Pipeline management is a salesperson’s nemesis or ally. Pipeline management refers to a system that tracks every sale, at every stage, from initial contact with prospective buyer, all the way to its completion (a close) and after-sales service.
Religiously observe it, and you are a rolling stone of closed sales; ignore it, and stagnate from gathering moss.
The choice of the word pipeline borrows, quite aptly, from, well, a pipeline; say, of water. No matter how many bends it has the water will flow; the straighter it is, of course, the easier and faster the water flows. However, any leak reduces the pressure and therefore speed of flow.
Any movement upwards means the flow is slowed down and a too steep incline may require a boost. This means extra effort and cost. If there is an irregular inflow, an airlock will manifest. Removing it slows the flow and also means extra effort and, if acute, extra cost of hiring a plumber. A sales pipeline is no different.
However, all the challenges are the same. Airlocks, leaks, inclines, bends, slowing down, speeding up, erratic flows, the need for pumps and plumbers are metaphors for lost sales opportunities, problematic sales, spending less time with buyer and more with the screen, or travelling and seeking help from peers, customers or sales manager to remove an ‘airlock’.
Admittedly, it is not a simple task creating a sales pipeline and many contacts fall through the cracks. To resolve this challenge, some companies have invested in systems, even though this is still not a panacea to pipeline management.
As with any system, Gigo (Garbage In Garbage Out) applies. The vast majority of companies, however, simply can’t afford them and yet their salespeople must have a pipeline and manage it to thrive. Sales administrators can help with this and many do. As with sales management systems though, sales administrators tend to primarily serve the institution, not the individual; they help in making management, not sales decisions.
The two are not necessarily aligned and, in fact, the former can compromise the latter. “Ignore that sale”, the manager says. “It’s not coming through.” The objective system may show that but only the progressive seller understands the subjective ‘system’ which ultimately determines success or failure.
Effective managers consider both by engaging the seller, or the buyer, to get a feel of things before judging.
Waiting “to see what management says about the sale,” is a sign of losing the sale. Progressive sellers use the system as the sales report they detest doing. But they stay ahead of the sale, defending its position in the pipeline irrespective of what the system says.