Why do some Sales Reps fail at properly managing their pipeline and forecasting their business? This question has plagued business and sales leaders since the beginning of business. Inaccurate pipelines and bad sales forecasts paralyze business leaders decision making, and ultimately cause bad behaviors at the end of month, quarter or year that hurt margins and future business.
Sometimes you hear Sales Managers tell their reps that they need 4X their quota in their pipeline. This sounds nice in theory and means they’re forecasting a 25 percent close rate. But there are still a few questions. Is that actually the close rate? What’s the variance per Rep? What time period does this fall -- within a year, a quarter, a month? When a rep is light on deals, do they start putting unqualified, phantom deals in the pipe to appease their manager? Instead of 4X, why not manage to their actual close percentages and the client’s actual buying process?
To help combat potential problems, we recommend business leaders ask themselves the following four questions:
- Does your pipeline as it stands today put you in a position to hit your business goals? If yes, do you believe it?
- As the sales leader, do I ask “WHEN IS IT COMING IN?” and get an answer that isn’t reality?
- Did I implement a salesforce.com type tool but still have no clue what’s going on in the pipeline?
- Do I have a common selling language to relate the sales cycle stages to my close percentages?
Why are we asking you as the business leader these questions? One of our own rules at Sandler is that “When your foot hurts, you’re probably standing on your own toe.” Which means: if I look introspectively, what can I do to change behaviors and get better results?
If your sales pipeline is inaccurate, it’s likely that some of your sales reps fall into one of these three categories. Each of these personalities can hurt your pipeline; however, once you’ve identified the problem personalities, you know where to start your improvements.
MR/MS HAPPY EARS
These are the reps that think everything is going to close because they believe the client likes them. For instance, they’ll say: “Oh the client spent 15 minutes with me on the phone and asked for a quote -- the client likes me and wants me to win.” So they forecast the deal without truly qualifying it, and when it doesn’t come in they say it was because of price. Or the client says: “This looks interesting, send me some information” and the deal hits the pipeline. The reality may be that they never knew if and when it would come in because they never actually qualified the deal. Basically, they live within the buyer’s process and wimp out at every turn, causing their pipeline to be inaccurate.
These are the reps that won’t forecast a deal unless it’s already 99 percent done. They need to leave everything in their back pocket. In essence, they are downplaying the reality of where they are with respect to getting the deal done and then, all of the sudden, the deal comes in. Sandbaggers also have a tendency to make sure their deals come in when they want them to. For instance, they may think: “I already hit my quota for the quarter, so I’ll hold this deal till next month.”
These are the most frustrating reps of all. Every time you look at a “Next Step” with their deals, it says “FOLLOW UP.” Follow up is code for I’m chasing and have no clue where I am with the deal. But, they pride themselves on how big their pipeline is. It’s usually huge because they have a bunch of deals in their pipeline that are already dead - they just don’t know it yet. Likely, some of them were never actually alive.
As with many seemingly complex problems, answers can be found within the basics. For instance, teaching your sales reps to ask the right questions to qualify leads, teaching your managers to ask the right questions of their reps to avoid “bagging” your systems and wasting time on “follow ups” versus closing deals.
After you categorize your reps and analyze past data to get a handle on your future results, inspect what you expect to happen. Then, up your game around creating a sales culture branded with goals, self-accountability and accuracy!