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Get Tough with Pipeline Coaching for Higher Success Rates

Sports can teach us many valuable skills that can be applied to our sales organizations. A professional baseball pitcher, for example, will tell us we need to be aware of what’s happening on the field; that it takes a critical eye to watch all the bases as well as the hitter in front of us.

Similarly in sales, professionals need to think beyond the accounts they’re responsible for and to be objective about every aspect of their pipeline. In short, they have to be aware and ensure all their bases are covered. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Far too often sellers make the mistake of trusting their unchecked assumptions, and they’re blinded by what might actually be happening on an account.

Just like the baseball pitcher who plays without watching the field around him, when things aren’t done the right way mistakes happen, business gets lost, and time is wasted on deals that aren’t ready to close. That’s why in a sales organization, detailed pipeline coaching should be held at the start of every month. The best way to do this? Have salespeople sit down with someone in your organization who’s capable of looking objectively at employees’ work and can challenge some of the assumptions they might be making about their accounts. Typically this coach would be a manager, a VP, a sales coach, or a trusted third party.

Detailed pipeline coaching is where tough questions are asked. Sure, it can be painful, but it’s the only way salespeople can attain an objective view on everything they need to do to be successful. In other words, they can determine how much is reallyexpected to close and how they’re going to get it closed.

Be objective

Smoke out those false assumptions by asking questions that search for facts rather than feelings. For every account, here are key questions that need to be included:

  • What’s stopping you from closing this now?
  • Why are you so confident it will close?
    • What’s your proof?
  • What was the last conversation with them like?
  • Who else are they considering?
  • Has the buyer agreed to your next steps? When are they due?
  • What other contacts can you make inside the account to secure this sale now?

 

Search for proof

Be on the lookout for answers that reveal thinking based on feelings and assumptions rather than facts. A solid pipeline requires proof that you know exactly what’s happening based on direct conversations with the client. You will not close business based on assumptions.

Deeper questioning is required when you receive answers that lead with the following phrases:

  •  “I heard that….
  • “Perhaps the buyer….
  • “I think…”
  • “I’m pretty sure that….”
  • “I feel that...”
  • “I get a sense that….”
  • “I just know”

Question further

Once you’ve challenged basic assumptions, dig deeper and start asking probing questions about the facts supporting an account. It’s time for more rigorous examination when you hear any of the following about deals slated to close within a month:

  • Account is described as still being at below 70% probability of close
  • More than 14 days have gone past without meaningful contact with the seller
  • There is only one buyer contact listed in the account file
  • Contact information is incomplete
  • A lack of clear financial information attached to the sale.

These kinds of answers suggest that the seller is missing important information about an account or that the pipeline has not been updated with accurate information. Either the seller has to work harder to get answers and fill in the facts, or perhaps the deal is not as real as it was thought to be — and must be pushed further into the year or eliminated from the pipeline completely.

When you’ve completed the coaching, you will undoubtedly have a smaller pipeline. But it will be a real pipeline based on facts rather than assumptions. You and your sales professional will also have a plan of attack for each deal. And you’ll know exactly what it’ll take to get the deals closed — or moved closer to a decision. Now the rest of the month can be spent executing your plan!

 
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