The Fundamentals to Executing a Pipeline Discipline

Pipeline is a measure of sales activity effectiveness and is the discipline of analyzing sales effectiveness. Salespeople and sales managers who agree with this principle can gain a competitive advantage; but experiencing that advantage requires adherence to a few fundamentals. Skipping any one of the fundamentals fills pipelines with poor quality opportunities, inflates with too many opportunities that aren’t real, and gives a false sense of hope. Executing the following three fundamentals provides invaluable insight on what is working and what needs to be done differently or better to drive increased performance.

Pipeline stages must connect to sales process stages.
Most companies have sales processes, or at least a process taught in a sales training class that incorporates how to identify needs, present solutions, and close with customers. One would assume that being successful at each stage of the sales process would be what is measured in the pipeline. Frequently what we see as we review pipelines is the two have no connection. It’s not uncommon to see: companies with twice as many levels in their pipelines as there are steps in their sales process, or names of the pipeline stages that have nothing to do with the names of the sales process stages. Good luck using pipeline as a means to diagnose sales activity effectiveness if you haven’t directly connected pipeline to sales process.

Pipeline opportunity progress must be based on client and company milestones.
It is fascinating to see how frequently a sales opportunity is allowed to move to the next pipeline stage or get a high forecast probability because the opportunity has passed internal milestones (such as the company wants and/or believes that the business can be won). Sales is about getting the client to make a decision in your favor, yet many times evidence of the client moving closer to choosing the company is not even included in the definition of the opportunity having progressed. Best in class always have a client and company milestone for each stage of the pipeline. If the opportunity does not meet both criteria, it is not allowed to move to the next level. This prevents the salesperson or company from being delusional in their assessment of where the opportunity really is in relation to winning the business.

Pipeline opportunity movement gets date stamped.
Salespeople have a tendency to keep opportunities in the pipeline way past when the opportunity is alive. This contamination of a pipeline can easily be solved by the salesperson noting the date the opportunity moved to a specific pipeline stage. This allows everyone to see the reality of an opportunity. If a salesperson has not been able to get movement on an opportunity within an agreed upon period of time, that becomes visible and decisions must be made relative to additional actions or resources dedicated to winning the business. The saying “up or off” is a great mantra when pipeline management is done well. Most companies know how long a quality opportunity takes to move from one stage of the pipeline to the next so this is simple to execute. Any opportunity that is significantly outside the timeframe should be either moved back to an earlier pipeline stage or taken off the pipeline altogether.