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Managing a Healthy Sales Pipeline: Why Less Is More

By Ray Makela

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For many sales teams, a full sales pipeline is reassuring. It means their salespeople have plenty of potential deals to follow up on and lots of calls to make. It gives them hope that many of deals will close before the end of the quarter.

Yet, often at the end of the quarter, a good percentage of those deals haven’t closed— and everyone ends up disappointed. What went wrong?

Why a Full Sales Pipeline Might Be A Red Herring

The truth is, many sales pipelines aren’t so much full as they are bloated. Why is this distinction important? A bloated pipeline is brimming with deals that are stale, stuck, stagnant, or dormant. These types of opportunities will only drag your salespeople down, while making it impossible for you to create accurate forecasts.

That’s because a bloated sales pipeline prevents salespeople from applying proper passion and strategy in pursuing deals that they might actually close. A bloated sales pipeline may also mask the fact that the salesperson is actually underperforming and might be much farther away from hitting their target than it appears.

Think about it—even getting a first meeting requires research, creativity, and diligence. Salespeople need adequate time to tailor presentations to prospect’s specific needs. They need to make sure they understand the customer’s definition of value and how they can present that value.

It’s simply not possible to devote this kind of energy and diligence to landing every deal when salespeople are slogging through a mountain of sales opportunities on auto-pilot, often treating every potential deal as if they were the same. They can’t pursue prospects with the proper level of passion and perseverance (also known as “grit”) they need to win in a very competitive landscape.

Cleaning the Sales Pipeline: Three Sales Coaching Steps

As a manager, what can you do to prevent a bloated sales pipeline from dragging down your sales organization? First, accept that a smaller, better qualified sales pipeline might actually be more valuable in the long run. Second, clean the junk out your pipeline by taking three coaching steps.

Coaching Step #1:

Start by asking the salesperson: “What specific actions are you expecting the customer to take for each deal in the pipeline, and by what date?” If they can’t answer that question with specifics, they aren’t actively managing the opportunity. 

Coaching Step #2:

If an opportunity has been stuck in stage for longer than average, you should ask the salesperson: “Do you think this is still a qualified opportunity, and what are you doing to get this deal unstuck? When will you commit to the next action?”

Coaching Step #3:

If your salesperson tells stories, gives excuses or continues to push out the expected close date, you need to give them three choices:

Choice #1: Disqualify the opportunity,

Choice #2: Move the opportunity back up in the pipeline and reduce the probability,

Choice #3: Move the opportunity to an “inactive” stage (out of the active pipeline) until the salesperson  receives a tangible action from the customer.

When you see opportunities that are stuck or have no tangible next step, have the Salesperson identify and commit to an specific action plan, or get them out of the pipeline. This will clear the way for salespeople to focus on deals that they’re more likely to win. You might be amazed to see how a smaller sales pipeline helps raise performance across your entire sales team.

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

About Ray Makela

Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.

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