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What's Different About Managing a Sales Pipeline Today?

By Norman Behar

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The nearly universal adoption of CRM solutions (Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Sugar…) has led to an emphatic requirement by senior sales leaders that their sales managers must become much better at managing the sales pipeline. But what does this really mean?

In delving deeper into senior management’s mandate what they are really looking for is (1) more accurate sales forecasts, and (2) higher win rates.

Before we examine how managers can better Manage the Pipeline to improve these areas, it is important to note that sales managers have traditionally been held accountable for producing accurate forecasts and helping their sales team improve win rates.

What is it About CRM adoption that is leading to this increased pressure on managers?

Quite simply, it is that CRM systems substantially increase pipeline visibility (a good thing) but also can quickly become a wasteland for older, inactive, and in many cases unqualified opportunities.

Sales people are asked to enter every new opportunity into their CRM system in order to share information across the sales organization, and then to advance the opportunity through various pipeline stages until it is either “won” or “lost”.

Over time the pipeline becomes proliferated with opportunities that are in different stages for widely disparate time periods. Since this information is readily available and tracked by senior sales leaders (not sure how much time, money, and cups of coffee have been poured into the creation of dashboards), they want to know which opportunities are real, how soon will they close, and why such a high percentage of opportunities seem to be “stuck”.

This is certainly not a criticism of CRM systems (like many of our clients we also use Salesforce.com) but it does help explain the mandate for better pipeline management.

What's Different About Managing a Sales Pipeline Today?

If I turn back the clock 20+ years to my role as a frontline manager, the pipeline was typically tracked on a white board with a sales funnel that only included active opportunities. I recall using a different colored dry erase marker for each member of the sales team and using this sales funnel as the basis for weekly reviews with each of them.

The questions I would ask would go something like this:

  1. What sales calls did you go on last week (either with new and/or existing clients?
  2. What are the key action items from each call, and how can I help?
  3. Are there any new opportunities that we should add to the sales funnel based on these meetings?
  4. How about the existing opportunities? What do you see as next steps with each opportunity?

As part of this weekly review, I would often find that some opportunities had stalled. If we couldn’t determine a strategy to reengage or advance the opportunity, I would then let the salesperson know that I was going to take it off my board for now but that they should still keep it on their “radar screen” so that we could add it back at some point in the future.

This rationale is likely what is missing in the post-CRM world. As a result, we see higher percentages of “stuck” opportunities that may not have existed in the days when pipelines were managed on white boards. This, of course, doesn’t have to be the case if companies have clear criteria for each pipeline stage to ensure that each opportunity is properly qualified and is still “active”.

To learn more, read my prior blog post on how to improve forecasting and specific actions for better pipeline management.

Learn how to transition star sales reps into high-performing sales managers

About Norman Behar

Norman Behar
Norman Behar is Chairman and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience, and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.

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