If I asked you to name the most important tool in your sales force, what would your answer be? Your incentive plan? Your sales process? Sales training? CRM? While all those things are certainly important, they are not the most important tool you have to boost your sales performance. That honor goes to your sales pipeline.
Most critical tool in your sales management Batbelt
That’s right—your sales pipeline is the most critical tool in your sales management Batbelt. Think about it: from forecasting and coaching to the conversations that occur every day between reps and managers, the pipeline is the nexus of it all. Sales pipelines very quietly shape sales tactics and drive performance in every B2B sales organization.
Want to know why a rep’s numbers are falling? Look at his pipeline. Need to project where your sales will end up this quarter? Look at the pipeline. Want to find out which types of customers have the highest conversion rates? Better study that pipeline. Want to know if you’ll make your numbers this year? The answer is right there in—you guessed it—your sales pipeline.
This isn’t just my opinion. Most companies sense the importance of pipeline and are doing something about it (even if they aren’t actively aware of it). In research Vantage Point conducted with the Sales Management Association, we asked companies to tell us how often they expect their sales managers to meet with their reps to discuss sales pipelines.
of organizations said they expect pipeline review conversations to occur more than once a month, and the most frequent response was “weekly.”
We also asked about the length of those meetings and discovered that the average pipeline discussion lasts 53 minutes.
Huge time commitment
These are huge numbers. If I’m a sales manager with 10 reps and I meet with each of them for 53 minutes a week, that’s a big chunk of my time. In fact, those conversations are consuming one full day of my week. But the pipeline’s footprint on my calendar goes beyond the time I’m spending in face-to-face meetings, because I’m also using the pipeline to inform my coaching agenda, my forecasting activity, and my strategy for leading my sales reps to quota.
The activities on which each rep focuses his or her effort also come directly from reviewing their pipelines. No matter how you look at it, the sales pipeline is the most important tool in any sales force, and it’s also one of the largest investments a company makes in its sales organization.
Lack of sales training = massive disconnect
Yet pipeline management is also one of the most-neglected skills in the sales force. When was the last time you trained your sales managers on how to maintain healthy pipelines and to manage them effectively? Right now, I’d guess most of you are thinking, “Ummm…. Errr….” Exactly. In the majority of organizations, this kind of specialized training never takes place, and this is a massive disconnect.
Pipeline health is paramount; without a healthy pipeline and managers who know how to use it, nothing in the sales force will function as it should. Yet training in this critical area tends to be minimal at best. The good news is that this is easily overcome. When sales managers are well equipped to manage their pipelines through targeted training, they produce better forecasts, are more effective coaches, and help their sellers to win more deals. It’s just that simple.
If your results aren’t where you’d like them to be, take a hard look at what you’re doing to create healthy pipelines and to ensure your managers know how to use them. After all, the sales pipeline is the most important tool in your sales force. Does your attention to it reflect that importance?