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Are Pipelines Optimistic Fantasies, Outright Lies or Neither?

“A pipeline is managed by fearful, optimistic salespeople

who are dealing with selfish prospects who lie.”

 Four easy-to-follow directives can solve pipeline failures.

IStock_000019380676_SmallSalespeople who rely on marketing efforts and the kindness of strangers (prospects) bet their earnings on commission programs, prospects who are less than forthcoming, and marketing staff who often mistake quantity for quality.  Because of this salespeople are always on edge, always wondering where the next commission check will come from, and always suspect of the prospect’s authority and timing.   Salespeople are by nature optimistic that their products are good enough, that they are good enough, and that the leads marketing provides are good enough.  Which means the reality of the pipeline is always suspicious. 

It’s management’s role to manage salespeople and their optimism so that the company can manage its manufacturing, inventory and cash flow.  That’s a big bet on fearful optimistic people who are dealing with selfish prospects.  

The baseline issue in this constantly moving conundrum is how to get salespeople to be honest and less optimistic.  They must use more objective judgment and deal with the vast majority of prospects who are paid to obfuscate until they make a decision to be truthful.

It is because of my experience as a sales manager that I offer the following “Prime Directives” of pipeline management.

We grew up thinking the Prime Directive is a Star Trek dictate from the United Federation of Planets, but that was fiction (at least so far).   The Prime Directives I have in mind are those guidelines for salespeople and their sales pipelines (forecasts) that cannot be ignored, disregarded, or evaded. [i]

1st Prime Directive of Pipeline Management

“Be optimistic in your approach to the marketplace; be conservative and objective in building your pipeline.”

Why: When salespeople lie to management about the size, scope and age of the pipeline, they fib to themselves and that never has a good outcome.  They must be convinced that being untruthful to themselves is the worst of all possible traits.

2nd Prime Directive of Pipeline Management

Businessman--Fresh-Breath-000020279415_Large“Because prospects are untruthful about their intentions to purchase, you must always be skeptical of their motives.” 

Why:  Healthy skepticism is good; it doesn’t allow a salesperson to bet on long shots that will not materialize.  We can’t blame the prospect for hiding their intent; we just have to be aware of the consequences. Prospects must earn their way into the pipeline.

3rd Prime Directive of Pipeline Management

“Sales Management is responsible for the truthfulness of the pipeline by managing the sales plateaus (steps) and each prospect’s qualification to be included in each category.”

Why:  Prospects, unbeknownst to them, cannot enter into a sales step category without demonstrating a willingness to be in the category by their actions or commitment.  Optimism by the salesperson must be tempered by the objective attainment, by the prospect, of criteria to buy.  The qualification criteria are established beforehand and agreed to by sales and sales management (co-created steps and criteria).  

4th Prime Directive of Pipeline Management

“A tool in the hands of a fool is useless and misleading.  Buy the proper tool, create meaningful sales process steps, and train on its use; be relentless in its execution.”

Why: Buy the best CRM tool you can afford, train relentlessly in its use, and demand that it be used as the only tool to pipeline management.

If these four Prime Directives of Sales Pipeline Management are followed and salespeople are trained to adhere to the spirit of tempering optimism with conservative projections, moderating prospects’ honesty with immediate needs, and ensuring these prospects do not enter into a sales plateau without qualification, sales forecasts will be 50% more accurate, inventories will be better controlled, cash flow will improve, and sales managers will keep their jobs longer than an average of 18 months.

[i] Wikipedia definition of the Prime Directive: “The Prime Directive, used in four of the five Star Trek-based series, prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations.”

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