They are three separate things but not three distinct data points:
What your salespeople know - for certain - a data point. This is the information that prospects and customers provide - that proves to be valid - in response to your salespeople's questions. For example, if one of your salespeople asks which competitors the prospect is speaking with, the answers could be as varied as:
- learning you're the only one (could be true or false)
- being told that they are not comfortable sharing that information (you are not the odds on favorite to win!)
- receiving the names of all of them (could be true or false)
- being told not to worry - it's yours to lose (always false)
- providing you with competitive pricing (keeping someone else honest or looking for a lower price)
What your salespeople think or believe - not a data point. In most cases, what your salespeople think or believe to be true is unsubstantiated. More often than not, it's hoping, wishing or make believe. The reason they think it, but don't know it, is because they failed to ask the right questions. When Objective Management Group evaluates a sales force, one of the many data points we provide a client with is a pipeline analysis. Each salesperson must answer approximately 20 questions about 4 proposal ready opportunities in their current pipeline. On average, half of the questions that we ask and need answers to aren't being asked by your salespeople. Half!
Reality - not a data point. Why? Unfortunately, unless your salespeople are great at asking a lot of questions (only 6% are great while another 20% are OK, so 74% suck!), they won't know what reality is until someone - perhaps you - has been awarded the business. It's a lagging data point, and not very useful in the context of building a predictive pipeline and forecast.
So if reality isn't available until later, we're left with the difference between what we know and what we believe. Since relying on what we believe does not provide us with a data point and does not make our pipeline or forecast predictive, we are left with only one option.
You must help your salespeople become masters at listening and questioning. Clearly, this helps us with the pipeline, but if they become more effective at listening and questioning, you will suddenly have a sales force that can also sell consultatively, a requirement in these modern times for converting leads to real opportunities.
Read these posts related to Listening and Questioning: