A successful business depends on a successful sales pipeline, one that projects and produces accurate results. Unfortunately, many sales pipelines operate more like a clogged drain, with many of the same prospects, proposals, and “sure-fire” deals sitting in the same place month after month. These stagnant deals lead to inaccurate sales projections, and if left unmanaged, could result in lost jobs and even failure for the entire company. If your pipeline is clogged, follow these steps today to unclog your sales pipeline and get it flowing with accurate deals again.
1. Embrace the “No"
The first solution to cleaning up and effectively managing an accurate sales pipeline is to learn to be okay with hearing “no.” Sales people are notorious for suffering from “happy ears” and are often unrealistically optimistic about the closing probability of their prospects. The truth is that the majority of “think it overs” clogging the pipeline are really “slow no’s” that the sales person refuses to give up on. Get the “slow no’s” out of the forecast! Not only does the sales team need to be okay with accepting a “no” but management all the way to the top needs to be okay with it as well. Accept and identify the “no’s” and you will free up your pipeline dramatically.
2. Set Clear Expectations
The second step to unclogging the sales pipeline is to set clear and mutually understood outcomes for every sales call. It isn’t enough to just BE okay with “no,” sellers should have a process for establishing a realistic and low-pressure “GO/NO GO decision at the end of every call. Don’t leave it open. Schedule a follow-up meeting before the call ends and ask for their commitment to go over materials or speak with you again at a specified time.
3. Prevent Future Clogs
It’s not enough to simply go through your pipeline and clean it up, you have to have a plan in place to prevent future clogs from happening. You need to have a clearly established sales template mapped to the pipeline that details clear parameters for advancing a prospect through the pipeline. Weak and ambiguous rules will ensure your pipeline will get backed up again in no time. A good CRM system can be an invaluable tool in establishing and enforcing the “gateway” metrics required at each step of the sales cycle. Once again, the success of this step is dependent upon the entire organization being okay with disqualifying prospects at every step as a preferable outcome to leaving “slow no’s” in the mix.
4. Practice Accountability
Even if your pipeline is clean and you have a great outline for preventing future clogs, not holding the sales team accountable to forecasting their pipeline can break down the entire sales process, resulting in more clogged pipelines. This means that if a sales manager requires periodic reports from the sales team then those reports should actually be READ and acted upon by management. Far too often no action is taken or no feedback is given and the reporting process becomes nothing more than a creative writing exercise.
Any kind of success takes hard work, diligence and consistency. You have to stick to the processes you’ve outlined and repeat those that work if you expect to keep your pipeline flowing with accurate forecasts and deals. If you are more concerned with managing to metrics and closing ratios than you are to managing to honesty, the results will always devolve back into clogged pipelines.
If you implement and execute upon each of the steps outlined above you will have a drastically improved forecasting tool for the future and fewer instances of “recycled opportunity” and “wishful thinking” clogging up YOUR sales pipeline.