Learn about the three stages of a sales pipeline, the consequences of poor pipeline management, and why pipeline management gets away from new leaders. In addition, learn what to do with reps that have pie in the sky pipelines, and what to do with a scarce pipeline.
- The sales pipeline. It's life or death for a sales team. So you're familiar with the basic sales pipeline from your time as a rep and you probably have your own terms for your sales process. I want to focus on the three most common stages, though. Leads, prospects, and customers. Pipeline management can be one of the most challenging aspects of leadership for new sales managers. So why is that? Well because it's hard. Instead of just managing your personal pipeline, you now have to look at a shared pipeline with a lot of different customers at different stages in the process.
And they weren't all evaluated by you. They were evaluated by your team who may or may not be accurate. So, what's your goal as a new manager? Well obviously you want a closed business. Which part of the pipeline is most likely going to result in closing new business right now? Well that's your prospects. And that's why they tend to get the most attention but this can be a challenge because in the rush of day to day business and trying to close deals with prospects, the areas most likely to be ignored by new sales managers are the leads.
But it's pretty obvious what happens if you neglect lead generation and lead nurturing. The challenge is, this aspect of the pipeline often falls under the important but not urgent and thus it fails to get attention. But the effect of neglecting lead generation and lead nurturing, it doesn't show up immediately. It takes a few months. But it will happen. And then if you neglected it, it will take you many more months in order to rebound. You know it can also be easy to forget about existing customers but if you neglect your existing customers you lose the potential to upsell them or even worse, you might lose them entirely to a company who's paying attention to them, to a company who's having regular conversations about their goals and what's happening in the industry.
Save yourself some future pain. Talk about each area of the pipeline with your reps, leads, prospects, and customers. So let's look at a couple of examples of how you as a manager can effectively discuss each of these with a sales rep. Elizabeth, do you have a minute? - Yeah, sure. - Yeah, I want to ask you a little bit about your pipeline. It's looking really good. - Yeah I have an awesome deal on the table tomorrow. I'm meeting with the CFO and he's totally bought in. - Good, I'm excited. How do you feel about the value story? - It's really strong.
I mean, he came to us through the website and he was already on top of it. - Okay, good. Is there anything else that you need that you think would make it stronger? - I don't think so, I mean he's a decision maker. We've talked a lot about his goals. I think it's going to close. - Okay, that sounds really good. I see you've got a couple of others here on your 30 day horizon. - It's going to be a good month. - That's great, I'm excited for you. So, let me ask about the things that are a little further away, 120, 180 days. What have you got going on there? - You mean like my other prospects? - Well not so much your other prospects but one of the things I noticed is you've done a great job of working these deals all the way through, but I'm curious if you have any leads that you're nurturing.
- Oh, yes. So I just got some leads from marketing last week. I've been kind of softly introducing myself. Sent some articles, asked a few questions about their business. - Okay. I think that's really good. When I look at what you've got going on now, you spent a good bit of time nurturing those to get them here, how much time are you spending nurturing the current leads that you have? - Probably about an hour a week. I usually just do it Friday afternoon. - Okay, does that feel appropriate to you? Do you want to maybe consider upping that? - I think I could add some more time earlier in the week.
I don't think it would hurt in the long run. - Yeah, I think that's a really good idea because I think you're doing a good job adding value early and when I look at the strong month that you're probably going to have, it's a result of what you did about six months ago. - Good point. - Yeah, so I want you to keep applying that effort so you don't want to end up with a big goose egg at the end of the year. - Right. - So, last quick question. I'm looking at your customers here. How much time are you spending reaching out to them? - It kind of depends. I mean, they usually call me when they have questions and that's just the relationship we've always had, but they're good, they know the product.
- Yeah, I think that's true. And you do have a really good relationship with your existing customers. You know, as I'm thinking about this, one of the things, I mean we were caught off guard last year because we lost a few customers. Not yours, but others. And so I want to make sure that everybody's really shoring up the relationship with the existing customers. Is there something you can do with them to be more proactive and reach out? - Yeah, we have a few new training tools that I think would help them on some newer features and even just checking in with them, making sure they don't have questions. - Okay, I think that's a really good idea. I think you're going to have a great month, I just want to make sure that what you've got on either side of it is really well-balanced so you have a really good year.
- Thanks, me too. - Did you notice how each piece of the pipeline had a different set of questions that the manager asked the rep? Yet they're all focused on that same through line, customer impact. As a new manager, you might discover that some of your reps have pie in the sky pipelines. They're never going to close everything that they're forecasting. If you're having a panic moment right now, thinking, oh my gosh, I'm not sure we have a good pipeline, or even worse, we don't have a pipeline, breathe.
Have you ever heard the expression the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago but the second best time is right now? So as a manager, just make an effort to ensure that you have enough leads in your team's pipeline and remember not to neglect those leads when they turn into prospects and customers. Know what to measure. Talk about every area of the pipeline with your reps and communicate the big picture.
- Understanding your role
- Setting the tone as manager
- Recruiting the right people
- Dealing with inherited bad talent
- Making sales meetings count
- Working with marketing, accounting, and product
- Communicating with senior leaders
- Dealing with failure