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Stop Focusing On The Top Of The Pipeline!

by David Brock on March 13th, 2019

Virtually every sales person and organization have pipeline/funnel problems. Almost all the time, they are anemic. Virtually every pipeline has quality and integrity issues. Likewise, there are too many velocity issues.

It seems the universal, go to, solution for bad pipelines is to find more qualified opportunities. That is, we need to focus at the top. We need to focus on prospecting, we need to develop and qualify new opportunities.

80% of the experts, the majority of blogs, say the same thing. Post after post, including many I’ve written, will pummel you with prospect, prospect, prospect! Google “prospecting” and you get over 39 million hits, Amazon has over 300 books on prospecting.

All of this focus is correct–to a point. Too many sales people have an aversion to prospecting. And that we do, tends to be done very badly. So there is huge room for improvement in prospecting and qualifying.

But I worry that filling the pipeline becomes almost the exclusive focus of too many sales initiatives. What good does filling the pipeline do if we squander opportunities by managing the qualified opportunities we have, poorly?

It’s interesting, so many managers and sales treat our pipeline metrics as a “given.” The win rates, average deal size, sales cycle are what they are. The way we improve results is to increase volumes, that means more prospecting.

But what if we analyzed the opportunities in the pipeline trying to achieve more with those we have?

For example, if we improve in any area, win rates, average deal size, sales cycle, pipeline integrity, it changes the prospecting requirements. We have to find and qualify fewer opportunities, and we make the best of those we find.

Rather than a knee jerk reaction to prospect more, let’s improve our execution on the deals we have already qualified. Let’s learn how to win more of those faster. Once we do that, we now have to find fewer new deals and we don’t squander those we find.

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  1. Joel Lyles permalink

    Hi Dave!

    After a reorganization that left a lot of the ISR’s pipelines starving for deals, our sales manager and director have come up with an initiative to specifically try to unstick deals at the bottom of the pipeline along with revisiting qualified deals that were Closed-Lost or No Decision Made.

    I’ll let you know how that goes after a couple of quarters, but it’s already looking promising. Turns out that your posts earlier about the buying process were pretty insightful — a lot of the time, deals get lost or stuck not because of a lack of buyer need or interest but simply because the buyer can’t navigate their own process and go with a status quo or a cheaper (but inadequate) fix.

  2. Not surprising at all that we’re on the same page here, Dave. Yes, pipeline is a good and necessary thing, but you can also have too much of a good thing. Focus is largely a zero-sum game, and a hyper-focus on top of pipeline means lack of focus in other areas.

    Stop focusing on activity and instead focus on outcome. Stop focusing on working harder and shift some of that focus toward working smarter, too.

    This isn’t rocket science, and I’m befuddled at why it’s such a difficult concept for some people to grasp…

    Keep up the good posts, Dave.


  3. Brian MacIver permalink

    One of my most popular Workshops [by attendees] was “Early Closing”, for those who know of my view that “Closing” is a dysfunctional sales skill, that may appear a paradox.

    The opening Slide:
    “This is Workshop is delivered in Complete Confidence.
    NOTHING that is discussed inside the room should be discussed or repeated outside the room.
    Your taking part in the seminar, is your full and unconditional agreement to these conditions,
    and is a binding legal agreement.”

    We then spent one or two days opening, with honesty, one or two “stuck” or “lost” deals per attendee. Each left with a brainstormed action plan to ‘breath life’ into the deal, and I am happy to report MANY deals were won.

    We ran this 4th quarter, when it was too late to ‘start’ a cycle in time for year end. They ran from 1999-2007, and I honestly don’t know why they stopped.

    Except, the financial crisis happened in 2008, and my Customers want help in Downsizing, cutting training Budgets, and restructuring.

  4. So very true David. I find that win rates sit between 20-40% for average performing companies there is so much potential to do this better. Although we recommend people invest in our apps this is only one piece of the complete jigsaw. some other things include….

    – it is vital that managers are able to review and coach effectively and this is often poorly executed in the few minutes assigned to each deal in a weekly team pipeline call. Invest in proper reviews.
    – the leaders and salespeople need the courage to walk away from unwinnable deals but too often they are fearful of what is percieved to be ‘bad news’

    of course prospecting is necessary but it is not everything. Great call.

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