The Reality of Deal Reviews
In most companies, the formula for deal reviews is largely the same: You take your top 10 opportunities and give each of your AEs five minutes on a call to present the highlights of their deal and their strategy to win. Often these reviews include not only the sales team and their direct sales reporting line, but also members of regional and executive management. In many companies, deal reviews require the AE and their team to do a lot of custom up-front work where they use a combination of PowerPoint templates and Excel to explain to the extended team the basics of the deal and the strategy. This prep time is extensive, repetitive, and of low value to the AE.
Many times the reality is that the AE and their front-line manager never get beyond the first slide. The executives on the call jump in early with pointed questions and direction based on minimal information and little context of the actual deal. Sometimes those same execs berate the AE about things they don’t know for a major deal, question their strategy and execution, and do little to help in the actual advancement of the opportunity.
As a result, the AE and team leave the call feeling like they wasted five minutes of their life they will never get back. They may think that their professionalism and intellect are in question because of the feedback from senior executives. They might feel badly that they didn’t have ready answers to the questions posed, and they may feel badly about disappointing the team. Worse yet, they rarely get constructive feedback that will truly help them advance the deal. Yes, this is the common reality, but I would not classify this as a good deal review.
We do deal reviews every Friday at Altify. We take two hours to review two active opportunities. As the CEO, I participate in almost all of these. This is important for two main reasons. First, important opportunities require real attention and focus. Second, giving each opportunity one hour of my time and making it part of our regular operating cadence each week helps align everyone on the team to focus on the customer to deliver value and results.
Anatomy of a Deal Review: Test and Improve
The first thing to understand is that a deal review is about helping the AE with their deal. It’s not a status update or a rehash of the forecast call. In order to help the AE and the sales team, it’s critical to have a standard process (and follow it), so the AE can outline their goals for the review, provide an overview for the team, and come out of the Test and Improve session with constructive feedback that is actionable. The mission of the team is to help the AE test their deal with an eye toward helping them improve their chance to win.
In our Test and Improve sessions, we have a moderator to keep everyone aligned on the process; often this is a peer of the AE reviewing their deal. AEs are given 25 minutes at the start to share the current state of the opportunity. This includes:
Opportunity qualification (current status and how they have qualified the deal)
Business problems the customer is trying to solve
Key people and influencers (and the relationship status of those key to the deal on the customer team)
Strategy to win the business
This is where the AE’s prep for the session is important, as they need to be able to articulate the goals, obstacles, initiatives, and pressures that are driving the customer’s business.
Following the AE’s overview, we give the deal review participants 10 minutes to ask questions to gain clarification on the current state of the opportunity. The AE responds to each question for the benefit of everyone on the call. It’s best if the AE can provide verifiable customer evidence to properly answer the questions.
For example, someone asks, “How do you know there is a compelling event?” A good answer would look something like, “I talked to the SVP of Sales, John Mack. He has confirmed that he wants us to be part of their sales training at SKO on January 15–16t in Orlando, Florida.” In cases where the AE doesn’t know the answer, it’s okay for them to say they don’t know and take an action to get more detail.
Through the questioning process, we are building a stronger case and gaining a better understanding as to what is happening with the customer. We’re also providing fresh thinking for the AE to clarify key information surrounding the people and problems in the account. This understanding of people, problems, and priorities sets the basis for potential solutions. Again, the goal here is further qualification and insight on the opportunity and situation, not to stump the AE or pass judgment on the account team.
Next, we have the review participants state any vulnerabilities they have identified and provide corresponding recommendations they have for the AE and team. The idea is to pressure-test the opportunity and find the weak spots that could prevent getting the deal done. We want to find new approaches and suggest opportunities to improve. We ask the team to match vulnerabilities about the deal with proposed recommendations so that the AE has actionable feedback and can improve their chance to win.
The questioning, vulnerability identification, and recommendation process is confined to 30 minutes so we wrap in the hour. Having a moderator is key to keeping everyone on time and aligned to the process. We make a point to ensure that the AE takes five minutes to conclude the call with their actions and follow-ups — including what help they need from the team and from me as the CEO. Deal reviews done well should result in immediate actions, which are shared across the team.
What Success Looks Like
There are two primary goals for a deal review:
Remove a hurdle or objection the AE currently has in their sales cycle
Help the account team move faster so they can close faster and move on to the next opportunity
It’s important to capture all the feedback from the review so it’s actionable for the account team. A deal review should be a safe space for the AE to solicit help, pressure-test their deal, and improve their chance of winning.
When done right, you will see your win rates improve dramatically as well as an increase in sales velocity as you close deals faster. A consistent deal review process focused on testing and improving existing opportunities will make everyone, starting with the AE, more successful. I recommend making Test and Improve reviews part of your standard sales cadence and giving it the same focus as the weekly forecast call.
“The science of constructing a repeatable process around consistent and productive deal reviews is not something I see many sales and executive leaders prioritizing or executing today.”