By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Yogi Berra’s quote brings to mind the obligatory pipeline review managers do with their salespeople toward the end of the month. As a seller, these chats were pleasant experiences when my pipeline was adequate and there were a fair number of new opportunities entering the pipeline. Oddly enough, if my pipeline was thin, I seldom had trouble talking through “opportunities” so that my manager felt reasonably good when in fact, he shouldn’t have. One of the reasons this happens is that sales managers want to believe. When you think about it, their forecast is a roll up of their direct reports. If they challenge and disqualify opportunities, they might face unpleasant reviews with their managers.
Upon accepting my first management position, I was astounded in listening to 8 different sellers describe their pipelines. A few months into my new job, I came to the stark realization that if these people could sell half as well to customers and prospects as they were selling to me, they wouldn’t be 55% of quota! The time spend devolved into painful “déjà vu all over again” sessions mostly rehashing stale opportunities that we had discussed.
I recently had a conversation with a manager of a large technology company. I was shocked to hear that his organization (despite its size) held weekly pipeline conference calls where every seller told their managers and peers what had transpired over the last 168 hours!
Albert Einstein defined insanity as somebody doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting a different result. A few suggestions for managers about pipeline discussions:
Start by asking what new opportunities have been uncovered. If no new opportunities have surfaced, consider this to be an early warning sign and talk about it.
Once proposals are more than 60 days old put them into a bucket and spend no time talking about them in the pipeline review meeting. It will just fill and waste air time.
Project a sales cycle ahead to determine if each seller has sufficient pipeline to yield quota over that period of time. If your CRM system tracks each seller’s historical close rates at the different stages, the system can do the math for you.
When learning pipelines are thin (hopefully early on) help the seller create a proactive plan to uncover new opportunities.
For each opportunity, have the seller tell you the highest level he or she has called on and share that person’s business goals, reasons they can’t achieve them without your offering, the specific capabilities that are needed and the potential value that will more than offset the cost.
If the level in the previous bullet point is too low, agree on a strategy to get higher.
Painting with a broad brush, most sellers are over-optimistic in qualifying opportunities. My thought is the managers should look at each item in the pipeline from the perspective of disqualifying opportunities that aren’t worthy of their seller’s time. Without this help, there are many sellers that aren’t looking for new opportunities that should be. Managers that provide an early warning sanity check on pipelines every month will help their direct reports drive higher revenue.
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