Let’s talk about sales baby, let’s talk about you and me…
Salt n’ Pepa wasn’t actually referring to sales pipeline size, but we are! Sales pipeline size comes equipped with a myriad of pre-disposed beliefs.
One of these is that the larger the size of your pipeline, the better.
We’re here to tell you, sales dudes, managers, reps, and everyone else that a larger size actually doesn’t actually matter when it comes to sales pipelines. At least, not in the way you think it does.
But let us explain. And in order to do so, we’re going to take you back through the basics. Bear with us!
Sales pipeline basics
Whether you’re a veteran CEO, sales manager, or a beginner sales intern, you’re probably familiar with what a sales pipeline is: a visualization of your sales process that can help you see which aspects of your sales funnel are at which stage, and where your sweet spots and stalled areas may be. A sales pipeline is a snapshot of your leads, your prospects, and hopefully, your future clients.
It’s normal to want a large sales pipeline, meaning lots of potential clients and many deals “in the making.” It may make you feel safe and comfortable, and like you’ve got a lot going on. But size can often be deceiving, and this thought process can be problematic. A pipeline ‘snapshot’ can mislead managers into thinking the quarter will end out with a number of closed deals, but it doesn’t always work that way.
Keep in mind that this article won’t include new techniques or tricks about closing deals, but gentle reminders to keep you sane and focused on how to close deals when you’re in the wild throes of your sales funnel and may forget about everything else.
The problem with thinking bigger is better
Both newbies and veterans alike may fall into the “bigger is better” trap. But we’re here to remind you that a sales pipeline isn’t always representative of your actual sales success.
When you’re overly focused on the size of your pipeline, you forget about the details it may take to actually sell or close a deal. Client focus often gets lost. And in the end, you may finish the quarter with very few signed sales deals, revenue, or ROI — even though your sales pipeline appeared massive at the beginning of the quarter. As we previously stated, size is often a deceptive measure.
If you’re too concerned with the size of your pipeline, you may not be doing your due diligence with forecasting and the management process. And by the time you get to the end of the quarter, it’s too late. You want to influence the path, and not miss your opportunity to close deals.
It’s not about size
Who cares if your pipeline is big if you aren’t closing deals and making any money when all is said and done? So stop worrying about the size, and instead focus on velocity and conversion rates. 2000 leads are not nearly as important as 20 conversions.
Putting emphasis on your most likely and profitable leads will help you glean knowledge from each valid opportunity. Instead of considering potential, focus on the reality: which of the deals can you, your team, or your salespeople actually close?
Be a solution-based manager
Your basic pipeline is made up of stages: a lead, first contact, talking to legal, offering a proposal, negotiation, and finally, closing the deal. Just because you have lots of leads, though, doesn’t mean your team will get to closing the deal.
As a manager, you should consider the below points, which will help to streamline the sales funnel and ensure closed deals.
- Control time spent in each stage. No one stage should stall, or take too long. Make sure your process doesn’t get stagnant and continues evolving. If this means additional team support, calls, or contacts, make it happen.
- Think about the conversion ratio expected in each stage, and act accordingly. It’s okay to drop leads or prospects if you know or think they won’t go anywhere.
- How do you get from one stage to the other? What additional resources must you organize or put forth to your team to ensure they move from stage to stage?
- As a manager, don’t just sit back and watch. You need to have access to key info, know decision-makers, and understand the buying process. You shouldn’t be micromanaging your salespeople, of course, but make sure they all have this information in order to best do their job.
- Have enough contacts. You and your salespeople should have at least three contacts for each lead. This way, if someone leaves the company or changes accounts, you aren’t left hanging with a dead prospect, and you’ll always be able to negotiate with the right person.
How to best communicate with your salespeople and team
Frequent one-on-ones are the best way to make sure your salespeople feel supported and are heading in the right direction to close deals. Make sure to discuss the following in a positive and encouraging manner:
- Quotas. Will you reach your objectives? Why or why not? What can be done? It’s not too late to make things happen if you’re meeting frequently enough with your salespeople.
- Velocity. Are the right moves happening at the right time?
- Conversion rate. Are your sales techniques working? If not, evaluate why.
- Methodology. Consider using MEDDIC methodology, which we’ll detail out below.
Is the pipeline size enough to answer these questions? No! You’ll need other data to do this. This data includes your actual, not just predicated, conversion rate, how long it takes to move from stage to stage, and determining which tasks need to be performed to advance to the next strage
Remember, the number one thing that makes salespeople good at their job is being in meetings with the right clients. It’s not the size, it’s the interaction and technique that closes deals.
In fact, don’t bother taking the lead stage into account when it comes to pipeline — this should be when you qualify and disqualify leads. Although your pipeline will seem larger if you include them, it’s best to drop what won’t work.
Mangers: Stay relevant in the times of AI
Making sure your manager skills aren’t becoming obsolete in a time of emerging AI is really important in order to stay relevant within the industry. Many tasks that managers used to do, an app or program can now complete (and in record time).
But you can contribute in ways that robots can’t, because nothing can truly replace human interaction. So, focus on the things AI can’t replace: strategy, guidance, and effective communication with your team.
Remember, your influence during the sales process should be positive and helpful — salespeople need your support and lead. Afterward isn’t helpful, it’s too late! For example, if you’re just forecasting and being an ineffective leader, you’ll be phased out by programs like Clari, which can forecast better than most humans.
Consider a shared focus on the MEDDIC methodology, which can help you and your sales team determine whether or not the effort to get a customer into your sales funnel is worth it or not. If you’re not familiar with this, the acronym stands for:
- Metrics: What can your customer gain from your product solution?
- Economic buyer: Talking to the right person within the company is key.
- Decision criteria: What criteria is important to your chosen company?
- Decision process: How does the company’s decision-making process affect your sales approach?
- Identify pain: What are the issues the company is facing and how can your product help?
- Champion: Find someone within their company that’s well-respected who can help champion your solution on the inside.
Your salespeople should be prepared to work hard with the right techniques, understanding which clients have potential in order to move from stage to stage. The process will help augment the number of deals actually closed, which is much more important than boasting a big pipeline.
Newsflash: if you haven’t figured it out by now, we’ll say it one last time: size doesn’t matter (at least when it comes to sales pipelines). 😜 It’s not the size, it’s the motion of the ocean baby! 🌊
In all seriousness, effective selling is really more about choosing the right interactions during each stage than the size of your pipeline. What if you’re only talking to your client and not the decision-maker? You’re wasting time. Adding in dead leads to make your pipeline appear bigger? Wasting time. Time that could be spent advancing further with valuable clients or closing deals. So forget about size, and remember, it’s the interaction that matters.