Helping reps manage their pipeline
  • sales
  • Blog post

Helping reps manage their pipeline

We recently conducted a survey of salespeople and managers to see what they’re struggling with these days. The results may offer some guidance on where you should be putting your focus for training.

Here are the top challenges, with the percentage of of respondents calling it a “significant” or “critical” challenge:

  • Prospects have a solution and aren’t interested in switching (65%).
  • It takes too long to close sales (60%).
  • Sales get stalled in the pipeline (55%).
  • Pushback on price (50%).
  • Buyers are afraid to say yes (50%).

Selling against the status quo is always going to be tough. And price is price.

What I find more interesting are the other three on the list. These are all about pipeline management.

That’s an area where many sales reps could probably benefit from more training, and one that could have a big impact on sales results. A sluggish pipeline eats up a company’s most costly asset: the time of its salepeople. And that’s true no matter the outcome. In fact, a slow win can end up costing more than a quick loss.

One way to make the pipeline more efficient is by trying to speed up individual sales. But there’s only so much a sales rep can do to hurry up a buyer; prospects buy on their own schedule, not the rep’s.

The other way is by changing the mix — by managing what goes in and what stays in. Get disqualified prospects out sooner, and replace them with qualified and eager buyers, and your average time to sale will drop dramatically.

That creates a paradox for many salespeople. They’re trained to not give up. So how do we also tell them that they should give up on some prospects? Especially when the prospect is friendly, seemingly interested and always willing to take your call?

One way to resolve the paradox is to change the conversation.

The pipeline metaphor itself may be part of the problem. It creates an image of prospects all being carried forward in a constant flow. In reality, some are moving forward, some are stuck but could become unstuck, and some are stuck for good. These last ones aren’t part of the flow. They’re obstructions, like rocks in a river. You don’t want to push them further downstream. You want to clear them away. Even better, you want to keep them out the river in the first place.

From this perspective, there is no paradox. Reps need to be ruthlessly persistent about moving real prospects downstream. And they need to equally persistent about clearing away the obstructions — by actively disqualifying them and removing them from the flow.

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