One Silver Bullet to Bulk up a Weak Sales Pipeline

February 7, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Sales Pipeline Late Stage FocusSales managers spend the majority of their time working in the wrong stages of the sales process. They focus on deals in Stages 4 and 5. Intuitively, it makes sense to concentrate the experience and skills of the sales manager on the smaller number of deals that are ready to close. But this is completely backwards. Here are the most common reasons:

  1. Your managers are Ignorant of Early Stage Deals: Reps are not entering deals in the CRM system until they have progressed to Stage 2 or 3. The reps don’t want the extra pressure to move these deals to closure, so they hesitate to update the CRM system until they are ready to commit the deal to the forecast. With no visibility to many deals in the early stages, sales managers simply focus on the late-stage deals they know about.
  2. Some managers are Super reps who still think they should Always Be Closing: New sales managers are often promoted based on their epic ability to sell and close. They see their greatest value to the sales process as the hero who rides in at the eleventh hour and seals the deal. Stage 5 is where they are most comfortable and effective. (The best managers learn how to transfer their skills and enable their reps to be heroes.)
  3. Show Me the Money: Sales managers follow the money and spend the majority of their time closing the 20% of the deals that make up 80% of the revenue. Advancing deals from Stage 4 to Stage 5 is critical, but if the groundwork is laid properly in early stages, the closing is less chaotic.
  4. Empty Toolkit: The sales process lacks job-aids that the sales rep can use to help the customer advance through the buying process. Opportunities dry up early and often.
  5. Get the Leads Out: The Lead Generation and Management process is not producing enough Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) to build a robust pipeline. With little volume at the top of the funnel, sales managers are occupied with trying to squeeze the most out of the late stage deals. (This is more of a Marketing problem, but it manifests itself in a weak funnel.)

 There are negative consequences for devoting so much time to late-stage deals:

  1. No Inflow: Without guidance, reps fail to qualify leads correctly, so the early stages yield little. There are so few deals in the pipeline that the sales manager has to rely closing a high percentage of the late stage deals.
  2. Next Rep, Please: The unskilled sales rep often fails to move the prospect through the early stages. The manager is not there to provide feedback, alternative ideas, or motivation. The rep develops bad habits and fails. The manager wastes precious time with HR to move out the underperformer and recruit a successor.
  3. Stormy Forecast: Just when a deal is about to close, the prospect suddenly reverts to an activity that should have already happened. Reps tend to skip activities in a rush to thrust the budding opportunity forward. In later stages, the deal is suddenly delayed. The revenue shortfall is almost as bad as the humiliation of de-committing the deal from the forecast.

There is a better way – do a Shift and Lift of your sales manager’s time.

Early Stage FocusHow do we get the manager the visibility they need on the true state of early stage deals?

  1. Ask the Rep: During weekly coaching sessions ask about prospects that have been added to the top of the funnel. What about the prospects that were added last week? Agree on specific next steps.
  2. Plan for Success: Train and coach reps to understand the customer’s needs, timeline, buying criteria, and decision making process. Follow the selling process; invest the time up front to understand if you can win and what it will take.
  3. Slow & Sure: We call this ‘slowing down to speed up.’ By taking care and patience to execute the early stage activities correctly, the deal is set to close more smoothly in the later stages.
  4. Sharp Tools:  Make sure your reps have job aids that help them move the prospect through their buying process. Call plans, opportunity maps, and evaluation grids can lubricate the process and make consistent forward progress.
  5. Exit Ahead: Clearly defined exit criteria are essential. Work with reps to help them advance to the next step in the buying/selling process by constant attention to ’verifiable outcomes’ that indicate that the buyer has done something to exit from one phase to the next.

We know that there is a finite amount of selling time available to each sales manager. Shifting focus away from the late stage deals takes courage, but it will pay off with a stronger sales pipeline and a more effective sales team. It cannot happen instantly. It requires a gradual but disciplined shift. Let me know your thoughts on how to allocate time by stage of the sale with a comment in the box below.

Proper attention to the top end of the funnel will enable your sales process to deliver world class results.

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Topics: Sales Process, CRM

Posted by John Kenney

John Kenney
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