In a visit to a sales manager, I asked how she conducted pipeline reviews.
“We don’t have time for pipeline meetings. The sales team updates a spreadsheet every month and I ask them questions when I need more information.”
I’m rarely surprised any more but I wonder how that organization – or any sales organization that doesn’t review its sales opportunities – not only manages their sales function but decides how and where to make improvements.
What about your sales organization? Are you managing your sales function with pipeline reviews?
Why Pipeline Reviews?
I think that organizations that don’t employ pipeline reviews have NEVER performed pipeline reviews, don’t know how or why to conduct them, and don’t understand the long-term impact on their organization’s success. In too many cases where they do perform reviews, it’s likely to be a session where the sales reps go around the table and recite what’s happened in the last month. Frankly, that’s not beneficial to the organization, the sales manager, or the sales rep.
Pipeline reviews can:
- Focus sales efforts on deals that are likely to close – Once a potential deal hits the pipeline, it can often linger there for months or years before it finally drops off. That means that your sales team expends their energy, every month, trying to keep a deal on life-support that likely should have been dropped from the pipeline early on. If you help you reps carefully assess and abandon deals with no hope of closing, they can spend their time on deals that will close. Their close rate goes up. Their confidence goes up. Their sales go up.
- Keep deals moving through your sales cycle – One of the biggest threats to any sales opportunity is stagnation. Many sales naturally stall out at specific points in the sales cycle. It takes extra effort to identify them and strategize on ways to move them forward. Often, sales organizations target a specific sales stage, knowing that once a deal gets there, it’s almost certain to close. Why do you think car dealers want you to take a test drive? It’s because they know that once you’ve driven the car, it’s highly likely that you’ll purchase. If you analyze your sales, you’ll probably find that sales that reach a certain point in your cycle have a much higher chance of closing. Your pipeline review meeting can easily identify a stagnated sale so that you can focus on it and move it to the next stage.
- Keep your sales team engaged with the company – Sales people can have a lonely job. I’ve heard them describe it as feeling like they’re on an island trying to survive. But regular pipeline meetings let them stay connected. They’re sharing their experience with you, the sales manager who can feel their pain – who’s on their side. In a safe and constructive environment, you’re helping them be more successful, have more fun, and make more money. Those are sales people who are motivated to close deals
- Help inject your expertise into the sales cycle – You can’t (and shouldn’t) go on every call with your sales reps. But they can still benefit from your sales expertise. During the review, your reps can ask for your thoughts and input. When you ask questions about their individual deals, you can help them avoid roadblocks, suggest ways to deal with difficult people, even mini-role play upcoming conversations. Your coaching can be very motivating and energizing to your team who are eager to get back with their prospects and keep the deals moving along.
Conducting Pipeline Reviews
One of the reasons organizations don’t perform pipeline reviews is that they’ve never done it and don’t know how to do it. A pipeline review may vary from industry to industry but they all have many things in common. Here are some ideas for you to bring to your pipeline reviews to make them more effective.
- Movement – the goal of any deal in the pipeline is to move to the next stage in your sales cycle. If your sales rep hasn’t qualified the prospect or determined their budget, it’s too early to focus on the closing. Measure the amount of time the deal has been in the sales stage. If you know that a typical deal is in the “needs determination” stage for 3-4 weeks and you have an opportunity that’s taking 3-4 months, it’s time to go all out to get it to move – or abandon the deal until a future time.
- Go / No-Go – As mentioned, sales reps are often reluctant to take anything out of their pipeline. But if it’s not a viable deal, they’re spinning their wheels. As the sales manager, part of your job is to focus your reps on deals that have a chance to close, not waste their time on deals that will never pan out. In the pipeline review, ask questions that help the rep determine whether a deal is viable or pie-in-the-sky.
- Focus on Positive – The pipeline review is just that – a review of the pipeline. It’s not a time to attack the sales rep. In order to be open to help and suggestion, the sales reps need to know that the pipeline meeting is a safe environment for them to ask for advice, guidance, and admit that they don’t know how to proceed on a deal. If the sales rep is having performance issues, address those in a separate meeting specifically to talk about performance – not in a pipeline review.
- One-on-One – In pipeline reviews, sales reps have to feel comfortable enough to ask for advice, admit that they’re stumped, question their own approaches. That doesn’t happen in a group review meeting. In a group review meeting, sales reps start ticking off their agenda for the week, “I called Mr. Jones and left a message. Then I emailed the ABC Company to make sure they got the proposal.” That’s useless information in a pipeline review. Conduct your pipeline reviews
- Limit the Pipeline – If your sales cycle is 12 months, don’t focus on the deals 4-12 months out. It’s great to know and talk a bit about the potential big deal that just hit the pipeline, but don’t focus on the far-out in the regular pipeline review. Focus on the deals that need extra work to move them to the next step in the sales cycle.
Pipeline reviews are a valuable tool for any sales team. The company gets a clear picture of which deals are truly likely to close. The sales manager gets an opportunity to constantly coach and mentor her team. And your sales reps are able, with their manager’s help, to spend their energy and time concentrating on deals that will bring them professional satisfaction and financial reward.