I’m guessing that, like me, you’ve sat through countless sales pipeline review meetings wondering if they would ever end. When I was in a quota carrying role, we would usually gather weekly to review the entire pipeline of the group. Let me just say those were wasted hours I’ll never get back. I’ve always wondered, what exactly are we accomplishing here? What learning was taking place and what information was management gathering that wasn’t already in the pipeline reports? I resolved that when I reached a management role, I would find a better way.
Why and How Pipeline Reviews Should Be Done
Primarily, pipeline reviews are really opportunities for one-on-one coaching sessions between manager (coach) and the sales rep (player). The “group grope” method of gathering the entire team and each member reading their pipeline is usually a waste of everyone’s valuable time. What really gets accomplished by this method? Let’s discuss a better way to use this time for coaching, improving skills and moving deals forward.
The Four Steps to Pipeline Review Progress
1. Get real about CRM adoption.
If your accounting manager says, “you know, I don’t like your accounting system. I’m going to do my job in a simple spreadsheet and you just ask me when you need some numbers or something.” Would you tolerate that behavior? So why do we allow push back from sales people that don’t like CRM systems? Sales data is just as valuable as accounting data. Our sales teams need to realize that CRM usage is highly valuable to the organization. CRM systems are here to stay, and the data is worth its weight in gold. These systems must be utilized to their fullest extent.
Just as important, the onus is also on management to design and implement a system that increases productivity, not kills it. This is a big issue, so please don’t avoid it. See my previous article on CRM best practices.
2. Only qualified opportunities in the pipe.
Many times sales pipelines are filled with all kinds of deal activity. But a pipeline should only be for truly qualified deals. They are not to be used for the tracking of activity. My advice is to ensure that ONLY qualified deals are in the pipeline so time devoted to deal review is only for active, qualified pursuits.
A good method to teach your team to qualify deals is through the acronym “BANT.” If a deal satisfactorily meets the following, then sales resources should be allocated to its pursuit:
Budget – has budget been allocated to this purchase?
Authority – who has the decision making authority?
Need – what is the compelling need that is driving this purchase?
Timeframe – when will the purchase be made?
Yes, many deals are always in the process of qualification that do not yet meet these criteria. This is expected, of course. Here’s a tip: Setup a pipeline stage called “prequalify” for deals in this early stage. Yes, these are essentially leads that need further work to determine if you’re going to allocate valuable resources to their pursuit. When reviewing pipeline reports, just exclude those deals in the “prequalify” stage.
3. One-on-one coaching is the best review method.
This is where real progress is made in pipeline reviews. The manager/coach should look at patterns, trends and behaviors that help them understand how their rep is performing. Clearly understanding the active, qualified pipeline will give you many clues on what is and is not happening with your salesperson.
In addition, be sure to keep a log of next steps, assignments and other advice. Because, if you’re coaching a team, you won’t remember the details from one week to the next. And, your sales person needs to know you are serious about advancing their skills and finding their blind spots. Your expectations will set the tone for their advancement.
4. Eyes on the prize.
Certainly, closing performance gaps and training are a key part of these coaching discussions. But always come back to the end goal for developing your team: quota attainment, skills improvement, monetary success, career advancement, etc. Find the real goals that motivate them and help them get it!
Pipeline reviews can be very productive, if used not for information gathering and deal updates, but for actual skills development and sharpening sales proficiency. You as the manager will set the tone and pace for these sessions, so help your team advance their deals by advancing their skills.