Years ago I heard a business owner mention his company’s “sales pipeline was more like a pipe dream.” He had no confidence in the information his managers were bringing him. He didn’t feel like his sales force had a handle on the part of the business where forecasting and budgets were determined. Unfortunately, this is an all too common problem within businesses.
For a pipeline to be effective, you must have a few crucial pieces:
- You have to have one – You would be surprised how many companies don’t have pipelines. They may have a list of opportunities but they don’t have a pipeline with stages where the opportunities may be.
- You have to name the phase the prospect is in – Any company selling a product or service has different phases their prospects go through. What are yours? Does everyone on your sales team know and use the same phase names?
- You have to have criteria for each phase – This is the biggest challenge I see with companies. They may have phases but their people are all operating off of different criteria. What Suzy thinks is “hot”, Mary may think is “lukewarm.” This is because companies are leaving it up to their people’s feelings or gut on where they stand. Have standard criteria for each phase and you will make the subjective objective.
- You have to track the data – You can’t manage what you don’t track. Pipelines are great at helping management understand where opportunities are truly being lost. This helps you work on the root of the problem and reduce the highs and lows of production.
- You have to manage to the process – It is critical for management to coach their people using the pipeline and their sales process. This will start to condition your people on what is needed to help Prospect A move through the process. If they know you are going to ask the same criteria questions to ensure they have the prospect listed at the correct stage - guess what they will start to do on future sales calls?
Pipelines don’t have to be overly complex and time-consuming. When you implement an effective one, you’ll find everyone in your company starts to speak the same language and it takes less of your valuable time coaching through opportunities. Turn your pipe dreams into a reality - you’ll be surprised how easy it is when you have an effective way to do it.