Flawed thinking has it that there’s nothing important or exciting about the “middle.” Just ask Jan Brady or any nose tackle on a defensive line. But the middle of your sales funnel is really important– opportunities have to be watched and decisions made based on status and progress. Which ones will make it? Which ones will fall out? What’s my next step? The decisions we make on opportunities in the middle of the pipeline will prevent surprises later and will help us to put the right resources on the right deals at the right time. If we don’t make the right decisions, or worse, neglect these deals, it usually results in fallout, or what I call “zombie” deals that linger around cluttering up the pipeline. These zombie deals steal time away from us on thought process, manager conversations and important resources. If we do go about it the right way though, more closes, faster cycles and accurate forecasts happen.
So, in order to make the right decisions and make an impact in time, the focus should be on these three things:
- Deal Progress – This is your step-by-step sales process. Most companies use stages to track deals and move them to the next stage as milestones are achieved and questions are answered. Sales reps qualify deals for authority, need, urgency and money. I want to emphasize “authority.” The information received on opportunities must be validated by the decision maker while anyone else tied to the deal is just to win them over. Having a sales process aligns the reps for consistent behavior. Details on deals are usually discussed verbally between a sales rep and their manager, but ideally all details should be recorded in the CRM. By having this data up to date in the CRM, the manager can review deals and spend more valuable time discussing what plays to run and pointing out important pieces of the deal that are missing. Also, if this detail is recorded in the CRM, analytics can be used to improve the sales process.
- Deal Momentum – This is where I look to find deals that are stuck and deals that have the right buyer engaged. Typical things I look for to determine proper velocity are:
- When was the last activity date?
- When was the last communication with someone in authority?
- Is the next meeting scheduled?
- How compelling of a need is this that it can make someone buy now?
Once again, it’s better to have these things recorded in the CRM. I do my prep work for the Monday sales meeting on Sunday, and I don’t want to contact reps on the weekend for questions or updates. Also, at the end of the sales period, I want this information in the CRM for me to apply analytics on sales process improvement and performance.
- Ideal Customer Profile – This is information about the ideal prospect, which provides more confidence that a close is inevitable. For B2B sales, this is usually size, market or industry and whether you are engaged with the appropriate buyer who has purchase authority. For B2C sales, I know an example of a company that sells solar panels and they look for certain credit scores of residences, homes where the roof faces south and for prospects to bring their utility bills to the meeting to compare the cost savings. Once again, this is ideally recorded on every lead and opportunity in the CRM to track for analytics.
Do not engage resources or include pipeline deals in the forecast until you have a good handle on the above three things. Applying a score, as a deal moves through the process on these three criteria helps enormously. It is critical in determining how many will make it through the pipeline, which are worth resources, and which to apply to the forecast.
There’s nothing more exciting than adding confidence to a pipeline and forecast, but it’s even more exciting to close more deals at a faster pace by applying these three tenets to managing your pipeline.
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