Managing the Pipeline to Improve Win Rates
Managing your team’s sales pipeline is both an art and a science – and that’s why it’s one of the most challenging aspects of sales management. At the heart of this challenge are differing perspectives as to what constitutes a healthy pipeline.
From the salesperson’s perspective, the more opportunities the better. While there is some truth that “more is better,” pipelines can become bloated with dormant or stalled opportunities. In addition to leading to inaccurate forecasts, a bloated pipeline takes away time from (i) focusing on the opportunities that can close, and (ii) identifying and adding new opportunities.
As a sales manager, you rely on the sales pipeline to develop accurate forecasts and, as such, it is imperative to address dormant or stalled opportunities. Keep in mind that the pipeline is both a reporting tool (“science”) for sales forecasting and a coaching tool (“art”) to review opportunities with your salespeople. You use both of these to achieve the same goal: higher win rates.
The science of pipeline management: Maintaining a clean pipeline
The science of pipeline management focuses on improving forecast accuracy by eliminating stalled or dormant opportunities from your sales forecast. This is typically driven by the sales manager since salespeople have little incentive to remove opportunities that are stuck, dormant, or, in some cases, dead.
One key aspect of this process is to identify exit criteria for each stage in your pipeline. The exit criteria should be based on the customer action(s) that allows the opportunity to advance to the next stage. For example, sending a customer a proposal is not enough for an opportunity to exit the “send proposal stage” of a pipeline. Instead, the customer action of reviewing the proposal and providing feedback would serve as a much better criteria to advance the opportunity to the next stage.
You should also assign reasonable timeframes and probabilities to each stage. By following these three techniques, you can take the bloat out of your pipeline.
The art of pipeline management: Advancing and qualifying opportunities
By rationalizing the pipeline (“science”), you can now move to the “art” of coaching. Keep in mind that the best coaching is collaborative and involves asking questions, actively listening, and, most importantly, assuming the best intentions as you discuss opportunities with your salespeople.
Here are a few simple questions you can ask to ensure that the opportunity is, in fact, in the right pipeline stage:
- Stage: What stage is this opportunity currently listed in?
- Customer engagement: What actions has the customer taken to reach this stage?
- Velocity: What do you see as next steps to move this opportunity forward?
Once you have determined that the opportunity is in the proper stage, you can now add immense value by asking and evaluating the responses to the following five deal coaching questions:
- Solution fit: What is the customer’s business need?
- Value: What is the unique value of our solution?
- Authority: Who is the decision maker and what is our relationship with them?
- Competitive threat: How will the competition try to beat us?
- Conviction: Why will we win?
To the extent the answer to any of these five questions (learn more about the importance of these question here) is unclear, you can help the salesperson improve win rates by discussing strategies to address the gaps you identified.
Ultimately, pipeline management comes down to working with your sales team to eliminate bloat (“science”) and developing strategies (“art”) to close more business. While this may involve some heavy lifting at first, you will end up with a more focused sales team that can better analyze, identify, qualify, and close opportunities.
About 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.