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Sales leaders expect their sales force to carefully qualify prospective clients, as they don’t want them wasting time on non-opportunities. These same leaders also insist every first meeting be logged in the CRM to ensure they have the coverage they believe is necessary to reach their goals.

If this seems contradictory, you are correct. Why bother to qualify a client only to add what is likely a non-opportunity to your pipeline? As days and weeks pass, your pipeline can become a junk drawer of deals, lies, non-opportunities, and relics kept for sentimental reasons.

Misguided Management

It appears every sales leader and manager requires 300 to 400 percent coverage in their pipeline. This belief leads sales managers to force their teams to log every meeting as an opportunity. Having false confidence in their pipeline does not ensure they reach their sales goals, and it often ends badly.

A way to assess a sales manager is by examining their beliefs about how to achieve their goals. One manager might believe more opportunities are the way, while another believes better opportunities will ensure success.

When you see data on the low win rates in B2B sales, one reason metrics are so bad is that pipelines are full of non-opportunities, leftovers, and make-believe deals with no possibility of being won. Were you to remove these false positives, win rates would improve significantly, becoming much more credible.

Lost Deals Can’t Help You Succeed

One sales leader demanded his team have 800 percent of their target in the pipeline, believing more opportunities would allow them to hit their quota. This approach results in the sales force losing 87.5 percent of the opportunities they create. This leader is fixated on more, not better, opportunities. Imagine this leader rallying his team with the words: “Go out there and lose those fake deals!”

This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how to achieve sales goals. If you can’t hit your goals with 200 percent of your quota, why would you think losing more deals would improve your results?

Cleaning Up Your Junk Drawer

You might feel sad about removing your darlings, but if you aim to enhance your ability to reach your goals, you must clear all the suspect deals from your junk drawer. The quality deals stay, but suspect ones should go. Concerned about losing coverage? Understand that nothing of value is lost, as these were not genuine deals. Take the following steps to bring your pipeline back into the realm of reality:

  1. Search your sales pipeline for any opportunity logged with a first meeting and no second meeting. Going forward, allow your sales team to log an opportunity only after a second meeting has occurred.
  2. Look for any deal lingering in the pipeline for double the time of your typical sales cycle. You need not abandon pursuing the client, but you need your salesperson to make another attempt.
  3. Eliminate low-quality, low-probability deals that your sales force allowed to clutter up your pipeline. You are not losing anything.
  4. Focus on deals that may have a longer sales cycle, ensuring they have ongoing activity. Deals may move slowly, but they should move. You can keep these in your pipeline as long as they are progressing.

Preventing a Junk Drawer Pipeline

Implement the following guidelines to ensure your pipeline stays clean:

  • Do not allow a salesperson to log an opportunity after a first meeting. Wait until a second meeting has happened.
  • Use a territory and account plan to pinpoint the most desirable prospective clients. You seek quality deals, not just quantity. But if you desire quantity, ensure it is high-quality quantity.
  • When a deal has been in the pipeline for a period of time that is double the sales cycle, take the opportunity out and revert it to the target stage. Have the sales rep start over.
  • Never permit a deal into your pipeline if it isn’t a client you want. Poor credit, bad culture, and unwillingness to change are all valid exclusions.

The Best Way to Reach Your Goals

If you’re determined to meet your sales targets, focus on sales effectiveness. You’ve likely tried filling your pipeline with a list of low-quality leads, hoping some would succeed. Having failed, it might be time to improve your sales force’s effectiveness, meaning closing deals instead of creating opportunities.

You’re better off enhancing your sales force’s ability to win deals than to amass more low-probability ones. To meet your quota, you must win enough of the right deals. Those you can’t or won’t win provide nothing more than a false confidence in your pipeline.

The Pristine Pipeline

Aim for a pristine pipeline filled with deals you want because they are the exact targets your company needs to reach their goals. A cleaner and leaner pipeline is a superior strategy for success in B2B sales.

It’s crucial to understand that sales isn’t a numbers game. Treating opportunities like lottery tickets, hoping for a win, is a mistake. Instead, you must craft your success by pursuing and winning the right set of deals.

Once you’ve cleaned up your pipeline, don’t let even the most helpful salesperson add a non-opportunity. By raising the standard for what constitutes an opportunity, you and your team can focus on deals likely to close.

To reach your goals, you’re far better off with a pipeline filled with the right prospective clients for your company—those who will appreciate how you create value. Anything else is merely time spent away from pursuing the clients you desire.

Leave this article with a mandate: assess each deal in your pipeline, clean it by removing the false positives, and require your team to maintain this clarity. Understand that accumulating more deals isn’t a strategy—it’s a misstep. If you need more help with your pipeline, pick up Leading Growth: The Proven Formula for Consistently Increasing Revenue.


Sales 2023
Post by Anthony Iannarino on November 7, 2023

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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