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Nov 13 18

You Don’t Fix Pipeline Problems In The Pipeline!

by David Brock

One of the biggest mistakes sales managers and sales people make is spending too much time focusing on the health of the pipeline.

Managers are constantly holding pipeline reviews.  They are constantly asking, “What’s changed since we reviewed the pipeline yesterday?” (You can see how tedious these constant reviews are, particularly if you have a long sales cycle (anything over 3 months).)  Inevitably, there are problems with the pipeline.  There’s the universal managerial answer to these issues, “You need to get more in the pipeline!”

“Well yeah, but…….”

Turns out the advice to get more into the pipeline isn’t really helpful.  Why more?  How much?  What else could I do?

The pipeline is a terrific analytic tool and can help the manager and sales person identify potential problems.  For example, not enough in the pipeline—we need to focus on adding more opportunities by prospecting.  Alternatively, we have enough in the pipeline, but deals are stalled or we aren’t winning enough.  Or maybe the quality of the opportunities isn’t great.

The pipeline is a terrific tool for the sales person and manager to identify problem areas.  But you don’t fix those problems in the pipeline.  We fix those problems by focusing on other areas.

Not enough in the pipeline?  We need to do more prospecting!  Our territory and account planning processes are basically structured approaches to prospecting.  They help us identify where we find new opportunities.  Coaching in prospecting helps us understand how to to this most effectively.

Deals stalled, win rates too low?  We need to build stronger deal/opportunity strategies!  Leveraging our sales process and any sales methodology helps us look at each deal maximizing our ability to win these in the shortest time possible, at the greatest value possible.

Quality of the deals in the pipeline bad?  We need to focus on our ICP and more effective qualifying.  If the deals are falling out after they’ve been qualified, we need to build stronger deal strategies.

We solve problems in the pipeline by building/executing stronger deal strategies, leveraging our sales process more effectively, doing better qualifying, and executing higher impact sales calls.  We fill the pipeline by building and executing strong territory and account plans.

Ironically, too many managers are obsessed with the pipeline, spending virtually no time coaching deals, account, territory, prospecting, or call plans.  They think they can fix the pipeline by obsessing on it, not realizing the pipeline only tells you where the problems are likely to be.

If managers spent less time on the pipeline and more time coaching sales people in the problem areas identified by the pipeline, they would have to spend less time on the pipeline.  (Hmmm, that circular logic actually makes sense.)


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Nov 13 18

Scaling “Authentic Conversations”

by David Brock

I just received one of those emails.  I’m on a distribution list, I’ve been invited to hear a webinar on “How do you scale authentic communications.”  Among the topics they will be covering are:  “how to automate meaningful and timely follow up,” and “how much time is too much time spent on personalizing emails………” (Interestingly, the only personalization in this email was my name. Nothing else was specific to our company or our priorities)


Authenticity at scale??????

In fairness, I’m not going to sign up for this webinar, so I have no idea what this vendor will present.  Perhaps their topics are meant to stir controversy.  But just taking this whole topic at face value, this seems to be the ultimate in irony.

Why would we want to — or even need to scale authentic communications?  Can we even be “authentic” at scale?

Don’t they become “inauthentic” if we start scaling, automating, and personalizing just enough and not too much?  I’m imagining advice like, “make it ‘Dear Dave,’ not ‘Dear Occupant or Current Resident…..'”

I decided to look at definitions of authenticity, most of them refer to things like “genuineness, trustworthiness, credibility, richness, valuing relationship…”

Somehow, the concepts of authenticity at scale, automating authenticity, and “just enough” personalization seem to be in conflict with the real principles of authenticity.  Authenticity is not just about being credible and truthful in our engagement.  As noted in the definition, authenticity has qualities of richness and genuineness.

It seems to me, that the opposite point of view might be more insightful.  If we are truly authentic in our conversations, can we even conduct them at scale, or do we even want to/need to conduct them at scale?

Inevitably, it seems the “need” to have conversations at scale is primarily driven by our inability to engage the customers we really need to be talking to.  It seems the “selling industry” is in a volume death spiral.  Response rates from emails are plummeting.  Phone call answer rates are plummeting.  The answer to these issues seems to be further ramping the volume, doing more of the same thing, often casting wider nets, but not changing how we tried to engage those we are trying to reach.

If we chose to change our engagement process, focusing on real authenticity, wouldn’t we be able to engage a higher number of people?  Wouldn’t that drive down the need to scale?  And if we had to spend less time at scaling, couldn’t we spend more time understanding those fewer people we need to speak with, and couldn’t we invest in truly authentic conversations.

In some sense though, I think there may be a fear or an aversion to authentic conversations.

I wonder if, too often, we just don’t have anything to say.  We don’t know the customer, their markets, their challenges.  We don’t understand or take the time to understand them as people.  We have been trained so well on pitching, that we have lost the ability to engage in a real conversation.  That’s a problem if we want to be authentic.

Or perhaps we don’t care.  I happen to believe–or hope–there are very few of us who don’t care about our customers and their success.  But there are some.

What if, instead of trying to scale authentic conversations, we first focused on becoming better at having these conversations?  If we became better at creating real value in each interaction and conversation, the need to scale these conversations may become irrelevant.  The conversations we are having, produce more–both directly and indirectly, so we don’t have to have as many.

What am I missing, can we, do we really want to have “authentic conversations at scale?”  Or perhaps, we just want the ability to engage authentically?



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Nov 11 18

Just Because Buying Is “Chaotic,” Doesn’t Mean It’s What Customers Want!

by David Brock

As we increasingly understand the “Chaotic Buying Journey,” as illustrated by the great work done by my friends at Gartner; marketing and sales people are struggling with, “How do we respond?”

Too often, the thinking is, “We have to meet the customer where they are at!”  Some marketing and sales enablement people are reveling in the new content challenge, thinking, they have to provide content and related support for every one of these points in the buyer journey.  The thinking is, “We must mirror the buyer journey.”

The underlying principle of aligning with the buyer’s journey and intercepting them where they are at, as they wander through the chaotic buying process, seems to make sense–at least on the surface.

On reflection, though, one might think, “Just because the buying journey is chaotic, doesn’t mean it should be or that the customers want it to be that way!”

In fact, one quickly comes to the conclusion, that anything we can do to help the customer simplify and reduce the chaos they experience, creates great value for the customer.  As a result, one then realizes, that mirroring and aligning with the chaotic buying journey is the wrong thing to do.

Sales (and marketing) create the greatest value when we can help the customer reduce the complexity, confusion, and duplicative work.  When we help add clarity to what the customer is trying to achieve and the simplest way to align priorities and interests in helping them through their buying process, we help them achieve their goals more quickly and with greater certainty.

While we will never make it a straight path (as much as we may long for the days of the linear buying/selling processes, we can provide leadership in improving the process, making it much less chaotic and more predictable


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Nov 8 18

Forecasting Games

by David Brock

We’ve all been there, we’ve played the same games.  It’s about the forecast–the monthly, quarterly, annual forecast.

We’re pressured to commit.  Ultimately, we agree on a commitment, “Lock me in at $10M for the quarter, boss!  I guarantee you that I’ll make it.”

At the beginning of the quarter, we kinda-sorta see the path.  We know “these deals” will come in, we’re hoping we can make these “other deals” happen, and we’re crossing our fingers that good luck and clean living—well good luck and wishful thinking, will somehow help us bridge whatever gap.

Then midway through the quarter, we have a forecast update.

We reassess things, inevitably going through an “Oh Sh*t!” moment.  Some of the deals we thought were sure things have slipped, some of our wishful thinking was more wishful than thinking.  We scramble to close the gap.  We find new deals, cross our fingers on others, and say, “Boss, count on me, I’m going to hit $10M!”

And toward the end of the quarter, our whole lives flash before our eyes again.  We’re scrambling to back fill those deals we had previously committed, we pull deals in from the next quarter, we plea/beg/cry to our customers, “Pleeaaassse give us that order……I’ll give you 15% off if you do it this quarter……I really need it……”

Quarter ends, we miss the forecast, but not by too much.  And our managers always know we were going to miss, so they committed less to their managers, all the way up the food chain.

And we start a new quarter and the games start all over.

But we made our forecast–or did we?

I argue, this process means we are actually underperforming the potential!  As a result, we are actually cheating ourselves and the company!

A great forecast can’t be just about hitting a certain dollar commitment!  It has to be about hitting a deal commitment!

For example, if our original forecast was primarily for product line A, and what comes in at the end of the quarter are orders primarily for product line B, we’ve created a huge problem for our companies.  We may have the wrong inventory and can’t build the products, the resources we need for product line B are different from the resources for product line A, but those resources aren’t available and the resources planned for product line A (our original forecast) are sitting around doing nothing.

And then there’s that stuff that we used to fill in the “gap.”  If we thought we could leverage these opportunities, then why didn’t we commit them to the forecast in the first place???

While we have hit that revenue goal, we’ve failed miserably!

Yet 80% of the forecast reviews I sit in are doing exactly this.  They are focused on hitting a number with zero attention to how we are hitting that number and the composition of the deals being committed to hit the number.

From a business management/stewardship point of view, forecasting cannot just be about hitting a certain revenue goal.  It has to be about committing to certain deals, that aggregate to achieving the revenue goal.

What games is your organization playing?


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