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Your Sales Pipeline Can Make You or Break You
Good pipeline management requires clear thinking and knowing when to cut a deal loose.
For the rest of the August 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here

It holds many keys to the success of your business; CRM implementation teams and sales teams spend countless hours evaluating, customizing, and reporting on it. Yet many organizations continue to struggle with what the sales pipeline represents and how to use it to determine what opportunities exist and how to convert them. With all the buzz about artificial intelligence, sales is still people dealing with people in the process of exchanging goods, services, and dollars.

Pipeline management is a tricky combination of how and where people spend their time, with limited resources, to win business. How do you influence the behavior of the sales team, which must carry out the marching orders? Those of us who’ve spent time in the CRM trenches understand that you need to change the way people think before you change their behavior.

Let’s look at some of the more common challenges, and how you can effectively use CRM as a strategic weapon in the quest to deliver your revenue goals:

Pipeline structure. In many instances companies view the pipeline as a linear process and do not account for the various types of deals that should have distinct milestones. When charts and dashboards are rendered for sales team members or executives, the visuals don’t drive much in the way of thought.

In reality, there should be stages for each unique sales process, and the structure of those stages should be defined by both likelihood and priority. Too many companies have an elongated set of steps, and front-line personnel end up concentrating more on going through the motions of the pipeline than zeroing in on the right deals.

Pipeline bloat. This is the most common problem with sales organizations and CRM systems today. Sales and marketing teams spend a lot of time defining opportunities and the requisite steps to reaching conclusions. But they often don’t define a process on how to effectively disqualify or eliminate deals that sales reps will never win.

If you can’t tell what the last action was on a deal, or what the next action should be, kill the deal. If you haven’t met with significant people in the target organization in the past 30 days, kill the deal. If you don’t have a strategy written down on why you will win the deal, kill the deal.

Organizations that are disciplined about scrutinizing deals have consistently been shown to outperform competitors. In contrast, when everything looks like it could be a deal, people spend too much time on too many opportunities that aren’t going anywhere.

Sales process versus buyer journey. Gone are the days where vendors have all of the information and a significant amount of control in how and when business gets done. Consumers have access to a great deal of information. And, depending on who you believe, anywhere from two thirds to three quarters of the selection process is over before sales gets involved.

The question to ask is whether the pipeline reflects how your customers transact, as well as the stages of decision making. In many instances, firms are finding that if they can identify where buyers are in the process when they start to engage them, a winning strategy is much more easily executed.

Pipeline meetings. Deals have a shelf life, and having meetings every few weeks simply is not good enough. If you’re trying to determine what is and is not an opportunity, look at previously documented issues and resolutions.

Too many leaders use pipeline meetings to beat people over the head with their own data. This does nothing to drive revenue and everything to erode confidence in CRM. A better use of time is to spend one meeting deciding what deals are in or out, and another to figure out how to move things down the funnel or close them out.

Remember that where you end up will be determined by the action you take going forward. One way or another, your CRM pipeline and how you approach it will have a big effect on how you finish the year. Good luck!


Danny Estrada is the founder of E Squared, a management consulting firm focused on sales team performance, and has been a CRM practitioner for the past 20 years. As a practice leader, he has guided teams through the implementation and development cycles of more than 500 CRM projects. He is author of the Practical CRM blog (http://blog.practicalcrm.net) and has served as a keynote speaker for companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, and Sage, discussing real-world application of CRM concepts. Estrada is also an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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