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    Sales pipeline reviews – time sink or foundation for creative sales coaching?

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    The sales pipeline review is a crucial activity for sales management. Done correctly, it helps produce accurate forecasts, drive accountability and prevent deals from stalling. However, conducting them without the right process, mindset and software in place can prove to be counter-productive.


    Bloated pipelines and wishful thinking

    A far too common version of a pipeline review goes something like this: a sales manager sits down with a sales person, or the whole team, to review the pipeline. This usually involves looking at a list of customer names, estimated deal values, probabilities based on pipeline phase (often subjectively assigned by the sales person) and estimated closing dates, some of which have been pushed back several times already.

    When discussing the opportunities, the sales person is usually optimistic and focused on getting the sales manager off his or her back. The sales manager is served a story about how promising the deals are, and how close the customers are to committing. 

    In the worst case, many questionable opportunities are in the last phase of the pipeline, have been assigned a high probability of closing and make up a large portion of the sales person’s forecast. With a quarterly quota to reach and deadlines fast approaching, the sales person is in “chasing mode”. All available time is dedicated to getting these deals over the line. Prospecting has taken a back seat, making it even more difficult to make quota consistently in the future. 

    This is a downwards spiral that sales managers need to prevent. One way to do so is by introducing a milestone-centric sales process and have regular coaching sessions focused on deal strategy, rather than "optimistic debriefs".

    How do you coach without context?

    Sales research is clear when it comes to the effects of sales coaching – it is the primary driver for increasing performance in b2b sales. Yet it is rarely done consistently and with high quality.

    Some of the problems stem from the way we capture information about our prospects, opportunities and contacts. This prevents us from quickly identifying the hurdles to progress and cut through sales people’s “happy ears syndrome” and other human quirks causing problems with sales effectiveness. 

    "Lacking a detailed overview of each opportunity turns complex B2B sales into high-stakes gambling."
    George Brontén

    When the sales manager decides to drill down into a specific sales project in the classic CRM system, he or she is usually presented with a long list of activities and notes, containing the sales person’s interpretation of meetings and conversations. Unfortunately, this list does not tell the whole story, and it is of little help in uncovering the bigger questions that need answering:

    • Are we engaging with the right people?
    • Do we understand their needs?
    • Do they have a compelling reason to change?
    • Has enough business value been created?
    • Is the perceived risk of change acceptable?
    • Have we identified the customer’s buying process?
    • Is there momentum on both sides, or are we treading water?
    • Did the sales person skip, or neglect, important steps and milestones in the sales process?

    Without a true picture of the health of every opportunity, sales efforts hit and miss.

    Unless you have a very clear definition of what drives sales success for your organization, which qualification criteria you should apply for leads and when and how to move sales projects through your pipeline, there will be a lot of wishful thinking and hit and miss selling. Your pipeline will appear big enough on paper, but forecasts will always be off target and coaching your sales people will be increasingly difficult.

    Draw the map, write down directions and hold sales people accountable

    As a sales leader, your first job is to document and define which customers to go after and the criteria for a sales qualified lead. Second, you’ll need to provide your team with the map and directions – a sales process and best practices – for effectively guiding opportunities through the pipeline. If a deal stalls, you need to be able to quickly identify the obstacles and help your sales people navigate around them. You also need to help your sales team minimize time spent on deadbeat projects and ensure a steady flow of new ones by allocating sufficient time for prospecting. With all of this in place, you will be able to move the needle on win-rates, decrease sales cycle lengths and create a solid foundation for coaching your sales team more effectively.

    Contact us today if you want help with building a solid sales infrastructure.

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    George Brontén
    Published March 14, 2015
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn