Unclogging the Pipeline

Original post date Feburay 21, 2009

This post was recently featured in an article on MarketingProf’s

Pipeline slowed to a trickle? Opportunities backing up, lead-to-close time seem like forever…yea, welcome to the recession. With customers delaying and/or postponing decisions altogether the ol’ pipeline ain’t what it used to be.

Here are 7 Pipeline Management Best Practice tips taken from leading companies that might help:

  1. Weekly Pipeline Meetings with Sales AND Marketing – yes weekly…and with Marketing, do it in country and at the region level. You may also do it at the corporate level with the CEO , like IBM.
  2. Apply BANT – CRM is great at increasing visibility into opportunities but it tells you nothing about why opportunities aren’t advancing. BANT will. By qualifying and re-qualifying opportunities based on Budget, Authority, Need and Time you will get to the bottom line on why leads are not advancing. Reps will say that it’s “B” but I wouldn’t assume that. Companies are still spending (not as much) but now it takes a C-Level to approve (is your sales force getting to “A)? Budgets have moved higher in the organization and have been centralized. Also, business cases are required for EVERYTHING so if you aren’t submitting one with every proposal you’re not address “N”. Timing (T) of course, things are slow so you need to find out as much as you can about when budgets might get released and then check again, then again…
  3. 90 day Movement Limit – this is one of my personal favorites. If a lead (that is truly a lead) does not advance within a 90 day window it moves back to the previous stage in pipeline or is killed. Given that lead cycle times have lengthened…considerably, you may want to make the window 120 days. Up or Out…learn it, live it, love it.
  4. Define a lead and stick to it – look, it’s going to be difficult road but be honest with yourself on what is truly a lead. A response to a campaign offering a free gift card, or a download of a white paper off the website, aren’t leads…they’re responses and should be treated that way. Leads are defined by meeting a BANT criteria…see above. People will want to get fast and loose with the facts to satisfy the sales force or make marketing targets but don’t let them…stay firm, you’ll thank me when the recovery starts.
  5. Response Management – so now that you’ve removed the “junk” out of the pipeline it’s time to do something with it. In reality responses aren’t “junk” (well, some are), they’re potential leads that just need to be nurtured…for a long time in today’s environment. Don’t disregard them, I’ve seen too many companies do nothing with this group. In the good times most of them would be leads.  How to find them? Simple, ask this question during you pipeline call; “who owns responses that aren’t qualified leads…” wait for the silence. Bingo, there’s your answer. Take the last 6 months of campaign response and start digging.
  6. Lead Gen to Sales Enablement – it’s time to move marketing down the pipeline. Lead generation aimed at acquiring new opportunities is a waste of money in a recession. The cost of a qualified lead has skyrocketed…don’t believe me go do the analysis you will be surprised and in some cases shocked. So it’s time to invest against sales enablement and helping the sales force move opportunities already in the pipeline. Here’s another fact for you…B2B sales channels create 80-85% of all leads so cutting lead generation programs will not hurt you…I’ll say it again, redirecting investments away for lead gen activities will not hurt the pipeline.  What is sales enablement, and how does it help the sales force? Well, it’s things like business tools that can prove a ROI, sales presentations loaded with proof points (case studies) on your value, and a robust customer reference program (see the graph above). By aligning marketing activities to moving the BANT levers you will be investing marketing dollars were they can have the greatest return…and your sales force will thank you for it.
  7. Comp on or Emphasize Customer Meetings – if you build comp plans based on revenue and lead targets/production you may want to consider over emphasizing face time in front of the customer for the first half of the year. You’re probably saying to yourself, “but Scott, why would I do that if customers aren’t buying?” Right, but they can tell you why, when things might loosen, and who you need to get to (see my rant on BANT in bullet #2). It’s during these times that you need to have your reps in front of customers so they can collect the information needed to provide you with update during the weekly pipeline call. Use your sales enablement team (see paragraph above) to provide them with high value material to share with customers in order to get those meetings. See how it all connects?

I hope this helps. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to be stuck in this situation for all of 2009. Be strong…the bad times, just like the good times, don’t last forever.