Thoughts On Pipeline – a VP of Sales Perspective

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I have spent a fair number of years with the title “VP of Sales” on my business card for companies big, small and in-between as well as consulting and coaching others who make their living in sales.  Throughout the whole time, my close and constant companion has, and always will be, my pipeline report.  I have nurtured, cajoled, played puts and takes, adds and takeaways, backfill and upside with the deals in my pipe while always having a list of my key deals.  In other words, those deals that can get me to or above target.  Late one quarter, in a particularly anxious time, I confess to putting my list under the pillow when I went to sleep.   As I said, we are close, and that is never a bad thing to be with your pipeline.  This is how you become well acquainted with the opportunities that will get you to plan.

As a sales rep, I knew my deals up close and personal.  As a first line regional manager with individual contributors reporting to me, I was still very close to the actual deals.  As a VP managing regional managers though, the number of reps and their deals meant that most deals were now numerical abstractions – numbers in a report with weight and probability rankings, and Y or N in “Commit” columns, but at the most, a sentence or two of context or color.  

What does 75% vs. 60% and “Best Case” vs. “Commit” mean?  Do any of these filters tell me what deals are actually going to close?  Is one rep’s “Best Case” another rep’s “Commit”?  All reps’ opinions are subjective, and inevitably vary from one another’s.  As a VP with many deals to choose to focus on you have to ensure that your version of the opportunity map – your pipeline and forecast reports, give you the best idea of which deals deserve your attention (other than the most obvious).

So how do you map that out?

Well the traditional answer is that you institute a pipeline management process, which could be called many names (pipeline scrub, drill down, pipeline inspection and so forth), but fundamentally they are different versions of the same idea. The reason for this is simple: it isn’t your first rodeo; you understand that you cannot trust a forecast report, and by association, anything in the pipeline.  Even in the most optimistic and least risk scenario, a sales VP knows it is best to remember Ronald Reagan’s advice: “trust but verify”.

This necessary process of verifying and scrubbing is an arduous process. First you must torture the data, and then torture the sales team to verify as well as add color and context to what is summarized in the report   Let’s not forget that in addition to scrubbing, this is the time to try and ask the right questions and gain any missing information and insight.

This process works.  However, it takes a lot of time and arguably takes away from the actual process of selling.  However, it is necessary and no person or tool has figured out how to improve the process of collecting the right information, asking the right questions, vetting  and determining what deals matter most at any given time. 

What if you had a tool though, an augmentation to your existing CRM system that could be easily deployed and integrated on top of your current implementation? What if this tool (using big data and machine learning) could then  automate, or at least vastly improve, and speed up the scrub process?  What if this same technology could also allow you to mine your pipeline and percolate up the deals that you may be able to make the most impact on? Better yet, what if it did so early enough in the forecast cycle so you could maximize your time to act?  Finally (and this is the really new, cool thing that would make this so special!), what if you had a mobile app that intelligently prompted your sales people with the right questions to provide the right information in just a couple clicks?   When the “data in” is current, complete, qualified and constantly updated then you have the right ingredients to feed your analytics engine.  That’s when the magic happens.

Up until now, despite the amazing progress of sales automation and CRM tool

functionaltiy, there has been little to offer that helps with the critical task of pipeline management.  Sales executives are still looking for a more efficient way to monitor desired outcomes – predictability, gap deal identification, pipeline improvement, etc.  It remains a hand rolled, manual process, unique to each individual manager.

The mission for TopOPPS is to change all that.  For me, TopOPPS has been a game changer- mission accomplished.