Is your company setup to enable great pipeline reviews?

The 1:1 conversation between a sales manager and each individual on the team is the single biggest lever a sales manager has to improve his/her performance. Think about it: you just promoted your top sales guy to sales manager, with the goal of permeating the team with the wisdom and knowledge that made him/her successful. That value exchange happens for the most part during those pipeline review interactions, yet studies by Vantage Point and BPM Online show that roughly half of the executives think their pipeline review process is ineffective.

There are a number of challenges a sales manager faces individually to run these effectively, varying from level of experience to coaching style. For this post I'll focus on the topic of tool adoption (or lack thereof) that can systematically affect the entire sales organization's ability to run effective pipeline discussions.

Great, rich pipeline reviews are a two-way dialog based on high value, actionable insights that drive specific outcomes and next steps in the sales process. To uncover those insights, companies either build or buy reporting and dashboard solutions on top of their CRM systems. These solutions can be very diverse in sophistication, some including even elements of predictive analytics and incorporating state of the art data visualization. However, there are several issues using solely this approach:

There is a group of sales managers that are fairly analytical and consider themselves effective using these reports and dashboards. But even to them, there are trends and insights in the data not visible to the naked eye and only more comprehensive analysis would uncover these. Context is also important, often these predictive analytics can show indicators, (e.g. risk of an opportunity) but stop short of indicating the context behind that risk classification, limiting their value in a discussion. In addition, they still need to invest a significant amount of time to prepare and go through them, and at the end of the day, that's the one thing sales managers can't make more of.

Another group of Sales Managers are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data & views they need to comb through. Without insights or structure, they will typically fall back to focus on just inspecting the 3-4 top deals, missing out on having a broader perspective on the pipeline and also limiting the value exchange between the sales manager and the seller,  and their impact. Ultimately, these conversations become 1-way, based purely on the seller's optimism on closing the deal with no data to back it up or challenge from the sales manager's side.

Here is the kicker: In both scenarios above, it's difficult for organizations to know that these things are actually happening. It's very hard to assess the qualitative nature of pipeline reviews and few organizations put much thought into it.

In fact, another research by CSO Insights found 46% of organizations leave it up to the sales manager to decide when and how to coach. Given how big a lever pipeline reviews can be and how much time is spent doing them, it's surprising many sales organizations do not focus on it. Training Sales Managers on how to do Pipeline Reviews is a must, but it's something that rarely happens. Besides the required training there has to be a support system of tools that enables the sales manager to seamlessly apply what was learned in training on a daily basis, otherwise they will revert to old behavior.

Because of the nature of reports and dashboards, on their own they are not conducive to action and don't provide any structure on how the conversation should go. For pipeline reviews to be successful, every discussion needs to end with proper action items that will move opportunities forward and drive seller accountability. Those action items must be systematically tracked and followed-up in subsequent conversations. Creating that discipline and structure with dashboards alone is also difficult to sustain. Dashboards can be a great asset in driving accountability up the chain, sharing the outcomes of those discussions between the sales manager and seller such as forecast rollups but not necessarily in actually driving the discussion itself.

A similar case happens in regards to Sales methodologies. These, whether designed in-house or adopted (Challenger, Solution Selling, Miller Heiman, etc) are a fundamental requirement for B2B companies managing complex and long sales cycles. They create the framework and structure that, among other things, defines the activity outcomes and behaviors to inspect and coach. Companies will often drive a big readiness effort to adopt and land Sales Methodology (a much needed first step) but fall short sustaining it and embedding it within the inspection and coaching conversation.  Without the proper tools in their day to day, they quickly revert to old habits.

I can't stress enough how critical it is to, not only execute proper readiness on Sales Methodology and how to run a Pipeline Review, but how equally important is the support system & tools put in place to ensure continuity of that effort. Ideally this support system is friendly, connected and integrated so it becomes an asset the sales manager would want to use.

In 1935, after a deadly crash of the B-17 prototype, Boeing came up with the concept of a pre-flight checklist, a list of tasks the crew needs to do prior to takeoff. The pilots had forgotten a crucial step during takeoff, even though they had hours of training. To this day, pre-flight checks are required, and have helped significantly reduce aircraft accidents. Checklists, used widely on other fields like medicine are a great, yet simple example of how by enabling the right tools on the job organizations can support prior training efforts which results in greater efficiency and consistency.

René García is CoFounder of Convercio

René García is CoFounder of Convercio