Your sales pipeline may not be totally useless but just to be sure, let’s find out.  A sales pipeline is totally useless when any of these scenarios are true:

  • It fails to accurately predict future revenue
  • The opportunities are not 100% up to date
  • Some opportunities fail to appear in the pipeline
  • Some of the opportunities are either dead or delayed
  • Your pipeline report is simply a list of opportunities with contact information, budgets, projected closing dates and the odds of closing
  • The report appears to look the same from one week to the next

So how can you get from useless to kick-ass?

You must upgrade your pipeline from a linear report to a structured process.  For example, if you use Outlook as your email program, do you leave all of your emails in the Inbox or do you create additional folders and subfolders and move important emails to the appropriate folder?  The following steps will help you turn your Pipeline into a useful, organized, predictive Pipeline.

  • Create four stages for your pipeline.  The simplest, most adaptable names for your four stages are Suspect, Prospect, Qualified and Closable.  In my book and sales process, Baseline Selling, the four stages are interchangeable with 1st Base, 2nd Base, 3rd Base and Home Plate.
  • Define the criteria for each stage.  If you need suggestions, here is some generic criteria from Baseline Selling.
    • Suspect – First Appointment Scheduled
    • Prospect – They Need it, Have Compelling Reasons to Buy It, and You’ve Differentiated Yourself, your offering and your company
    • Qualified – Completely Qualified to do business with you
    • Closable – They have indicated they will buy and you are simply awaiting a PO, Check, Signature, etc.
    • Move your existing steps, milestones and to-do’s into the stage that best describes where that activity should take place.  If you are wondering where presenting, value propositions, demos, proposals, quotes and company stories go, those to-do’s don’t take place until AFTER the qualification stage.
    • Assign closing odds to each stage.  You can use 25%, 50%, 75% and 90% to your four stages.
    • Take every existing pipeline opportunity and properly stage it by making sure it completely meets the criteria for that stage.  If your salespeople have been selling by presenting and generating proposals, you may have a difficult time when you realize that most of the existing opportunities in your pipeline won’t make it past the Suspect stage.
    • After the opportunities have been staged, have your salespeople begin the sales process over again to move the opportunities through the pipeline – the right way.

Now that you have created a staged, criteria-based Pipeline, there are two more things you will need to implement.

  1. Accountability – your salespeople must know that keeping this information current is not an option nor is it voluntary.  Hold them accountable to that policy – with consequences.
  2. Coaching – when opportunities don’t move from one stage to the next as they should, it indicates a potential bottleneck.  Coach to uncover the reasons why a salesperson is experiencing a bottleneck at a particular stage of the sales process or with a specific opportunity.  Always ask enough questions to determine:
    1. Were they aware that they needed to ask questions there?
    2. Did they know which questions to ask?
    3. Were they simply uncomfortable asking?
    4. What was the reason for their discomfort?
    5. What should it have sounded like? (Role-Play)
    6. Lessons Learned
    7. How will scenarios like this be handled going forward so we don’t experience a similar bottleneck?

If you commit to following all of the steps above, you can turn your useless pipeline into a kick-ass coaching tool and accurately predict future revenue.

by Dave Kurlan, a top-rated speaker, best-selling author, and the leading authority on Sales Force Development.  He is the CEO of Objective Management Group, the industry-leading provider of sales force evaluations and sales candidate assessments. Dave also writes the popular business Blog, Understanding the Sales Force.