Sales pipeline. If you are in sales, you’ll be asked about yours on a regular basis. That said, whether you are on the front lines or management side, it’s quite important not to over-value what are numbers on a spreadsheet but even more so to use it as a tool in following up and closing.
Far and away, salespeople indicate that following up is an ambiguous area: many struggle with how to do it, when to do it and what to say when they do. Too much incessant follow up can drive a prospect away and prevent time being adequately spent on other prospects and driving new business. Too little will keep you out of sight and out of mind.
Furthermore, it’s frequent “water cooler” talk for the sales staff to stand around or chat by various mediums about their pipeline. “I’m working on a million-dollar deal/ I’m working on a thousand widget deal.” While this sounds impressive, like “I’m working on becoming an astronaut,” that blanket statement leaves no clues as to the stage in the game of the realized revenue. I could have bought an astronomy book or some Tang.
The point is that while a large pipeline looks grand on a spreadsheet and may get your boss off your back for this week’s meeting, the time will come when you’re expected to actually close some business.
Translating this into your follow up strategy, a “yes” or “no” is better than a “maybe so.” I’d rather know today that there’s no chance a customer will buy than to have them leave me twisting in the wind for months for fear of breaking my heart. Dump me or commit to me – don’t string me along. To achieve this, it’s about mutual respect; sales is all about relationships and if you effectively build yours, set the right expectations and create some skin in the game on their part, it will set the stage far more masterfully for either a close or a closed door. And a respectfully, possibly temporary closed door at that, as you never know when their fire may be reignited.
Some companies or bosses may wish to see every potential sale with even the most remote chance of success – and that’s their prerogative. It’s also extremely effective to keep a pipeline whether you use a CRM tool or a spreadsheet to track your open dialogues – ensure you are not letting more than a week or two pass prior to the next effective outreach. Having such a tool will keep you on task as you monitor the intervals between contact and you move closer and closer to either flashing or flushing that opportunity.
But, for Pete’s sake, don’t let something sit in your pipeline for too long. Frankly, this all comes down to the effectiveness of your follow up. Don’t press too hard initially, but after a couple of missed calls or unreturned e-mails, it is certainly time for, “Mr./Mrs. Customer – I certainly don’t want to waste your valuable time. I’ve ensured that X number of widgets are set aside for you and want to ensure I’m operating on your timeline. Do you need me to continue holding these?” Direct, to the point, respectful but it also forces a response; they are more likely to respond when they know you’ve put forth effort and inventory or personnel are standing by to act on their behalf when they give the go-ahead.
So, while a pipeline report may illuminate the effectiveness by which you have reached decision makers, set appointments and pitched products, there is one number in sales that’s absolute: money. If your pipeline is not coinciding with revenue, you’re likely to be questioned about it at some point which is all the more reason to keep it true and tight.
What is a realistic sales cycle for the customer you are talking to? How long have they been in the pipeline? Have you given them their adequate and requested time to think about it and provided all necessary collateral and information for the sale to close? Learn how to draw the line between keeping a number on a spreadsheet as a talking point and wasting time on a prospect that will never buy when you could be driving new business. You are costing yourself money while you’re staring at a fake number.
Flash the sale or flush the unrealized dollar figure. Celebrate the win and go on to the next or accept the current lack of purchase, recalibrate your selling and outreach process and press forward to the multitude of other customers that are out there. Learning how to effectively manage and follow up on your pipeline will ensure a steady flow of success.
Carson V. Heady has written a book entitled “Birth of a Salesman” that has a unique spin that shows you proven sales principles designed to birth in you the top producer you were born to be. If you would like to strengthen your sales skills, go to http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ICRVMI2/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_yGXKtb0G
Heady posts for “Consult Carson” serving as the “Dear Abby” of sales and sales leadership. You may post any question that puzzles you regarding sales and sales leadership careers: interviewing, the sales process, advancing and achieving. You will also be directly contributing to his third book, “A Salesman Forever.”
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