Music teaches us valuable lessons we can apply to a sales organization. An accomplished musician will tell you that one of the most important skills they need to have in their profession is the ability to listen to the music. It’s not enough to just play your instrument. You need to have a critical ear and listen to what’s going on around you.
Similarly in sales, professionals need to be able to think beyond the accounts they are responsible for, and to be objective about every aspect of what comprises their pipeline. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Far too often, sellers make the mistake of trusting their unchecked assumptions and are blinded by what might actually be happening on an account.
Like the musician who performs without listening, when things don’t get done the way they should, mistakes happen, business gets lost, or time is wasted on deals that aren’t ready to close.
That’s why in a sales organization, a detailed pipeline review should be held at the start of every month. The best way to do this is to sit down with someone in your organization who is capable of looking objectively at a salesperson’s work and can challenge some of the assumptions they might be making about their accounts. Typically this individual would be a manager, a VP, a sales coach or a trusted third party.
A detailed pipeline review is where tough questions get asked. Sure, it can be painful, but it is the only way people can receive an objective view on everything they need to do to get things done—in other words, how much is really expected to close, and how they are going to get it closed.
Get the facts
Smoke out those false assumptions by asking questions that go searching for facts rather than feelings. For every account, here are key questions that need to be asked…
- What proof do you have that this deal will close this month? What obstacles are still in your way?
- When did you last speak directly to your client? What did they say?
- What’s stopping them from buying from you right now? Who else are they considering?
- What are your next steps? What other contacts can you make inside the account to secure this sale now?
- When will you complete those steps?
Look for the signals
Be on the lookout for answers that reveal thinking based on feeling and assumptions rather than facts. A solid pipeline requires proof that you know exactly what is happening, based on direct conversations with the client. You will not close business based on assumptions.
Deeper questioning is required when you get answers that lead with the following phrases:
- “I think…”
- “Not sure, but…”
- “As I understand it…”
- “I’m sensing that…”
- “I just know…”
Once you have challenged basic assumptions, dig deeper and start asking probing questions about the facts supporting an account. It’s time for more rigorous examination when you hear any of the following about deals slated to close within a month:
- Account is described as still being at the qualifying stage or lower.
- Anything less than a 70% probability to close.
- A lack of clear financial information attached to the sale.
- Deals slated to close that have a last-contact date greater than two weeks in the past.
Those kinds of answers suggest that the seller is missing important information about an account or that the pipeline has not been updated with accurate information. Either the seller has to work harder to get answers and fill in the facts, or perhaps the deal is not as real as it was thought to be, and must be pushed further into the year, or eliminated from the pipeline completely.
When you have completed your review, you will undoubtedly have a smaller pipeline. But it will be a real pipeline based on facts rather than assumptions. You and your sales professional will also have a plan of attack for each deal and know exactly what it will take to get the deals closed, or moved closer to a decision. Now the rest of the month can be spent executing your plan!