After rigorous research and discussion with many expert colleagues, I’ve discovered the universal secret to Selling Success.
Before getting into, it’s important to understand the methodology underlying the research. I did a rigorous scan of the literature, mostly the articles and discussions in my feed in LinkedIn. I assessed likes, comments, reposts the articles by the experts produced. Leveraging friends and colleagues who consult, I asked them what they were seeing with sales executives they work with. The responses tended to re-affirm the observations from my literature search.
All totaled we have large, diverse sample sizes. Varying types of products/services, different markets, transactional and complex sales. The conclusions are reinforced across everything we studied.
It turns out the singular secret to selling success is “Build more pipeline!” Before, I go further, I will note that we found one small group that had a variant of this secret, I’ll discuss that variant later.
Reflecting on the research, intuitively, it makes sense. If we don’t have enough pipeline, we simply won’t make our numbers. Since generating more pipeline is so critical to selling success, the constant emphasis on prospecting, lead gen, and demand gen is critical. Putting in place technologies and tools, enabling more of those activities, at a faster rate, is a fundamental principle underlying building more pipeline. Techniques for leveraging every channel possible, expanding outreach is a fundamental part of the strategies to building pipelines. Expanding prospecting outreach to more people, increasing the frequency with which we contact those people, are basic pipeline building principles.
In my interviews, I asked the question, “How much pipeline do you have to have?” The majority of responses came back, “We need a minimum of 3X, but we are encouraging more…..” Some were more definitive, staying 4X or 5X!
A colleague interviewed one sales executive who was insistent on building an 8X pipeline. When challenged with the question, “Does that mean you only have a 12.5% win rate,” he responded, “Making our numbers is critical! More pipeline is always better, I want my people to have 8X pipeline!”
His answer was fairly typical of the interviews of other executives. When we asked, “Why do you need the 3X, 4X, 5X….pipelines,” the answers were variants of “We just need more, we have to make our numbers!”
So that’s it. The secret to selling success is simply more pipeline! To achieve this, the focus of sales activities is on finding those opportunities to fill the pipelines. Ramping up prospecting, outreach, lead gen, demand gen enables sellers to find those opportunities to fill the pipelines.
When we challenged the executives we interviewed with the question, “It seems that every year we see sharper declines in the percent of people achieving quota, what’s happening if you are focused on generating more pipeline?” Responses were varied. Most simply said, “That’s why we need more emphasis on pipeline generation….” Others said, “We are hiring more SDRs, BDRs to generate pipeline, we are pressuring marketing to do more demand gen…” A smaller number said, “We are leveraging AI and ChatGPT much more for our outreach. Our sellers can now generate 1000s of tailored outreaches day, they are using AI to expand their social media presence and outreach.”
As we started seeing universality of the actions critical to hitting our goals, we decided to look at the outliers, trying to understand their strategies and whether those strategies could possibly be practical in hitting their goals.
There were a small set of respondents that deviated slightly from the “more pipeline” solution. They responded, “We need enough of the right quality pipeline!”
As I studied some of these, I found their strategies perplexing. Several said, “We only need around 1.2-1.3X pipeline!” Confused, I responded, “Conventional wisdom says you need at least 3X, and our survey results are showing that the more the better. How can you possibly hit your numbers with only 1.2-1.3X?!?”
The responses were intriguing. They said, “Our people have win rates in the 80-90% range. We focus on disqualifying bad opportunities–those outside our ICP, those where the prospect is not committed to change. We focus on the right opportunities that we can win! We don’t want our people wasting their time on marginal opportunities.”
They went on to say, “We focus on developing our people’s capabilities to maximize what they get out of each opportunity in the pipeline. They are very effective in creating value with our prospects, winning the majority of deals we engage in.”
Confused, I asked, “What about building pipeline? What about all the prospecting and demand gen?”
The responses tended to be. “Since we only need about 1.2-1.3X coverage, we don’t need to do that much prospecting. And the prospecting we do is very targeted–we only focus on people in our sweet spot, people who have the problems we solve and want to solve them. Because of the deep knowledge and experience our people have in winning deals, they are very impactful in their prospecting so they get very high quality results from those efforts.”
I was still confused. “You can’t possibly be growing and hitting your goals. Sales success is based on building more pipeline. You’re outliers in this. What’s up?”
At this point, the executives I assembled were getting a little frustrated. “We aren’t saying we don’t need to build pipeline, we are intensely focused on building the right, high quality pipeline, winning the majority of deals we qualify in.” I studied their results, all had consistently made their goals, some had very aggressive scaling and growth goals.
Clearly, I have to do more research on these outliers. I’m still struggling to see how they are defying conventional wisdom and the wisdom of the “experts” I see in my social channels. But they are achieving their goals and more consistently than the bulk of our research group. Clearly, they have a “trick” that I need to understand……
Action: If you are manager, dig into your pipelines. Is more the right answer, is better quality a better answer. Look at win rates, deal sizes, sales cycles. How can you improve them? Focus on quality, do you have the right opportunities in your pipeline? It’s amazing how quickly the pipeline dynamics and results change with extremely high quality opportunities. Focus your people on disqualification, rather than qualification.
If you are an individual, do the same for your personal pipeline.
When we do this with rigor, time to results is amazingly short!