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Pipeline management: is your forecasting accurate?

Submitted by on Wednesday, 20 April 2011

What does your pipeline consist of? How long have the ‘opportunities’ been in the pipeline? How accurate is your/your team’s forecasting? Why isn’t it better – are your sales folks putting in bad leads? Are your sales folks able to enter the buying decision path and influence the Buying Decision Team in a way that will speed up the sales cycle and follow the buying decision process?

Do you know which of the opportunities are the top 10 – and are you certain they are the top 10? How are you and your team – VP of sales, sales execs and managers – connecting with the prospects to know what they need to ‘be ready to buy’ ? How do you know, from where you are sitting, at what stage of the buying decision path they are on?

And how do you define ‘opportunity?’

THE FRONT END VS. THE BACK END OF THE BUYING PATH

Sales merely manages the last 10% of the buyer’s journey. It has no capacity to address the private, off-line, and often unconscious (certainly not based on needs or solution choice) aspects of a decision path that are, by definition, idiosyncratic. Sales was designed merely to assess need and place a solution.

Here are a few things buyers must do before they can buy. As I introduce each one, see if you can determine where your buyer is on this path, because until they complete each of these they will not buy, regardless of their needs or how well your solution fits, or how much ‘pain’ they are in.

  1. get all of the right people onto the Buying Decision Team (BDT). Each BDT member brings their own criteria for a solution, and the solution requirements will not be stabilized until everyone puts in their 2 cents. Presenting from, or gathering data from, anything less than the whole BDT will result in insufficient data to choose a solution – or pitch – on.
  2. get buy-in from everyone who will touch the solution. If a solution is chosen without the requisite buy-in, the system will face massive chaos/disruption.
  3. all of the people, policies, historic vendors, old technology, systems issues, must know how they will shift when something new is added. Will they need to outsource staff? Where? When? Who? Who will supervise? Project lead? What happens to their current work load?

Just because we see a problem and have a great solution, doesn’t mean the buyer is ready, willing, and able to buy – otherwise you’d close a lot more sales.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW TO POPULATE YOUR PIPELINE

Why are prospects in your pipeline?

What criteria of yours have placed them there?

How accurate are you with your projections? And why aren’t they more accurate?

What’s the difference between someone who will buy and someone who might initially look like a buyer but isn’t? And how do you know the difference?

So long as you place prospects in your pipeline because you believe 1. the buyer is ready, 2. they have the money, 3. they know they need your solution, and/or 4. they like you and are in ‘pain’, you will have a wildly fluctuating success rate.

Here is what you should know before putting a prospect onto the pipeline:

  1. that every single one of the Buying Decision Team members is on board, and bought in to making a change and a purchase;
  2. that there is a change management/implementation plan – that the seller is a part of – for when the solution will be purchased;
  3. that any of the buy-in or change problems are addressed with anyone who will touch the solution;
  4. that all existing technology and jobs that will be effected by the solution will be somehow included into the solution purchase so there are no loose ends or mystery.

Just because a seller thinks a buyer is ready doesn’t mean the prospect belongs in the pipeline.

Manage your pipeline by managing the buying decision path. Otherwise, your forecasting is ineffective. Buying Facilitation® will teach you how to manage the buying journey and understand exactly when, who, why, and how the solution will be purchased. Then you can forecast with accuracy.

 

Fire up your sales folks at your next sales conference, have Sharon Drew give your keynote.

Look at our Learning Accelerators to add some new skills to your sales so you can manage your pipeline effectively.

Learn how buyer’s decide: read two sample chapters of Sharon Drew’s latest book Dirty Little Secrets.

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  • http://www.valuestrategygroup.com/ Gerhard Vierthaler

    Great post Sharon, timely and relevant. It’s amazing what I find in client’s pipelines, from stale leads dating back to B.C. to Pete, the pizza delivery guy…. Aligning the buyer cycle with the sales cycle is imperative, especially with complex buyer decision making teams. If one of them is not aligned with the others/your final value proposition – they’ll sink your ship.

    What I find the biggest issue with false & bloated sales forecasts is that it is incredibly difficult for executives to allocate resources if they fail to predict revenue within reasonable accuracy of at least 75%+ over time. To manage the buyers journey, a Sales Action Map will follow a process of identifying any barriers that may stand in the way of closing a deal. A Date Management Plan forces rep’s to evaluate criteria, analysis of buy-in stage of every decision maker to forecast more accurately. Instead of forecasting the day they “think” the sale will close, they need to assign dates for ea step needed to close, forcing reps to work off the steps in a planned process.

    I am amazed at how often experienced salespeople forecast an opportunity about to be closed without listing an expected closing date.