Moving from a “Pipedream to Pipeline”

Article by: Warren Shiver

There are many sales related axioms, clichés, sayings, etc. One of my favorites has been the title that Rick Page selected for one of his books, “Hope is not a strategy”. While this certainly applies throughout many phases of the sales process, it also applies at the top-of-the-funnel. Generating and developing leads and turning these into qualified opportunities is a foundational element for any business.

In a discussion this week with Mike Dickerson, General Manager & Senior Vice President at PGi, he coined my latest favorite saying, how to move from a “pipedream to pipeline”. We were discussing the use of CRM (in this case Salesforce.com) and the best ways to create targets/leads. We both remarked that the challenge is how to consistently test them and quickly turn them into opportunities, while striking the balance between tracking business development activity and growing the overall pipeline of qualified opportunities, which is usually more fact than fiction vs. targets.

This discussion adds more relevance for sales teams that are offering true insights and even provoking their customers with a new ways of thinking and/or approaching a problem. Where does the conversation turn into an opportunity?

Some critical success factors:

  • Discussion Prompters – insights, research, case studies, points of view, etc. that the sales team can use to engage the customer
  • Consultative Selling Skills – the sales team must possess a level of skill sufficient to fully engage in a conversation, not a presentation
  • Discovery Questions – equipping the sales team with “thinking” questions that start the conversation
  • Business/Industry/Solution Knowledge – providing knowledge that enables to sales team to provide a point of view during initial conversations
  • Qualification Questions – internal questions that can be used be the sales teams and management to determine if an opportunity exists and is worth the time, money and resources to  pursue
  • Management Review – based on the qualification questions, sales leadership must consistently review and test the leads and early stage opportunities to ensure it still makes sense to invest

The reality is that for many companies their sales pipelines are dramatically inflated and are closer to a pipedream than a pipeline.

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2 thoughts on “Moving from a “Pipedream to Pipeline”

  1. Hi Warren,
    Great post and list of critical success factors. I believe productive sales conversations create sales opportunities when the majority of the discussion participants agree there is potential for a greatly improved future state – one with a significant ROI including all implementation risks. These premeditated “pipe-dream” conversations (How can, What if, Have you thought about?) should be considered pre-step 1 in the sales process with a 0% win probability. Once these future state conversations progressing successfully and the ROI agreed upon by all stakeholders, the opportunity can be added to the sales funnel and pipeline for tracking. Record it but quantify it at a very conservative win probability, perhaps <5%. The documented sales opportunity then becomes the joint responsibility of the salesperson, their sales management and the ROI recipient for further qualification (to your sales process specifications) and to control the ultimate time required to go from pipe-dream conversation – to pipeline – to cash.

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