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Sales Solutions
Manage Your Pipeline vol 6, issue #6
June, 2009

Most of us detest those weekly 1-1 pipeline reviews with our managers.  Why? Because more often than not, the manager is calling you on the carpet to explain why this deal hasn't closed, or why that deal hasn't progressed, or why those deals were lost.  Or at least we think he is.  But in a sense these meetings are good for us - they discipline us to get from our prospects the answers to the questions we know we're going to be asked.  In so doing, we develop the good practice of probing - of not only knowing what is going on with our deals, but why.  Only when we understand why prospects are or aren't doing the things they need to do in order to move in the direction of a purchase can we take actions to help them get there, and at the pace we'd like.  Or decide that the opportunity is not really an opportunity, and cease pursuing it.


Good pipeline management is critical to making or exceeding your quota.  Most of us think about pipeline management as working existing deals, and adding new ones (prospecting).  It is - but it also involves removing deals that have a slim chance of closing.  Great salespeople are masters of both allocating time optimally between working existing deals and prospecting for new opportunities and determining when an opportunity no longer merits an allocation of time.  The latter is one of the most difficult decisions you have to make as a salesperson - but being disciplined enough to make that call, and knowing how to determine if you should are vital to your success. So forget for a moment what your manger wants to know about your deals (or what you think he wants to know).  What do you want to know?  What information would you find useful in determining whether a deal has potential, or should be abandoned in favor of others with greater potential?  It all depends on where you are in the sales cycle.  Opportunities that are at the front end of the sales process are the most uncertain.  Good pipeline management starts by rigorously qualifying these - don't let anyone remain in your pipeline who you feel will end up simply bleeding you of your time and milking you for information, but who have no intention (or authority, or urgency, or money) to buy what you're selling (at least not from you).  To ensure that you're letting in only qualified prospects and not tire-kickers, try disqualifying them - essentially forcing them to prove to you why you should invest time with them (for an example of how you might use disqualification to ensure you have a robust pipeline full of only qualified prospects, click here).  The ones that don't pass muster - who can't convince you that they are a legitimate prospect - get them out of your pipeline. Fast!  The time you save not wasting it on them is time you can use to work other, qualified prospects through the pipeline. 


The trickier part of maintaining a robust pipeline is determining whether you should stay in the game or fold your cards and move on to greener pastures with deals that you have qualified, but which don't seem to be going anywhere.  To make this decision, assess each opportunity by asking these questions:



  • Does the prospect remain engaged, or do you find yourself chasing them?

  • Do they honor commitments they've made to you, or do they blow them off?

  • If there are multiple players involved in the decision, have you been introduced to them, or is your one contact refusing to do so?

  • Is your main contact championing your cause, or not?

  • Has the deal been stuck in a particular stage of the sales cycle for an inordinate amount of time, compared to historical norms?

If the answers to these questions are generally "no", you need to have a frank and direct discussion with your contact as to where you stand in the deal. Most likely, you are losing, so you need to find out - now.  If you're successful at getting the prospect to admit that you aren't in the lead, and can get him to reveal to you the reason(s) why, you have an opportunity to turn the situation around.  Ask for a meeting; if you're granted it, the deal is worthy of remaining in the pipeline; you're still selling.  If it's not, you must consider making the tough decision of removing it from the pipeline.

 

ACTION ITEM

Take a hard look at your current pipeline. For each opportunity that is not yet qualified, try disqualifying the prospect on your next call.  If you're convinced the prospect is genuine, keep it.  If not, let him know (diplomatically, of course) that the next move is his; you won't be calling again.  For opportunities that have been qualified, ask yourself the series of questions above.  For the ones you're having trouble advancing, you will no doubt get one or more "no's".  Get on the phone right away and have that talk with your contact and find out where you stand.  If you get a wishy-washy answer, ask for definitive next steps for both parties.  Depending on the response you get, you'll know for certain whether that opportunity should stay, or go.  And be able to confidently defend your reasoning to your manager.



Good selling!

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