Diagnose Selling Challenges Using Pipeline Report

When I look at my rep's pipeline reports I see that ... most prospects drop off after the product demonstration ... the reps send out a lot of proposals but few lead to closed deals ... the reps speak to a lot of decision makers but few agree to schedule a sales presentation.

Once my clients create and regularly read a pipeline report, the volume of insightful and actionable information provided surprises them. Unfortunately, some of what they learn disappoints them as well.

The Pipeline Report

By definition a pipeline report consists of all of the prospects being actively pursued by a sales representative, and separates them by their appropriate phase in the sales cycle. This information allows a manager to keep track of the total number of prospects the salesperson is working with at any given time.

The Sales Funnel

Ideally, a pipeline report should look like a funnel, with a larger number of prospects at the top and a smaller number of closeable deals at the bottom. Organizations need to understand how many prospects they need at each stage of the pipeline (with some percentage of prospects dropping off along the way) to be able to close enough deals to achieve quota.

Too Many / Too Few

At most companies however, pipelines do not resemble funnels but rather gluts and shortages -- too many prospects in some stages and a lack of prospects in others. Though frustrating, these lopsided funnels show salespeople as individuals who both excel in some areas and need help in others.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, this data enables managers to direct coaching and training efforts where they're most needed.

Typical Pipeline

Every product or service has a sales cycle. In general the steps include:

Introduction or prospecting call
Conversation with decision maker
Product demonstration or sales presentation
Closed Sale

Speaking with Decision Makers

If sales representatives experience difficulty getting through to or having a conversation with a decision maker they may:

  • Know little or nothing about the company prior to the call
  • Lack an introduction tailored to the specific prospect
  • Be unable to provide a relatable example of a potential customer benefit
  • To keep them on the phone, salespeople need to specifically explain why their product will benefit the decision maker.

Moving the Sale Along

Some reps find reaching and talking to decision makers relatively easy. They may struggle with moving a prospect from discussing a product or service to convincing them to take action in the form of a product demo or a proposal. These sales reps might be:

  • Assuming a level of interest that isn't there yet
  • Asking for the product demo or proposal too quickly
  • Failing to understand the prospects needs and concerns
  • Pushing features and benefits of no interest to the prospect

Product demos or proposals require a level of commitment. Most decision makers avoid going in that direction unless they are serious about a potential future purchase. They value their time.

Solving the Problem

Address the clogged pipeline situation initially by looking at your sales staff. Determine who excels at introducing themselves or conducting product demonstrations. Find out how they do what they do. As a starting point, share their best practices with the rest of the sales staff.

Ask reps struggling with those same sales skills to do some research on sites like Amazon. Have them look for books / tapes / workbooks that address the specific areas they need assistance in. At least skim the books they choose. Start a discussion about any revelations / new ideas they're discovering as they read. Begin to think about what further training / coaching they may need going forward.

The good news about a clogged pipeline report is that it can be unclogged. Sales reps need the right skills and support to enable as many of their prospects as possible to move from one phase to the next. Once the report begins to look like a funnel, revenues and productivity will increase.