Talk to almost any CEO of a technology-based, B2B-focused business and you’re likely to hear concerns about the size of their sales pipeline, the accuracy of their sales forecasts and their ability to grow market share.
But the obvious conclusion – “we need to grow our pipeline” – isn’t always the right answer. Far too many sales pipelines are clogged with inadequately qualified opportunities that are going nowhere slowly.
These poorly qualified opportunities serve to confuse, to obfuscate the true value of the pipeline, and to divert scarce sales and marketing resources from identifying, engaging qualifying and winning more of the right sort of prospects.
The consequences are uncomfortable. Revenue targets get missed. A minority of sales people end up generating a majority of the revenues. Investors get frustrated, reputations get tarnished, jobs get lost and potential remains unfulfilled.
Painful consequences can be avoided
But it doesn’t have to be that way. A growing minority of successful sales and marketing organisations are taking a systematic, data-driven and proactive approach to managing their sales pipelines – with impressive consequences.
The results are not restricted to improved revenue performance – the associated benefits often include an increased return on marketing investment, more sales people above quota and the elimination of a great deal of avoidable wasted effort.
Introducing the Revenue Accelerator’s Guide to Proactive Pipeline Management
We cover the key principles in our latest Revenue Accelerator’s Guide to Proactive Sales Pipeline Management - you can download your copy here. But in the meantime, here’s a preview of some of our key recommendations:
- You’ve got to think like a buyer and base the key stages and milestones in your marketing and sales pipeline around the key phases in your prospect’s buying decision process
- You’ve got to anticipate the likely issues, concerns and motivations of your prospect at each step along the way - and align your marketing messages and materials and your sales actions and conversations accordingly
- Opportunity qualification should never be a one-time event - you need to regularly requalify against increasingly stringent criteria at each stage
- Get out early. If you are unlikely to win, you had better lose early, before a great deal of time, energy and effort is wasted
- Momentum is critical. On average, it takes more than twice as long to lose a deal (or recognise it has been lost) than it does to win one
- Data is key. You can’t manage pipelines effectively or create accurate sales forecasts without good data and informed judgement
- Structured win-loss analysis is essential. You’ve got to learn from your wins, losses and no decisions
Because it’s worth it
You might be wondering whether all the effort involved is going to be worth it. Firstly, it’s probably less challenging than you might think to set up - this is an exercise we’ve completed numerous times with clients, with universally positive outcomes.
But second, and probably more important, what about the risks of carrying on with the typically inadequate approach to pipeline management that we see so often at the start of a client engagement?
Can you afford the possibility that you might continue to waste a significant amount of your marketing investment, or to run the run the risk of relying on the same minority of your sales force to bring in the bulk of your revenues?
Can you, or anyone on your team, afford the possibility that you might miss your next revenue forecast because of an undiscovered issue with one of your key deals for the quarter, or to allow a sales person’s unjustified exuberance to inflate your revenue forecast?
I thought not.
Here’s the link to that guide again. I hope that at least some of the ideas prove helpful.