Why Your Sales Pipeline Gets Contaminated

This is the second article in our Building Sales Capability for the 2020s series. It’s a foundational piece that looks at how to track progress in a sales pipeline in a meaningful way that produces accurate sales forecasts – the cornerstone metric for all effective sales organisations.

Sales organisations are very good at measuring end results (pure spreadsheet pleasure) and almost as good at tracking activity these days, with the help of CRMs and automated tools such as call logging.

Neither of these measurements (results / activity) measures progress towards the target, nor provide a reliable  forecast of the likely outcome. Yet, how you measure progress is what drives sales behaviours and should determine allocation of time, pinpoint skills deficits and even point to poor value proposition and choice of target customer.

The Standard of Measurement

You cannot make a sale on your own; you need the participation of the buyer in your selling process, as much much as you need to participate in the buying process. Therefore, you need to know where the buyer is – located – in your sales process, not where you, the seller thinks you might be.

“Participation” means that you have to earn hard, observable and measurable commitments from your prospects, buyers, stakeholders. And that means the buyer has to put your name in their calendar. A scheduled next step with the buyer is the highest standard of measurement you can introduce into your sales pipeline. 

You can accurately determine the effectiveness of your selling approach – and the level of respect customers hold you in – by the number of calendars your name appears in. Prospects, buyers, customers only make calendarized commitments when they see that you and your company can create value for them and support their success.

Are you working with a contaminated sales pipeline? 

Many sales pipelines are contaminated with prospects that have given salespeople soft, meaningless commitments that sound like “yes”. In fact, it makes more sense to ask for a soft commitment that retains the sound of yes, than take the risk of securing – earning – a meaningful scheduled commitment from your buyer. Being effective in a sales conversation involves taking what might seem like a risk. 

The Role of Sales Leadership 

Sales leadership is setting a high standard of measurement in the sales organisation. That standard of measurement should motivate people to improve their individual performance, so that they generate income-producing outcomes, outcomes that have commit forecast quality. It’s why one of the most valuable predictive outcomes to track is the securing of scheduled prospect and customer conversations. This is not a selling or sales pipeline or forecasting technique argument; it is at the heart of sales governance, the basis of an effective sales architecture and a culture of personal accountability. 

Suppose we don’t get scheduled commitments (dates) – can we still make sales?

You will make sales anyway, no matter what you do. Everybody does. Anything can work – once –  in sales. What you won’t get are the (more profitable) deals, sales, customers and relationships that require a higher level of performance from you – the seller. These are the opportunities you create rather than stumble upon, the opportunities that grow and scale companies. 

What if I get a tonne of “dates” and nothing happens? 

You don’t “get” a scheduled date from a buyer; you earn it, because the buyer has decided you are worth speaking to. If your calendar is full of “dates” and your deals are not progressing, you need to look at your approach. A scheduled meeting in a prospect’s calendar is not an end in itself; it is the outcome of effective performance.