There isn’t a pipeline anywhere that isn’t a little cluttered. Some are full of non-opportunities, and many more are full of opportunities that aren’t anywhere near the stage being reported.
You might think that cleaning up your pipeline is for management’s benefit. And management certainly needs reporting they can count on. But the real benefits of a pristine, well-maintained pipeline accrue to the salesperson. You know what you’re really working on. You can more easily manage your opportunities, moving them smoothly from target to close. And you have a real picture of where you are when it comes to making your number.
Here is a simple two-step process you can use to clean up your pipeline. It will take you a half hour at best, and it will give you a truer picture of where you are now—and what you need to do to get where you are going.
It’s A Lead, Not an Opportunity
Some of what is in your pipeline doesn’t belong there. They’re not opportunities; they’re leads. Sometimes you call on a prospect, they express an interest, and you put them in your pipeline and you try to engage in your sales process. But for any number of reasons, there is no real opportunity there.
Maybe your prospect had a need that never developed, and so they no longer need what you sell. Maybe they aren’t dissatisfied enough to move. Maybe they used to use a lot of what you sell, but because their business is no longer doing as well as it once was, they aren’t buying.
There are any number of reasons that your prospect isn’t going to buy from you or anyone else anytime soon, but whatever the reason, they are no longer an opportunity. They may just be a lead that you need to follow up on later.
You start to clean your pipeline by removing anything that isn’t really an opportunity. The age of the opportunity alone can be a good clue. If an “opportunity” is old, if it hasn’t moved from one stage of your sales process to the next, if there is no real activity, take it out of your pipeline. It’s a distraction at best, a false sense of security at worst.
Push Opportunities Back
Sometimes you can get ahead of yourself. You can record an opportunity in a stage of your sales cycle that’s far beyond where you really are in the process.
Your dream client asked you for a presentation, and you obliged them. Who wouldn’t take the opportunity to present their ideas when asked? But did you really complete all of the tasks and gain each of the outcomes you needed to in order to advance the opportunity to the presentation stage?
The reason so many deals stall in the sales process is the salesperson skipping steps along the way. By not doing what you need to do at each stage, you increase the likelihood that the deal will stall in later stages. Just because you have completed some task or action in a stage doesn’t mean that the opportunity is in that stage. It’s really in the last stage in which you have obtained all of the outcomes of your sales process.
After you’ve eliminated all of the non-opportunities from your pipeline, you continue you tidying up your pipeline by ensuring that every opportunity is in the correct stage of your sales process. If you haven’t completed all of the tasks and gained all of the outcomes of each prior stage, you need to move that opportunity down to the last stage for which you can check every box.
The argument as to why this necessary is too long for this post, but I’ll summarize it by giving you an example: If you have presented without having built consensus around your solution, you still need to build consensus. Your sales process is your plan to stack the deck in your favor, to take the actions that lead to won deals. Don’t tilt the odds away from you by failing to do what you know works.
This simple, two-stop process will clean your pipeline. It will help you know where you are really are now. And it’s more than likely that it will make you feel a great need to prospect.
What’s cluttering up your pipeline right now?
Why do you hang on to non-opportunities? What’s the benefit of keeping non-opportunities in your pipeline instead of turning them back into leads?
Is every opportunity in your pipeline in the right stage of the sales process?
How many of your opportunities are stalled? What percentage?
How does cleaning your pipeline help you to produce better sales results?
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