Since the day the first contact management systems added features to enable Reps to keep track of their opportunities, there has been a constant struggle between manager and sales rep to keep the pipeline clean and “update the damn CRM.” Management wants a roll-up of their reps’ pipelines to enable better visibility and produce accurate forecasts, while reps are not motivated to spend precious selling time on administrative tasks and data entry that doesn’t help them close business.
What may be missing from these conversations is the Rep’s perspective, in other words, “What’s in it for me (the WIIFM)?” Having been a sales rep, a sales manager, and business owner, I see this challenge from a number of perspectives, and mostly I empathize with the Reps. When looking at the pipeline and CRM, we need to encourage Reps to see their pipeline as their own “commission-generating factory.” In other words, this is an assembly line that manufactures revenue and needs to be managed at each stage.
At the top are raw goods (leads), and at the end of the process are the finished goods (closed business and commissions). We need to help Reps optimize their production line. Managing their pipeline on a daily/weekly basis provides significant benefits for the Reps, including: :
- Provides attention and focus on the most qualified opportunities (improve win rates)
- Helps remove “dead wood” and reprioritize activities (become more efficient)
- Provides a to-do list and reminder of commitments made and key actions needed (provide focus)
- Highlights if the factored pipeline is large enough to reach quota (identify potential shortfalls early)
- Identifies where additional help may be needed or what deals are in jeopardy based on velocity and activity level (get help when needed)
Once we’ve reinforced the value of maintaining a clean pipeline, it’s helpful to have a checklist of actions to remind Reps what a clean pipeline looks like and what they can do to keep it updated. The following checklist can be modified and tailored based on the specific requirements of the CRM. Send it out, use it, set the expectation that each of these items will be reviewed and updated before every sales meeting. If Reps aren’t paying attention to these details, they may be operating their “commission-generating factory” below the production potential.
To keep a clean pipeline, each week Reps should:
- Review every opportunity starting at the bottom of the funnel.
- Prioritize the key opportunities by size, close date, strategic potential, etc.
- Review the stage, days in the stage, overall age. Is it in the appropriate stage based on the customer’s actions? Is it moving with velocity relative to average deals of this size? Deals that are stuck in stage longer than the average should be a warning sign that this deal is in jeopardy.
- Review the next action or next meeting date. Is there one? Have you identified the next tangible action you’re expecting from the client to show the deal is progressing?
- Review the opportunity amount. Is it appropriate based on the what you know about the deal? Has it changed as the deal has progressed?
- Review the close date–is it realistic based on the actions and next steps? Have you verified the decision date with the stakeholders? Can you map the steps from where you are now to winning the deal by the expected close date?
The outcome of reviewing the pipeline should be a list of action items to drive opportunities forward. As a result of the review, Reps should make commitments to themselves and their team, “if the customer doesn’t respond by next week, I’ll disqualify this opportunity or move it out of the active pipeline.” Having a clean pipeline improves the quality of the sales meetings and the focus on what’s important.
Keeping the pipeline up-to-date takes discipline, training, and reinforcement. Set the expectation and make it a priority to discuss and reinforce in team meetings and one-on-ones. Provide direct feedback if it’s not happening, tying back to why it’s important and what’s expected. Don’t expect radical change or compliance over-night but provide reinforcement and coaching to create the behavior change required.
About Ray Makela