"Pipelines" are probably better for transporting oil and gas than
for managing sales processes!
I don't know about you but those so-called 'pipelines' that companies like to use to describe the sales process never really worked very well for me. Here's why:
The problem with pipelines is that they become the product of a sales person's fantasy. It's essentially a 'hope mechanism' and drives sales people to believe their own delusions.
I've been there myself. My 'pipeline' kept me going. It was also a way to demonstrate within my organisation that I was actually at work. There were times when it even kept me employed during downturns.
When I worked for large organisations, I was as guilty as anyone else dressing up my pipeline in order to motivate myself and keep management off my back. In fact, I've even schemed along with some of my managers to send out glorified pipelines to headquarters so they would leave us alone!
The problem with old school pipelines is that the main denominator for measurement only comes from the sales side and it fails to objectively capture any input from the prospect's point of view.
Most of the time activity is measured as meetings or conference calls, sometimes even with milestones that mark the trajectory of a typical sales process. But whatever goes into the pipeline is entirely at the discretion of the sales team.
What follows may sound familiar:
You feel good about a first meeting.
You flag the prospect as a potential prospect so you stick it into the pipeline.
Then your confirmation bias kicks in and before you know it, you wind up convincing yourself that you can win the business.
You then request a second meeting and the prospect accepts. Now you think you are really on to something and the opportunity moves up a notch in your pipeline.
And even though you haven't exactly been able to qualify if the prospect is for real, you really want to believe there is a case for business. You rationalise to yourself "All this interest can only mean one thing, right? "
So now you prioritise the prospect and devote even more time and resources to pursuing your desired outcome. And because your pipeline seems to be 'moving ahead', you don't put too much effort in scouting for fresh prospects. You feel good about your pipeline and so does management.
Then reality hits when you realise that you were too optimistic because your eagerness clouded your judgement of the real intent of the prospect. Before you know it, you get stuck in a universe of 'apparent' opportunities.
Over all the years of meeting with prospects, I have come to realise that prospects don't always attend meetings because they are interested in acquiring your products or services. Often, there are entirely different motivations at play:
Curiosity - many prospects see a one hour meeting at their premises as free education. Especially when you bring along a specialist.
Benchmarking - They could be taking advantage of your efforts to evaluate the service or product they already have.
Looking busy - Maybe they have a KPI that measures the number of meetings they need to attend. I know it sounds absurd but trust me, this actually happens, especially in large corporations.
Ambition - Juniors may feel more important when they get to meet with more seasoned professionals. They may even want to use you to show off to colleagues or court you for a job. Personally, I had that kind of stuff going on in my head when I was twenty-something.
Distraction - It could also be that they want time away from the desk to enjoy the coffee and the cookies in the comfort of a lavish meeting room.
If there is anything I learned from all this is that I now only pay attention to what people actually do rather than what they say.
In my opinion, the 'pipeline' method is too subjective to measure the actual intent from prospects because there is too much wishing involved and it fails to capture objective and measurable data straight from the prospects. I believe it is a bit like using a phone booth to make a telephone call today, meaning that there is a better and cleaner way.
What if you could not only measure how prospects actually interact with your story but also automate most of the prospecting process without having to go to all those meetings?
And what if you could collect that intelligence to identify the real qualified prospects and spend all your time and resources on them?
What if your 'pipeline' could actually become a list of real 'self-selected prospects'?
Those were the exact questions that became my wish list for a solution that I have been developing for the past couple of years.
Aren't getting my updates yet?