Pipeline reviews are notoriously more painful than productive. They can quickly transition from a routine meeting to something that feels a lot more like an interrogation. Here’s a typical interrogation format shared by Sales Leader David Brock:
The “conversation” between interrogator and interrogatee tends to go like this:
Interrogator (sales manager): “What’s happened to this deal in the past week?” (If he had read the call report or CRM notes, he would know.)
Interrogatee (sales people): “Well, I met with the decision-maker and she said this, to which I responded this, to which she responded………” (Basically, the interrogatee does a recap of the sales calls and activity on the situation.)
Interrogator: “What’s next, when are you going to bring the deal in?”
Interrogatee: “I have these next steps. The deal may slip beyond my forecast date. We’re facing tremendous competition.”
Interrogator: “Well we have to win this. Tell me about the next deal.”
It’s no wonder that nearly everyone involved hates these meetings, or considers them a waste of time.
Improving these meetings requires taking a step away from the tactical elements to understand that sales managers and sales reps ultimately want to achieve the same goal: to improve the health of the pipeline in order to close more deals. What common ground exists to help them? Consider applying buyer-focus to your discussion. Concentrating on buyer needs keeps your team centered on the strategy of the sales win, as opposed to hyper-focused on the administrative tasks necessary to achieving it. Reps need sales leaders to focus on what they need to win deals, which is support that will naturally focus around the buyer.
I interviewed Sales Management expert Anneke Seley – CEO of next generation sales consultancy, Reality Works Group, and the designer and first leader of Oracle’s worldwide inside sales organization — about tips for achieving this shift.
Pipeline review meetings are typically held to determine the health and quality of the pipeline in order to evaluate if we have sufficient coverage to make quota and understand the status of the deals being forecasted. Yet,a lot of time gets wasted with administrative things the whole team doesn’t need to be part of. A status update on a deal can easily turn into impromptu deal reviews or data hygiene discussions, which ultimately causes frustration. No rep wants to spend time they could use for selling activities on listening to their colleagues one-to-ones, nor have their fellow reps listen in on theirs. Save data entry demands and deal criticisms for your one-to-ones.
Seley explains that the real goal is to, “make the pipeline review a two-way street. Make sure you deliver value to the rep, and ultimately the customer.”
You need pipeline reviews to build confidence in the deals for this quarter, and for overall pipeline coverage to be sure there’s enough brewing for next quarter. Operating at the list level with all the reps in one room helps to focus on the overall pipeline. However, to help your reps improve, you need to go beyond the list level and start positively reinforcing activities that lead to wins. As our colleague David Brock says, it’s time to catch your reps doing something right, and use these meetings to identify coachable moments that can help the whole team. When reps start seeing this positive reinforcement, reps start sharing their own experiences, successes, and challenges. “This creates engagement from the sales team that benefits everyone,” Seley explains.
“There’s a way to run a sales department today that minimizes non-revenue generating time,” Seley shares. Being clear about the preparation required helps to maintain focus on objectives during the meeting, instead of getting lost in the weeds.
For Reps: Prepare top level facts in the context of the sales process. Where is the deal at in the sales process and the buyer's journey? The closer to closing a deal is, the greater the inspection of your deal and the more you will need to defend your position about the deal. Be concise and try to bring something insightful about the sales process that could be valuable to the team. Staying on point while sharing useful tips is a sign of a leader. Too many reps wander when talking about their deals. A focus on top-level facts and next steps driven by insights will set you apart in these meetings.
For Managers: Managers should review the pipeline in advance. When possible, have a report sent to the reps that flag the deals they will discuss in the team pipeline review. This will help the reps to prepare their thoughts and ultimately lead to more productive sharing.
For Marketing: Marketing should welcome involvement in pipeline reviews. Unfortunately, 90% of marketing materials don’t get used by sales. Attending these meetings helps marketers better understand what materials are needed to support sales in being buyer-centric. Be prepared to listen to rep feedback about sticking points and listen for opportunities to share materials that help buyers make their decisions in your favor.
Plan buyer-centric objectives into your pipeline reviews, focus on creating value for your sales reps and make sure the preparation is both clear and required and you’ll be well on your way to productive pipeline reviews.
Kathleen Atkins is the Head of Marketing at Akoonu.