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Why a “healthy” sales pipeline isn’t always what it seems. And specific questions sales leaders should ask to get a more realistic view of what’s really going on.

By Bruce Wedderburn
Originally contributed as a guest blog to SalesPop.net

As you look at the rest of the year ahead to predict your team’s potential revenue performance, your focus may naturally turn to your sales pipeline.

Looking at your pipeline and associated forecast, you may be initially comforted to see that you have a sufficient quantity of opportunities and appropriate deal sizes in there to start your year on a solid note. So why do you still have a sinking feeling in your stomach?

Is it because you can’t be sure just how accurate those deals your salespeople have assured you will close really are? Ask yourself:

  • Do you regularly have sales opportunities that initially progress through the early stages of your pipeline, only to have the momentum stall, the deals stagnate and eventually be removed altogether?
  • Do you have late-stage revenue that shrinks in value or disappears from your company forecast without warning or explanation?
  • Do you have sales pipelines that initially promise so much but fail to follow through on that promise?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s no wonder you might be getting a little uneasy as you look ahead. The good news: There are some common root causes that are creating these challenges—and once you understand what they are, you can begin to take positive steps to quickly turn things around.

Why a “Healthy” Sales Pipeline Isn’t Always What It Seems

There are three underlying issues that contribute to these problems:

Pipeline Quantity vs. Quality:

A common issue is that sales leaders will focus on the quantity of forecast deals vs. the quality of those deals. How healthy is your pipeline (# of opportunities, $ value) relative to your yearly target?

Quality is the forgotten key to pipeline health. For every opportunity in your long-term pipeline or short-term forecast, you need to ask your account managers a few specific questions to get a more realistic view of what’s really likely to close.

We call this the Funnel Filter, and it consists of three questions:

  • Describe the five categories of needs that the customer has expressed for this opportunity. In other words, does the account manager understand the sale from the customer’s point of view?
  • Identify the decision process the buying company will follow, including buying role of key contacts. Is the account manager talking to the people with the spending and/or decision authority?
  • Are your customer commitments moving the opportunity forward? What are some examples?

Failure to Align Sales Processes with the Customer’s Journey:

Another problem occurs when salespeople don’t have a sales process that connects to the customer’s buying journey. An opportunity will have a far higher likelihood of closing if the salesperson is following a sales process that incorporates the customer’s buying journey and includes both seller and customer actions.

Examine the sales process that your reps are using. Does it consist of a series of steps that the salesperson needs to take, or is it built based on a series of commitments that the customer is making at each stage?

Reflect on the kinds of milestones that are built into your sales pipelines. Pipeline milestones such as “initial meeting completed” and “delivered capabilities presentation” contribute to bloated pipelines and inaccurate forecasts.

Lack of Adoption of Your Sales Methodology:

Despite their best efforts, L&D often implements sales training that has a low sustained adoption rate by the sales force. Sales training must focus on building skills and changing behavior over the long term if it is going to translate into sales wins. Building knowledge is not enough.

Imagine you wanted to improve your fitness. what would you have to do?

What if we put you through a one- or two-day fitness intensive, sent you a link to a website with your reinforcement modules on it, and then you had to pass a written online assessment? Six months from now, what kind of improvements will you have seen in your fitness goals?

Accountability for application of skills must be a part of your training. Website links and eLearning alone won’t cut it.

As you look at your pipeline it’s time to examine these pitfalls in greater detail, along with strategies you and your sales leadership team can take right now to make sure those opportunities convert.

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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