By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Maybe you’re better about it than I, but closet clutter is a challenge for me. It was partly caused by a move from a 60-year old center entrance colonial in New England to a newer home in California with our first walk-in closet. Ultimately I’ve become more careful about what clothes I buy and try to throw out or donate anything that hasn’t been worn in a year. Many organizations have pipelines that resemble overstuffed closets and there are two major causes.
Cause #1: Garbage in – At one time or another a seller comes to the realization that their pipeline is thin. It can be a positive development if you’ve closed a number of opportunities in a given month or quarter. In any event, if you are going to have a pipeline review with your manager there’s a tendency to list “opportunities” that have not been qualified. The last thing you want is a manager that feels you don’t have enough going on and will be monitoring your activity levels.
For experienced sellers or sellers that have new sales managers, it isn’t a huge challenge to “sell” them on opportunities that really don’t belong. Part of the reason is pipelines roll up. Managers want to believe so that their district or regional pipelines looks strong. In my experience if salespeople could sell as well to buyers as they can “sell” managers that their pipelines are adequate, they’d all be making their numbers.
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Cause #2: No spring cleaning – Once things get into a seller’s pipeline we all know the best way to get them out is to close them. The challenge, however, is that if they weren’t qualified when they were entered and they can’t be qualified after that, the seller has a problem. He or she doesn’t want to declare losses because:
- The manager will start asking about rebuilding their pipelines.
- Their win rates will be negatively impacted.
When new opportunities enter their pipelines many sellers chose that flurry of activity to quietly allow unqualified ones to drop off the radar screen.
In the same way clothes that haven’t been worn in a year should be discarded or donated, how long should pipeline entries be allowed to hang with no activity indicating progress such as:
- A champion has been qualified and the seller is getting access to Key Players
- Key Player visions are documented in emails
- A Sequence of Events has been negotiated with an estimated decision date
- A cost vs. benefit analysis has been completed
- Contracts are being reviewed
- A proposal has been issued
Sales managers can do everyone a good service if:
- Qualification criteria are applied before opportunities enter pipelines.
- Measureable progress is required to keep them in the pipeline.
- Outstanding proposals can only be viewed as viable if they are less than 60 days old or there are extenuating circumstances. To minimize this issue, managers may want to set criteria that needs to be met before proposals are issued.
The calendar, if not the weather, says spring has arrived. Would a little spring cleaning of your pipeline give you a more accurate picture of what revenue realistically can be expected in the coming months?