For sales managers, pipeline review meetings address two important needs within the business: forecasting and decision making. You’re trying to understand which opportunities are likely to close in their current state and take actions to increase the chance of deals coming in. But how do you “trust but verify” your sales reps’ assessments of the deals in their pipeline and identify clear next steps that will help close those deals?
Why Are Pipeline Reviews Important?
A pipeline review meeting is an important part of a sales manager’s meeting cadence, either as a stand alone meeting or within one-on-ones with their AEs (account executives). Having a structured process for this review is part of a system that recognizes we’re all human, and it’s normal for us to forget things when we’re busy. We put backstops in place to prevent major oversights. This allows us to catch deals that might otherwise fall through the cracks and take action to positively impact deal trajectory and outcomes, by preventing promising leads from going cold.
Why Do Pipeline Reviews?
It is easy to walk through a sales rep’s list of deals and ask, “What's going on with Acme Corp? What's going on with Bravo Inc?” I’ve been in meetings like that — they feel tedious and unhelpful for the sales rep. A well-structured pipeline review gives you as the manager the data you need to ask better questions of the sales rep and identify what steps you need to take. Consider the difference between, “What’s going on with Acme Corp?” and “Hey, it looks like we haven't presented a proposal to Acme Corp, and there isn’t another meeting on the calendar. Is there something blocking you there? Can we get a proposal meeting scheduled for next week?” The latter is much higher value for both you and for your team.
A structured process also highlights any issues with pipeline hygiene so that forecasts aren’t overly optimistic. This allows forecasting to take place while only considering deals that are healthy and likely to close so sales leaders aren’t surprised by a miss at the end of the quarter.
Forecasting and Decision Making
The two goals of a pipeline review are to inform a strong forecast and support decision making around the actions a sales rep should take with their accounts.
To forecast, the pipeline review should focus on the factors that determine an opportunity’s likelihood to close. Many sales organizations will have a framework they already use in support of this goal, such as MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion—the six steps used to qualify customers in the MEDDIC sales process). If you're looking for guidance on how to tell whether an opportunity will close, the key factors will be around engagement, sales cycle time and clear actions.
Engagement includes whether the sales rep has met with the prospect recently, whether the rep has reached out over email, and whether the prospect has responded. With my team, this is where we identify which customers they haven’t contacted recently and decide on what outreach would be appropriate. This is also where we identify customers that haven’t responded to reps’ outreach so we can decide what might engage them or identify where I might be able to step in directly to help.
Sales Cycle Time
Sales cycle time is the section of pipeline review where we look at how long a deal has been open or in its current stage relative to team averages. This helps identify those opportunities that are stuck and see what we can do to get them progressing through the sales process again. This may also be where we decide those opportunities are no longer viable.
Clear actions may include an agreed-upon mutual close plan, a next meeting on the calendar or some other documented next step to which the prospect has agreed.
The decision-making portion of a pipeline review identifies what we should do next. If the above questions have raised any red or yellow flags, then the action for the sales rep may be to eliminate or mitigate the risk you’ve identified. That may mean reaching out to a prospect where the sales rep hasn’t engaged, multi-threading to identify additional champions, asking for executive involvement where the main point of contact hasn’t been responsive or scheduling a next meeting for a deal that’s at risk of stalling out.
It’s also fine — even good! — to decide that the appropriate action is to close the opportunity as lost. Each sales rep has a limited amount of time on their calendar and allocating that resource appropriately is a part of the process as well. Part of my role as a sales leader is to coach my team through those decision points so they understand why we’re deciding to double down to save an opportunity and give it extra effort versus when we decide to stop working a deal because there are better ways to use their time. If the rep has tried (and failed) to reach a decision maker or the prospect declines to make a decision at the current time may be opportunities to step back. There’s always the chance to re-engage in the future with those accounts.
Adapting for Customer Segments
Pipeline reviews will look different for those sales organizations selling to enterprise accounts versus those engaged in more transactional sales to small businesses along three key vectors: goal, structure and granularity.
The goal of a pipeline review with a seasoned enterprise sales representative is to “trust but verify” their assessment of the small number of high-dollar deals they’re currently pursuing. The goal of a pipeline review with a more junior sales rep engaged in a transactional sales process is more about ensuring adherence to that process.
Accordingly, the structure of the meeting shifts. An enterprise pipeline review is structured around the key questions that need to be asked about every deal. An SMB (small and medium-sized business) pipeline review is structured around observing broader patterns and identifying which of the SMB rep’s many deals are important to discuss.
The difference in meeting structure is also reflected in the granularity of each meeting. An enterprise pipeline review discusses every deal, every time, while an SMB pipeline review looks across the pipeline to identify any issues with overall pipeline hygiene or sales process adherence, but only discusses the subset of individual deals that are especially large or far down the funnel.
As with any meeting, the top-level goals are most important to keep in mind. If you get the information you need to support a well-informed forecast and help your reps make decisions about where and how to spend their time across their book of business, then you’ve successfully structured a great pipeline review.