This time of year is a good time to ask, and to answer the question “What’s in Your Pipeline?”
One of the things we discover are opportunities that have been there for some time, long term tenants. Most of these are dead and should be tossed, but that may leave the pipeline a little lean, which is why they were left in the pipe to begin with, filler, more for appearance sake than results. Eventually this build up does clog the flow of deals and opportunities through the pipeline and results in a massive attack on your income and success.
Some of these opportunities are real and need to be continued to be worked, others have been dead for a long time, and are costing you in multiple ways. The challenge for many is which is which, are they indeed one of those opportunities that don’t conform to the norm, but will yield results, or are they just plaque in the pipeline?
First thing you have to do is define the “norm” that your opportunities need to conform to. For me it has always been easy based on what I was trained and have practiced since. First discipline is to understand the average length of your sales cycle, and by definition the average and optimal length of each stage of the sale. While there may not be an exact number, there is a pattern and if you track it, you can quickly arrive at that number. This is a breeze with some of the tools provided by leading CRM packages. If you are stuck in a stage or a sale too long, it is less likely to close. You know that, I know that, everyone knows it, so you are only fooling yourself by keeping it in your pipeline. Some think, “If I have plenty to work on in my pipeline I have an excuse not to prospect”. If something is past it “best before date”, you need to replace it, which is what most are trying to avoid. At one point, the moment of truth comes and you will have to replace the plaque. A simple way to change this is to dedicate time every day, every week to prospecting and adding new opportunities to your pipeline, and then you will be able to take out the trash and still have plenty of good in the pipe.
The other discipline was ensuring that you are dealing with buyers who are as engaged as you are in the outcome or sale. You can tell who is engaged and who is not, and best of all you can ensure that they are, or be at fault when they are not. The easiest way to achieve this is to focus on how to keep the sale in motion and moving in the right direction, achieving specific milestones in specific time frames. This comes down to having active opportunities in the pipe vs. inactive. How do you determine who is active? Two criteria, first, are they taking steps to move the sale forward, are they investing the time, resources; are they active participants, or passive spectators. If you are able to consistently get them to commit to actions to be achieved in specific timeframes, you are getting next steps, and steadily marching towards the finish line with a willing partner who is also invested in making this happen in time. That is an active prospect, if they are not actively engaged; they are not and should be removed.
The challenge sometime are those opportunities that do not conform, but are still viable opportunities, the ones that cause you to ask: “is this one slow to close, or slow to die?” Valid question, but one that needs to be worked outside the pipeline. Left in the pipeline, they will distract and siphon time and resources. Remove them from your pipeline, you can still work them, but not suffer from a sluggish and underperforming pipeline.
We have all won deals that would be called anomalies when compared to the norm, so why treat them as though they were the norm. Your pipeline should be made up of those opportunities that represent the norm, that is – predictable and manageable. The goal is to deliver quota with the “norm”, and look at the anomalies as a bonus, for the very reason that they are not predictable, and therefore can’t be counted on.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you do not pursue some of these anomalies, long shots if you will. What you don’t want to do is pretend that they will come through when you have no way of mapping or predicting them. If you cannot answer the question “is this one slow to close, or slow to die?”, then you need to remove it from your pipe, and work those that are predictable.
What’s in Your Pipeline?