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How to Run a Sales Pipeline Review

Think of a sales pipeline like a school syllabus - it tells you what needs to be done and by when. It serves as a summary of all of your active customers, where they are in the sales process, and how likely they are to move to the next stage.  The purpose of the pipeline review isn’t to discuss every customer. It's about the raw movement of your assembly line.

The pipeline review framework 

That’s why pipeline reviews are one of the most important processes for individual contributors and sales managers to master. To start, break down your pipeline reviews into 4 components. 

Component 1: quantity

This component is very straightforward. How many customers do you have in total and how many of them are in each stage of the pipeline? Every organization has their own expectations about the number of deals that should be at each stage. Your job is to know how well you’re doing against that number. 

If you’re expected to have 30 deals at the top of your sales funnel, but you only have 12, your pipeline is directing you to spend more time on outreach, emailing, and prospecting. You need to fill in that gap. 

On the other hand, your funnel may be bloated at certain stages. You may have 40 deals in the middle of the funnel, where you’d usually have 10. Your syllabus will tell you to focus on unsticking those deals. 

If your company has a standard price point that applies to all customers, then component 1 is all you need. But for many companies, their deal size varies because the price is based on usage or seats. That’s when you move on to component 2 of your pipeline review. 

Component 2: quality

Quality equals size. How many dollars does your pipeline represent? Just like with quantity, each stage of your pipeline should have a prescriptive amount of dollars. When there are lots of deals in each stage, but they’re low value, you’re not going to hit your number. In this case, start prospecting to bigger fish now and bring them into the top of your pipeline. 

The opposite is also a problem. When reps have high-dollar customers, but not very many of them, they’ll need to get lucky to make this pipeline work. They need to focus on increasing the number of customers in their funnel. 

Component 3: intent

Now, go through your entire pipeline from top to bottom. Talk about which deals have the highest likelihood of getting to the finish line and why. Do they already have their budget confirmed? Were they inbound leads? Is there a clear need? 

Determine if the intent is there. For the rest of the pipeline review conversation, focus on this component. Then, come up with a game plan about how you’re going to move the deal forward and the next steps. 

Component 4: specialized and individual bucket

Sales organizations have general prescriptions for deal quantity and quality. But not every rep will fall into those buckets. Some reps are great at getting deals into the pipeline but bad at bringing them down the funnel. Others are great closers but are bad at prospecting for the top of the funnel. The last component of your pipeline review is deciding, based on this individual rep’s history, how real their deals really are. 

Ideally, you’d have all of the quantitative data you need about each rep’s funnel. For example, they move deals from stage A to stage B at 10% and from stage B to stage C at 5%. If you don’t have this information, you need to account for each individual's skill set and historical ability when reviewing their pipeline. 

Finalize your game plan 

The pipeline review should produce a high-level series of events that need to happen post-pipeline review. Maybe the bottom of the funnel is in good shape and there are lots of deals. You’re going to hit quota this month. But if your top of funnel is looking empty, you need to start preparing for next month right away. With regularly scheduled pipeline reviews, reps can maintain a funnel with enough deals, at the right amount, and moving at an appropriate pace. 

7 top tips for pipeline reviews

  1. Hold reviews frequently. Even if your team only works on year-long deal cycles, talk about your pipeline every week.
  2. Closed-lost as much as possible. It’s an awful feeling, but your attention is a finite resource and the deals that aren’t happening will just weigh you down. 
  3. If you commit a deal twice, and it still hasn’t closed, move it out of commit and backward in your pipeline because something is holding this customer up. This will feel wrong, but remember that your job is to give an accurate forecast, not a hopeful one.
  4. Be real with yourself. Overly optimistic people get crushed in sales. I jokingly say that only the paranoid survive so assume that your deals won’t go well and account for that when reviewing your forecast. 
  5. Ask for help. If you're a rep, ask for help from your manager, product manager, or sales engineer - anybody that can help move the deal forward. Forward momentum is a team sport, not an individual race. If you’re a manager, offer to help your reps by reaching out to customers. 
  6. Sometimes, you’re out of luck. If you’re 2 months into your quarter, 10% to your goal, have a 4-week deal cycle, and nothing at the bottom of your funnel, you’re unlikely to close that gap. End this quarter in your mind. Otherwise, you’re wasting sales cycles and emotional energy trying to solve an unsolvable problem. Focus on next quarter instead. 
  7. Don’t commit a deal that is 4X your normal deal size. When you bring a giant new logo into the pipeline, you’ll have everyone’s eyes on it, including the executive team. At the same time, the customer’s procurement process might be lengthy and drawn out. All of a sudden, it’s a year later and your deal is still sitting in commit. Don’t bank on a whale deal, see them as accelerators on top of your normal pipeline. 

Communicating in a pipeline review 

Deciding which deals to keep and which to cut loose is a big part of pipeline reviews. If you’re having a hard time explaining why you feel the way you do about a deal, get your point across by learning how to communicate with evidence, rather than feelings. 

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