Whether you call it a funnel, a pipeline, or deals in stages, it's crucial for sales leaders and sales managers to know that their sales team is creating and pursuing the opportunities that ensure they can reach their targets. But managing a sales force and their pipeline presents challenges, many of which cause sales organizations to come up short at the end of a quarter or year.
By the end of this post, you will have the ability to recognize the challenges in your sales funnel and what you need to do to improve your results and increase your chances of hitting or exceeding your number.
Too Few Funnel Opportunities
Most sales organizations that struggle to grow revenue find that they have too few opportunities to be able to hit their sales targets. There are three possible reasons a sales organization has too few opportunities.
The first reason a sales organization fails to create enough new opportunities is that their sales force isn't spending enough time prospecting. It's important to protect your sales force from the rest of the company, ensuring they are allowed to do their job without having to do some other department's work. Otherwise, prospecting is often the first sales activity to suffer. The second reason is that the sales force cannot convert a first meeting into an opportunity. This is a problem with effectiveness, and solving it requires training your team to create enough value in a first meeting to deserve a second meeting. Finally, the third problem: sales leaders and managers who do not hold their sales team accountable for prospecting and allowing them to have first meetings without knowing how to create value for the client.
We can describe this funnel challenge as the presenting problem; it is not the root cause. There are a few possible root causes, and it's important that you address the right one. One is poor targeting. The way to address this is to impose standards that prevent your team from adding too-small deals to the sales funnel.
A salesperson who has trouble getting meetings with the right targets will accept deals that are too small as a way to make sure they are seen as doing to work. This could be a confidence issue, an effectiveness problem, or both. Everything looks like a meal to a person who is starving.
"Every deal is a good deal if it means I get a commission check." Several salespeople on your team may believe this statement is true. Unfortunately, it is not. A deal that might be good for the salesperson may not be good for the salesperson's company.
A deal that requires a lower price, one that is out of line with the value the client expects, is wrong. It should be removed from the sales pipeline. An opportunity with a company that is immature and treats their suppliers and partners poorly, or has aggressive tendencies, is certain to be more trouble than it is worth, and should also be removed from the sales funnel.
Sales leaders and sales managers must protect the company from wrong deals, even if one might benefit the salesperson.
One Big Deal
It's impossible for a salesperson to make their number by relying on one large deal. The dragon slayer can become so focused on one client that they stop pursuing other opportunities. They will tell themselves that they must use all their time to pursue the gargantuan deal, so they stop prospecting and neglect their other clients. This salesperson will require a grief counselor and years of psychotherapy to recover from the loss.
The sales manager who hears the same company name every week and not a hint of any new opportunity is responsible for helping the salesperson win their big deal, while also mandating that they create enough opportunities to reach their target—even if they lose the gigantic deal they are focused on.
To address this funnel challenge, we are going to have to be honest. Many, and maybe most, stalled deals are not actually stalled. Even though you haven't seen the deal’s obituary, it is gone. That record in your CRM is a now little more than a tombstone.
Allowing these opportunities to remain in your sales pipeline provides a false confidence when it comes to reaching your goals. Many of the integrity problems in a sales pipeline belong to the sales manager who allows deals to live in the funnel, even though there has been no activity for months or quarters. Moving these deals back to the target stage will remove any false hope you might have.
Poor Closing Dates
Any closing date that suggests the client will sign a contract on the last day of the month, quarter, or year is suspect.
Ask the salesperson to work with their prospective client to identify a date when they believe they can begin executing the change initiative that follows a signed deal. Then, ask enough questions to find out who will sign and negotiate a date that allows your company to replace the false closing days with something more realistic.
The Sales Manager or Leader
The sales leader or sales manager who requires their sales team to have three times—or eight times—the number of opportunities needed to hit their targets will likely face many of these challenges. Many integrity problems and funnel challenges come from loading up the pipeline to reach these goals. But without integrity, you increase the odds of missing your targets.
More is not better than better. A better sales funnel will always beat a false sales pipeline, one with more records that create a false hope. By identifying your specific challenges, you can begin to make changes that will lead you into the next quarter or year having reached your goals.