Proper pipeline management is crucial to achieving sales excellence and everyone is (or should) be aware of this. However, many confuse having a pipeline with actively managing their pipeline. The distinction between the two is highly relevant. The question quickly becomes: Are you managing your pipeline, or is your pipeline managing you?
Mixed signals from leadership
Reps often receive highly mixed signals from their leadership. On one hand, they are told to pursue quality prospects, only to be told that their pipeline is too small and don’t have enough opportunities in there. So they scramble in an effort to fill their pipeline, just to be told that they need to focus and spend time with “good” prospects. It is the familiar quality versus quantity question.
Define your ideal customer profile
To assist, companies and managers should equip their sales team with a clear prospect profile. What does the right prospects looks like? What does a bad fit look like? There are only so many days and hours to work with and you can’t spend your most valuable resource - time - with everyone. When it comes to prospecting, a thorough screening process is incredibly valuable.
Having an “Ideal Customer Profile” helps reps focus and prioritize, ensuring that they work on those that are the best fit for the company. While it may seem obvious, at times it is not. It’s not necessarily the largest or shiniest prospects that are the best targets. Defining and agreeing upon formalized qualification criteria can save time and pay big dividends for the entire organization.
Not every prospect is sacred – fire the wrong ones early
Another factor that can confuse your sales team is setting arbitrary targets for what should be in their pipeline. Things like: At 180 days there should be eight times quota, at 90 days five times quota, at 30 days 3 times quota, or variations on that theme. Aren’t we just telling our reps to go out and fill their pipe with crap? The further out you are, the more crap is needed.
I do understand where this comes from, but it often leads sales people off the right path, causing them to spend their time pipe-filling rather than qualifying and selling. This approach not only has a detrimental effect to your metrics and conversion ratios, but also causes you to lose track of good prospects that are ready commit now, that instead are lost in the shuffle. Further, you end up carrying questionable prospects further then they should, and by the time you realize that some have to be swapped out for real prospects, you end up playing catch up to make your number the following quarter.
Compounding the problem is what I call the “every prospect is sacred” phenomenon (remember Monty Python?) where reps are afraid to, or might not even be permitted to, fire prospects early on rather than later.
Watch out for a false sense of security
An additional challenge that arises with a bloated (rather than healthy and active) pipeline is a false sense of security it gives some sales people. “Look at all the opportunities I’ve got, I really need to go work on these, I’ll prospect when I bring a few on-board”. The end result is that your pipeline begins to dictate and manage your activity and success, rather than the right way round.
So. Ask yourself now and again: Are you managing your pipeline, or is your pipeline managing you?