Conducting an effective pipeline review is one of the key tasks that a sales manager needs to do to ensure his team is on track to achieve goal. But what I find more times than not is that the pipeline review is conducted during the weekly sales meeting and it quickly becomes each sales person reading their pipeline off the screen while the rest read their email or post on social media.
A good pipeline review can actually accelerate the sales cycle and is key to salesperson development. A poor review process can have the opposite impact. It can demotivate your sales people, create a false sense of progress and slow your sales cycle. Ensuring that the pipeline review adds value to the sales person is the responsibility of the manager. Unfortunately, many sales managers don't understand the actual purpose of a review or how to effectively run one.
Here are three tips for improving your pipeline review and helping your team hit their number for the month.
1. Pipeline reviews are not a group activity.
Your weekly sales meeting is not the time to do a pipeline review. Unless you operate in a team selling structure, no one other than the sales person speaking cares about what is happening. You also need more than 5-10 minutes per rep to generate visibility into their pipeline that is more than surface deep.
(You can find out more about running an effective sales meeting here.)
To get better visibility and to better use your sales person's time, establish a regular time that you will meet with each of the one on one. You can either do this every two weeks or on a weekly basis. Frequency is really dependent on our team, but both can be effective. At the first meeting of the month you want to focus on opportunities in the pipeline that can close that can close that month. The second meeting is focused entirely on pipeline development. Is the sales person adding enough leads and opportunities to the pipeline to ensure quota is attained 90 to 120 days out. If you meet each week, then repeat the order for weeks three and four. Breaking up the discussion this way allows you and your sales person to conduct a more thorough discussion on topics that will impact your sales production that would not normally occur.
2. Ensure proper opportunity qualifying is occurring.
Here is what a pipeline review normally sounds like:
Sales manager brings up the CRM on a screen at a sales meeting and shows all the opportunities sorted by sales rep and starts working down the list.
“This one says it’s closing by the end of the month. Anything new? OK. How about this one? Anything new?”
For each opportunity, the salesperson would gives a brief answer along the lines of one of three things: 1) “I’ve got a call into them.” 2) “We had a good discussion/meeting, and it looks good.” Or 3) “I think it’s going to slip into next month.”
This conversation does nothing to answer the questions needed to provide good mentoring to the sales team or build confidence in a forecast that needs to given to the company C suite.
To understand the potential for an opportunity to close, sales managers need to ensure their team can answer some key questions. These questions provide sales reps the visibility into the opportunity's position in their buying cycle and acceptance of value of your product.
1. Has your customer answered the question, “What happens if you don’t solve your problem?”
2. Who else is affected? Are they Involved?
3. Why would we lose this deal?
4. Why would the customer change from what they are doing now to what you are selling?
If your sales people can't answer these questions, you have identified potential risk to the opportunity closing on time.
3. Coach don't reprimand
The pipeline review is your opportunity to help move opportunities forward through your sales process, not just continue the process. Don't reprimand your sales reps for inaction or lack of information. For each opportunity that your review help them develop a strategy going forward that will address any risk and help the opportunity get what they need to make a purchase decision. Be specific with the next steps you identify. Both the sales manager and the sales person need to leave the meeting with clear tasks that need to be completed to advance the opportunity or to fill the pipeline. These tasks need to be discussed at the next review. Discussing these tasks regularly helps build a culture of accountability within the sales organization and drives more intentional efforts.
Pipeline reviews can be a very effective tool for sales teams if they are done correctly. Effective sales leadership is all about asking the right questions of your sales people, and then using this information as a basis for conducting effective coaching. If you aren't conducting effective pipeline reviews, you are potentially leaving money on the table with your clients.