Sales pipelines continue to be a mystery. Sales leaders and sales reps alike report that 60% of the KPI's they are most concerned with have to do with the sales pipeline.
Having analyzed thousands of sales pipelines, data has revealed three common sales pipeline challenges that sales leaders and organizations face across the board. Let’s take a quick look at these challenges and discuss potential fixes that will solve these sales pipeline challenges.
Almost every sales person has experienced the frustration of opportunities that get stuck in the pipeline and attempt to push stalled sales through the deal funnel. These are the opportunities that seem to be moving through the pipeline, only to stall at a particular stage. When this happens, there are some predictable excuses that are offered by sellers.
“They are dealing with other issues and will get back to us soon” or “we are just waiting the proposal to make its way through legal” or “I have left several messages, but I am sure they will get back to me soon”. The real reasons opportunities stall is because the sales person does not have enough information about the customer.
The fact is that as opportunities make their way through a pipeline, any number of changes could be happening on the customer side of the decision. Personnel changes, changes in priority, budget concerns, re-ordering of objectives, etc. It is vital that a seller periodically reconfirms the circumstances that fostered interest in the first place. The seller needs to confirm that those initial criteria have not changed or been reduced in importance.
Just because those circumstances change does not mean that the opportunity is dead. Sales people just need to adjust their approach depending on the customer’s stage in the decision journey. Opportunities in the pipeline should move backwards sometimes. The assumption that a customer only moves in one direction (i.e. toward a purchasing decision) is one primary cause of deals that stall.
How many times does an opportunity in your sales pipeline move backwards? If the answer is seldom or never, that is a clear symptom of a funnel that is not mapped to the realistic behaviors of a modern buying committee.
One of the most surprising findings from analyzing thousands of sales pipelines is that the most successful sellers often have the fewest opportunities in their pipeline. That is because they are continuously re-qualifying that they are pursuing real potential deals. Most often, opportunities are added to the funnel simply because the seller has had a conversation and sees a clear use the customer has for the product or service they represent. Fatal mistake.
Opportunities to sell a product or service arise because of changes in the customer’s satisfaction with their current approach or solution. In other words, the prospect has reached a point where their current solution is no longer optimal. Unless the customer can express some level of dissatisfaction with their current solution, no opportunity will exist.
Don’t add opportunities to the pipeline if you can not identify or develop the customer’s frustration with the status quo. An effective seller either needs to understand that this frustration is present in the customer’s mind or has to help the customer discover why the current approach is not optimal.
Absent customer dissatisfaction with the current solution, there is no opportunity for a sale. No matter how enthusiastic a customer contact may be in conversation, no frustration means no opportunity. Too many names are added to sales pipelines that represent nothing more than the wishes, dreams or hopes of a seller.
For many sellers, this pipeline challenge caused by one or both of two errors: having only a single contact in a situation where multiple decision-makers are involved, and/or submitting a proposal too early in the customer decision process.
Ask yourself a question. How many different decision-makers do we know that are involved in each opportunity we are pursuing? If the answer averages “one” you are not alone, but you are likely also not a top performer. One of the most important things for a B-2-B seller to uncover is the list of decision-makers who have a vote on how the decision will be made.
Identify all of the decision makers in the buying process. After that, make sure that you have helped the buying committee find consensus on why the purchase is worth considering. The group also needs to agree on what a successful outcome will look like and have establish a clear set of criteria by which the best option will be identified. Once you have helped the buying committee get to that point, it is time to send the proposal. A proposal sent before that point is reached will be counter-productive.
Fix these three sales pipeline challenges and the results will be staggeringly positive. It’s not as easy as it sounds but the good news is that there is a path to having a productive sales pipeline. When done right, the pipeline can enable accurate forecasts, serve as a sales strategy guide and ensure that every sales calorie is invested in the right activities. The bad news is that only the top performing organizations have decoded how to get there.