Developing a Structured Approach to Sales Pipelines - The Issues
Of all the activities in the sales area this seems to be the most difficult for businesses to implement. I have to say I'm at a loss to understand why. Having consulted with organisations from very small to large, there appears to be a blind spot where building a structured sales pipeline is concerned. So what is a structured pipeline and why is it important?
Let's go back a step and see what most commonly happens with pipeline reporting.
For many businesses, particularly small companies, it's simply nonexistent which leaves them hopelessly exposed when business hits a downturn. They have no idea what shape they're in or, more importantly, be able to quantify what sales they need to get back on an even keel, how much activity needs to take place to generate the requisite sales, or the length of time it takes to get from first contact to order. This lack of knowledge is a major contributor to why many smaller businesses fail.
Very many companies have sales reporting and even have pipeline reporting but these are often completely ineffective. They tend to be unstructured and soon degenerate into "a jolly nice chat" allowing sales people to waffle and produce lots of information which is partial, biased and is ultimately there to justify the salesman's position whilst at the same time giving the sales (or company) management little useful information. I can't tell you how many long, tedious and ultimately pointless sales meeting I've had to endure on a client's behalf. Many lasting 3-4 hours when they could and should last about 1 hour. What tends to happen is you get is a long narrative from each sales person talking about who they've seen, why it was an interesting and/or important prospect and then at the end the sad, unexpected or surprising reason why this company is no longer a prospect or at least why they won't be making a decision to buy this month. Worse still each in turn feels it necessary to talk for longer about his or her prospects than the preceding salesperson.
Consequently the pipeline is just as unstructured with a loose general format being used which allows the salespeople to view their pipeline using their own judgement rather than a standardised approach. Typically under these circumstances the quoted pipeline is huge and the amount of business closed is a very small percent (certainly less than 10%, frequently less than 5%) of the total. This is made worse because there is little or no correlation between the size of the pipeline and the sales closed thus making very difficult to predict future revenue streams.
So what should a structured pipeline report aim to achieve?
Firstly, it should enable you to view each sale in a consistent manner.
Second, it should clearly identify if a sales opportunity has progressed or stagnated.
Thirdly, it should contained a factoring index which will more accurately reflect the true value of the pipeline
Fourthly, it should provide sales and/or company management with a consistent and reliable prediction of business that should be closed in the forthcoming period.
Fifth, it should be simple and relatively easy to complete (salespeople as a breed are poor at filling in reports).
Sixth, it should be focused on numbers rather than opinions.
A subsequent article will give you a simple format in which to achieve all this so making your sales function more effective