Ah, the pipeline, that all-important measure of a sales persons worth. The ultimate measuring stick of all sales measuring sticks. Sales organizations everywhere use the pipeline as the ubiquitous tool to assess and predict (forecast) sales performance for both current and future transactions.
While some tools are more widely used than others, each is designed primarily for tracking sales activities through the various stages of the sale process. They track call activities, dates, projected revenues, resources required, next steps, key milestones, and yes, the all-important, date of close. The pipeline is supposed to speak to the relative health of the sales organization and be an indicator of whether or not a sales person, sales team, or sales organization will hit the “Number”.
Or does it? Does your sales pipeline tell the real story?
As someone that has been both a direct contributor and in sales management, I can honestly say that most pipelines are highly inaccurate. Oh sure, there are “real” deals in the works and many have solid strategies and plans in place to move the prospect to close. However, I would venture to say that at least 30 to 40 % of all “prospects” in sales pipelines today would fall into the “wishful thinking” category.
There are many factors that go into validity of opportunities in the pipeline. Things like, quality of leads (both MQL & SQL), length of sales cycle, solutions fit, close and win rates. There are also a wide variety of other reasons and issues that come into question; issues that come about as a result of sales rep over zealousness, poor qualifications, or even pure speculation.
Some opportunities may be in the pipeline as a direct result of pipeline quantity targets (4x or 4 get making your number mentality) while others can be attributed to poor sales management process and even poor quality inspection, neither of which help tell the “real” story.
Understand that the purpose of this post isn’t to point fingers in one direction or the other. It is about the accuracy, integrity, and ultimately the “real” story of the deals in the pipeline. If you want to get a true and actual feel for what will and what won’t happen, in both the short and longer term, maybe it’s time to get real and consider a complete scrubbing of the pipeline.
Check the attitudes and the egos at the door because as they say, “it ain’t going to be pretty.” Be prepared to have some real, and probably some very uncomfortable conversations (either with yourself or your manager). Be honest and take a hard look at each and every opportunity and determine its true status. Ask questions like; Is this opportunity real or just fluff? Is the customer really a prospect or just a tire kicker? How long has it been since the last activity? Do you really understand what it’s going to take to win the deal or are you clueless? Are the dates for close “customer stated” or just something that was a guess? Is the revenue number for real our just more wishful thinking?
Scrubbing the pipeline is an arduous task, but by going through this all-important exercise, you will get a better handle on what is “real” and what is just “filler”. It will help you to know where to spend your precious time and what activities to focus on.
For good or bad, richer or poorer, it is the responsibility of all the stakeholders in the sales organization, not just the sales reps and sales managers, to insure that the pipeline is a reflection of what is really going on.
Does your pipeline tell the REAL story?