4 best practices for a more predictable pipeline.

“What do you think of our sales force?”


We get asked this question a lot. Many sales leaders are surprised by the question we ask in return. “How accurate was your last quarterly or monthly forecast?”


That’s how important, and revealing, your sales forecast is. It’s a culmination of all the people and processes you have in place. Like a thermometer reading, it reflects your organization’s overall health. The more inflated the forecast, the more acute the illness. Take a deeper look at your forecasting approach by reviewing SBI’s How to Make Your Number in 2018 Workbook, specifically the Sales Operations phase beginning on page 402.


In this post, we’ll show you how to improve the accuracy of your forecast. Then we’ll share some critical do’s and don’ts.  How accurate was your last quarterly or monthly forecast?


4 Best Practices for a More Predictable Pipeline


A bad forecast reflects poorly allocated time. Bad leads clog the pipeline; reps spend their days chasing them. Opportunities that were supposed to close aren’t even real. Or they get stuck, and no one has the heart to kill them.


Here’s how you can get real opportunities flowing through your pipeline. And position your team to succeed.


1.  Understand Your Buyers


These questions can help you ascertain your buyers’ suitability and interest.


  • Are you talking to the right people in the organization?
  • What do your buyers do, or need, at each stage of the sales process?
  • Are they engaging in the process, or just following the rep’s lead?
  • Are they sending signals that the opportunity is real? (Asking first about price, for example, suggests buyers are considering a competitor.)
  • Does their behavior make sense in the context of how other buyers have purchased?


Our Buyer Process Mapping (BPM) template suggests questions your buyer is using to evaluate your product.  We recommend downloading and working through the questions in the guide.


2.  Tighten up Your Sales Process


A well-disciplined sales process offers two important benefits.


  • It will keep the sales team honest. Leads are verified along the way. There’s no going too fast or too slow along the buyer’s journey.
  • Everyone will use the same language and definitions. When two reps refer to “evaluation stage,” they both know exactly what it means. And they know that two opportunities at this stage are equally promising.


3.  Assess Your Talent


You’re looking for an A-Player approach and mindset.


  • Are your reps buyer peers, or lackeys? Reps should act and be seen as the buyer’s partner in solving business problems.
  • Do they challenge buyers to invest equally? Reps shouldn’t let buyers dump work on them. Instead, they should agree to buyer requests but ask for something in return. (Executive input, for example.)
  • Do they win or lose fast (and occasionally win slow)? Top sales reps recognize the fact that their cycles are limited. They know when an opportunity goes south. And they don’t hesitate to move on.


4.  Improve Your Deal Inspection Process


This will hold your team accountable for making sure practices 1-3 are well executed. Through this process, you’ll verify:


  • Buyers are in the right place and sending the right signals.
  • The entire team defines each funnel stage the same way.
  • Reps are doing all the right things at the right time.
  • Reps are challenging buyers, and vice versa.


Pipeline Emergency: Critical Do’s and Don’ts


You can take immediate steps to address a leaky pipeline.


The DO’s


Do conduct a buyer review.


Talk to actual buyers to find out exactly what unfolded. Trace their journey and interactions with your organization.


Do play devil’s advocate.


Don’t ask, “How can we secure a win?” Ask, “What might derail this opportunity?” If you entertain negative scenarios, you can head off potential problems.


Do cover your bases.


No one will ever win 100% of forecast deals. You need a margin of error. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities in your funnel to make your number.


The DON’Ts


Don’t pressure marketing for more leads.


If you loosen the lead requirements, you’ll be stuck with even more bad leads. It’s a reactionary move that will compound your problem.


Don’t roll poor opportunities into the next quarter.


The last thing you need is more reps chasing bad leads for months (“losing slow”).


Don’t incentivize bad buyer behavior.


Offering discounts or incentives at the last minute trains buyers to wait. You’re selling, but not under optimal conditions. There’s no making up for a lackluster sales effort earlier in the quarter. 


Bottom Line: Nothing Pays Like a Healthy Sales Organization


Immerse yourself in the buyer’s journey. Take a close look at your talent, sales process, and opportunities in play. You’ll find the answers you need to kill bad leads without regret. And clear the way for more promising opportunities.


Have expectations gone up and left you wondering if you can make your number? Here is an interactive tool that will help you understand if you have a chance at success. Take the Revenue Growth Diagnostic test to rate yourself against SBI’s sales and marketing strategy to find out if:


  • Your revenue goal is realistic
  • You will earn your bonus
  • You will keep your job


Sales Revenue Growth


Aaron Bartels

Helps clients solve the most difficult challenges standing in the way of making their number.

He founded Sales Benchmark Index (SBI) with Greg Alexander and Mike Drapeau to help business to business (B2B) leaders make the number. The world’s most respected companies have put their trust in and hired SBI. SBI uses the benchmarking method to accelerate their rate of revenue growth. As an execution based firm, SBI drives field adoption and business results.

His clients describe him as a consultant who:


“Makes transformational impacts on me, my people and my business”


“Solves my most difficult problems that to date we have been unable to solve ourselves”


“Brings clarity to an environment of chaos”


“Has real world sales operations experience making him qualified to advise us on a variety of sales and marketing challenges”


“Is able to spot proven best practices that once implemented will make a material impact on my business”


“Constantly challenges status quo and compels us to act”


“Focuses on execution and driving change to stick in our environment”


“Makes good on his promises while enabling our business to realize his projected results”

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