Think about the resources, the software, the meetings, the forecasting, the managing and measuring you do, and the time and effort you give it. If you’re like most CEO’s or VP’s or sales managers, your sales pipeline is your life blood. It’s what you run your company by; it’s how you make decisions, and often times it even drives your stock prices.
While the pipeline is a vital part of the sales process, it is also where the most fundamental mistake is made, and this mistake costs companies millions (if not billions) of dollars every year.
The problem is that most companies spend too much time, money and energy on measuring and managing the pipeline rather than managing and improving the quality of leads that go into – and ultimately come out of – the pipeline.
In other words, most of the leads that go into your pipeline are never going to close, should never have been put in and, as a result, your company wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars generating and then chasing, and measuring and managing leads that will never close. That’s the real problem.
Ask yourself: “What is my sales department’s closing ratio?” I’ll bet you can answer that, can’t you? A typical company will report that it takes an average of 50 cold calls or contacts with decision makers to set 15 appointments out of which 10 will turn into proposals or pitches which will result in 1 or 2 sales.
And once this metric is established (as measured by the sales pipeline, of course) the sales strategy is set – to get more sales, you just have to set more appointments. And if you want more appointments, then you have to get your sales team to make more calls! Suddenly everyone works harder, goes out on more appointments, and…and…the desired results don’t come, do they?
And here’s why: until you address the fundamental problem- the quality of leads that go into your pipeline – you won’t improve your close ratios or your sales. Remember, you can’t close an unqualified lead, so stuffing more of them into your pipeline isn’t going to get you the results you want. In fact, it will just cost your company more money, frustrate your managers and wear out your sales team.
You’ve got to stop managing your pipeline and start training your sales teams how to generate more qualified leads. That’s the only real answer.
In fact that’s the secret of all top sales producers. Look at your own top reps. What are their closing ratios? I’ll bet they are the highest in your company, aren’t they? They would never consider setting and running 15 appointments because they don’t have the time to waste. They would rather spend their time qualifying (I call it disqualifying) out the non-buyers so they can spend their time finding, qualifying and working with real buyers. And they know how to do this because they understand sales. Unfortunately, 80% of your sales team doesn’t.
And that’s why sales training is your only real answer.
But sales training is what most companies don’t do well. In fact, if you want to know how well your own sales training is working, simply shop your sales team. Either call in, or get on your lead list and have some of your reps call you. Try throwing them some objections and see how they do. If you’re like most companies, you’ll be appalled by the results.
Again, this is the real problem. Until you solve this basic problem of training your sales team, having them generate and stuff more unqualified leads into your pipeline won’t get you the results your company needs. That’s why most companies end up spending so much time and effort managing and measuring the pipeline. It’s something they know how to do.
If you want to get out of this unproductive cycle and actually start improving your sales and revenues, then here’s what you need to do: Get back to the basics of sales training and redefine what makes up a qualified lead. Identify all the elements and create a qualifying checklist. Make your reps fill it out completely before any leads are generated. If you’re not sure of a lead, have a manager re-qualify it for them.
The bottom line is you must train your sales force (and sometimes your managers) how to find and qualify real buyers. The more of these you identify and put into your sales pipeline, the more meaningful it will become.
So take the emphasis off managing your pipeline, and start training and managing your sales team. If you do it right, I guarantee you it will finally give you something you’ll be happy to measure – more sales!
By Andrew Adams