CRMs don’t sell. Salespeople sell!
While we’re massive supporters of using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool such as Salesforce to track and manage your pipeline, most sales teams need great coaching in order to get the most out of these tools. The most common mistake we see sales managers making is that they tend to focus on lagging indicators like the number of opportunities and closed deals in the pipeline. With the help of a CRM, you can redirect your management focus towards leading indicators, such as lead progress, lead creation, and lead engagement.
The shortfall of lagging indicators is that the proverbial horse has already left the barn. It is now too late for the sales manager to provide course correction for his or her salespeople.
Focusing on the number of new leads, the conversion rate of lead to opportunity, the number of stakeholders engaged inside an opportunity, and other leading indicators provides more value for salespeople during a pipeline review.
To move from a discussion about lagging indicators and into sales coaching discussions around leading indicators of sales success, I strongly recommend sales managers (and salespeople) add the following 5 questions to their pipeline review:
Question 1 – What genuine progress has been made since our last review?
Poor performers will tell you about the same opportunities again and again and hang on to the hope that one of their stalled deals will get them over the line before the end of the sales period. Poor sales coaches will either be unaware that this is happening or too lazy to challenge the poor performers. The key to great pipeline management is making sure that every review and discussion generates progress, or what we like to call pipeline momentum. Asking this question will help shift the mindset of your salespeople from maintenance mode to active lead management that genuinely moves deals forward.
Question 2 – What new leads have entered your pipeline since our last review?
As the founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc said, “When you’re green you grow and when you’re ripe you rot.” The same can be said for a pipeline and the bottom line is that if your team isn’t driving new leads into their pipeline, they set themselves up for the rollercoaster of getting a deal done and then panicking because there’s no next deal. A critical success factor in developing business development excellence is ensuring that your sales team is making time to network and identify new potential opportunities. This question reminds your salespeople there’s more to pipeline management than just closing deals.
Question 3 – How much commitment do you have in relation to each opportunity in your pipeline?
Focusing on the number of leads in a salesperson’s pipeline will work against the goal of Question 1. Too many salespeople spend too much time writing proposals to prospects that are just price shopping and are not ready to buy. While this may be a useful customer relations tactic, it is a poor sales strategy that is generally supported by poor coaching. People get patted on the back for a fat pipeline and this is one of the reasons that they hang on to “deals” that will never close. Remind your salespeople (and yourself) that shear quantity of leads does not build the business. Instead, take time during each review to assess the commitment from each opportunity in the pipeline. In short, this question helps you and your team focus on quality, not quantity.
Question 4 – Which opportunity in your pipeline is most likely to close and why?
If you want your people to be more productive and focused on a daily basis, your pipeline coaching needs to support this. Telling people to close everything in their pipeline is not coaching and often it ends up being counterproductive (see Questions 1 through 3, above)! Great sales managers coach relativity and constantly remind their team that every opportunity, prospect and activity does not have equal value. The more often a great sales manager coaches this, the easier they make it for their people to prioritize activity rather than numbers.
Question 5 – Who from the team or our network (including me) can help you close this deal or increase the probability of a win?
A concept I coach is that salespeople never fail alone. The point is that culturally it’s OK to fail as long as you’ve engaged others in the team to help you win. The more this is coached in pipeline discussions the more you train your salespeople to accept that the team can actually help them become more successful. We know from thousands of discussions with sales professionals all over the world that the most successful individuals are often successful because they’re great at leveraging the support of others. To be clear, the question is not “What deals can I close for you?” That sort of prompt from a sales manager might get short-term results, but it won’t build a culture of self-sustaining pipeline management.
So if you feel your team could benefit from some pipeline management improvements, here’s my challenge to you:
1) Take a little time out to reflect on your last pipeline coaching session, or if you’re a salesperson, the last time you personally reviewed your pipeline. How many of these questions did you genuinely ask and answer? Think through what the positive consequences could have been if you had taken the time to do this.
2) Do a pipeline review this week and deliberately and consciously add these questions into the other elements of your standard pipeline review. I know there’s a bunch of other questions that could be asked but if you’re committed to coaching more effectively and taking control of leading indicators of sales success these 5 questions are the first step towards improved pipeline momentum.
3) Download my free ebook - Sales Growth Blueprint - and reflect on the strategies I've shared to get off the sales “treadmill”. The book includes a framework that my clients have used to generate billions of dollars and it has proven to drive success time and again.
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