times it was because they had a problem, but didn't need to solve it now.

So today's newsletter is about driving timeline in 4 steps:

  1. Know The 4 Timeline Levers
  2. "Find and Drive" The Levers Early
  3. "Remind and Reveal" EVERYWHERE
  4. Use Commercial Terms To Drive To Close

Let's dive in.

Step 1: Know The 4 Timeline Levers

I'd often ask my reps in pipeline reviews: What happens if they miss your close date?

If I heard answers like "they said they want to move forward by then" -- that was the telltale sign of a slip. "Wanting Pave" is not a timeline driver.

The 4 timeline levers are not created equal. From strongest to weakest:

  • Hard Deadlines: An event where your prospect must buy a product (ie: a tax deadline that requires accounting software, a merit cycle that requires a compensation tool, a contract expiring with their current provider)
  • Commercial Terms: Favorable commercial terms that require a customer to sign by a certain date (ie: an expiring discount, multi-year deal, or flexible payment terms)
  • High Cost of Inaction: A problem that sucks every day, but doesn't have to be solved at a specific point in time for any other reason than the fact that it sucks (ie: if someone is losing $10,000 every single day, the best time to move was yesterday)
  • Soft Deadlines: An event where your prospect wants to have a product in place but doesn't have to (ie: a product announcement that would be amplified by a sponsorship, an EoQ goal that would be aided by your tool)

Aim for a double timeline lock where at least 2/4 levers lock in your deal. IE: If someone's contract is expiring (hard deadline) and is losing $10,000 every day with their current tool (high cost of inaction)... you might not have to lock in your deal with a discount (commercial terms) if you're the vendor of choice over the competition.

It's worth noting that a high cost of inaction is always important for closing the deal at all. If there's a low cost of inaction, your prospect won't sign at all. But the other timeline drivers force them to act on that cost at a specific time (you'd be surprised how long people will sit inside of a burning building without a deadline to move).

Step 2: "Find and Drive" The Levers Early

Your goal is to uncover the timeline levers at the end of your first discovery call with The Five Minute Drill.

The three questions you ask at the end of every sales call are:

  1. Do you wanna buy? (is there a problem to solve)
  2. When do you wanna buy? (the timeline FINDER)
  3. How do you buy? (the timeline DRIVER)

Use question 2 to find timeline. Resurface a lever that they mentioned earlier or suggest 2-3 timeline levers if they didn't bring one up earlier. It's great if you found a problem, but that doesn't mean a thing unless they have a reason to act on it now.

It's easy if they mentioned one earlier in discovery, but if you have to suggest levers, that could sound like this: Typically when folks want to solve this problem, it's often timed with a [example deadlines 1, 2, and 3]. Knowing that, when's the latest you'd want to have something like this in place?

Use question 3 to drive timeline. Talk them through a high level walk-back plan that includes the following:

  • Their go-live date
  • Implementation time
  • Vendor review time (legal / security)
  • Evaluation time
  • What they need to do today

It's on you to educate them on what they need to do now so that they don't miss it. Never assume your prospects know how long vendor review and implementation takes -- walk it back step by step and use that compelling event to drive them to action today.

Step 3: "Remind and Reveal" EVERYWHERE

If you've made it this far, your prospects have a loose sense of the milestones in the sales process. But while your job is 100% selling, their job is not 100% buying. So they will constantly forget action items and miss deadlines if you aren't constantly reminding them.

That means you remind them of the agreed upon next steps everywhere...

  • At the end of every meeting (close every call with the 5 minute drill)
  • In every recap email
  • For every new person who joins the sales cycle

And you reveal more granular next steps as the sale unfolds. Your next steps should evolve from:

  • A loose walkback plan at the end of discovery that outlines the major milestones in the sales cycle.
  • A tighter mutual action plan (MAP) when you've won over your champion that outlines the key sales (specific people to involve, budget approval)
  • A granular MAP that includes vendor review milestones once you've won over power (deadlines for 1st cuts on legal, security questionnaire completion)

You should feel like a freaking billboard on their morning commute. In every interaction, every email, every call -- remind them of the next steps and reveal the next ones so they don't get overwhelmed with a 50 step MAP on the first call.

Step 4: Use Commercial Terms To Drive To Close

To the point of "driving timeline doesn't only happen once," you'll often use commercial terms to drive timeline in the later parts of a deal.

Many LinkedIn influencers will claim that a discount is a sign of poor salesmanship. I think those people are frankly a step removed from reality. You can't always find a hard deadline or a cost of inaction so large that they reliably sign within your fiscal period.

In absence of a hard deadline, a big problem + a discount is often your best bet. And if you're gonna have to give a discount you might as well get something in return.

When it gets to the negotiation part of your sales cycle, follow these steps:

  1. Confirm Timeline: Confirm that they can close on-time before giving anything away. And if they can't, make the consequences clear upfront.
  2. Get The Full Ask: Get the full ask on commercial terms to avoid death by a million cuts. Is it just a discount? Or a multi-year deal too? Or monthly payments?
  3. Create A Consequence: After you decide what you're willing to give away, attach a consequence if it doesn't close on time (ie: losing part of the discount)

Please, please, please have the consequence conversation upfront. There's no easier way to put a crappy taste in your prospect's mouth because you didn't tell them the discount would disappear at the end of the month.


That's a wrap folks! And if that last section got you wondering how to manage that negotiation conversation, check out the negotiation playbook we recorded a while back:

Listen To The 30MPC Negotiation Playbook

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