How to get better results faster from your pipeline

If ever you’re going to rethink your pipeline approach, now’s the time. We’re in a period of massive change. It’s moving fast, and it’s big, like a corkscrew following a loop-the-loop on a rollercoaster. Organizations are in flex. People are in flex. The economy is in flex. Most importantly, buyers are buying and they’re open to switching vendors. In fact, there’s so much opportunity that your pipeline can easily spillover and become unmanageable. This is the time to ask yourself, “How am I going to build my pipeline—and do it differently from two years ago?” It’s a big question, but I’ve broken it down into four simple parts. Read on for practical advice on adjusting your pipeline management to yield better results. 

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1. Focus
As a sales coach, when helping salespeople improve their pipeline I always start with a conversation about which accounts to focus on. This exercise is particularly important today because of the seismic shift in buyer attitudes and behaviour–it’s a new world and we need to re-examine our target buyers should be. 

Since in-person meetings and networking have been largely off the table for the past two years, you’ve likely focused on existing relationships. Even if you’ve continued cold calling throughout the pandemic, it’s still important to rethink who you should call and meet with going forward. While you’re at it, to ensure you’re being as strategic as possible with your time, revisit who you’ve defined as your a-level, b-level and c-level targets. 

2. Activity
Pre-pandemic, in-person sales meetings were what we frequently aimed for. This is no longer the case. Now there are options for how we connect with prospective buyers: phone, video and in person. Having options means we can make more efficient use of our working hours. While the decision isn’t wholly ours to make, we should aim for a mix of in-person and virtual (video or phone) meetings. If you have an a-level prospect, you might offer options: “It sounds like we have some things to talk about, would you feel more comfortable in person or virtual.” If this is a b- or c-level prospect, offering only a video or phone option might be the most efficient. Bottom line: be strategic with your activity and your time by employing a mix of meeting types.

 A note about meetings in this new world: people who are in the office only part of the week tend to use those days for internal meetings. While in-office days may be difficult to schedule, you might find people happy to get out of their house for a coffee, or who are happy to have a video meeting. 

3. Consistency
Across the board, we’re noticing many salespeople have unintentionally abandoned the time-tested practice of dedicating blocks of time to prospecting. To build your pipeline, you need to make a concentrated, consistent effort. Instead of spreading calls over the course of the week, block three hours (or the right block for your attention span) for prospecting once or twice per week. And during prospecting time, turn off all distractions like email and SMS notifications. This effort will go a long way toward building a healthy pipeline.

4. Use the BANT method
It's common for salespeople to spend a lot of time exploring a buyer’s needs, but there are other areas you need to cover in order to speed up your sales cycles. To figure out which deals are likely to close quickly, adopt the BANT method, where you probe for budget, authority, need and timeline. It functions like an emergency room triage desk, helping you quickly assess and prioritize your prospects according to which ones are likely to be won. For such an effective tool, it’s very simple:
  • Budget – Is the budget already assigned for the project, or will it take time to get approved?
  • Authority - Does the person you’re speaking with have the authority to sign, or will others be brought in later who’ll need to do their due diligence before signing? 
  • Need – Is this project a must-have or a nice-to-have? If the deliverable is critical for the organization, it will move quickly. If it’s not urgent, it’ll likely involve multiple proposals and discussions.
  • Timeline – Rather than asking “when are you thinking of doing this?”, ask “When must this be done?” because the true timeline correlates with the length of time to close the deal. 

The BANT method will save you from getting blinded by the excitement of a new prospect and making assumptions about key factors for closing the deal. Instead, you’ll be able to quickly assess opportunities. If your goal is to close more deals, this tool will be highly valuable to you.

The pandemic changed the playing field for buyers and sellers. Thankfully, in almost every industry, opportunity abounds. Play it smart and adopt a new strategy and tactics for a healthier pipeline. This may feel daunting, but it will payoff in time better spent and more deals closed. A great sales mentor once told me the difference between good and great salespeople is the great ones can separate real deals from the noise. The good news this is a skill that can be learned and honed.