7 Reasons Your Sales Pipeline Sings Like an Old Meatloaf Song And Why Two Out Of Three Is Bad

by Cheryl Powers

There are enough sales lessons in this song to fill a chapter in a book. But for today, let’s focus on why your salespeople insist on keeping prospects in the pipeline who are never going to buy from you - - and what you can do to fix it.

Your sales pipeline should be the predictive determiner of future business but month after month and quarter after miserable quarter, CEOs and their sales leaders continue to play guessing games about how much business they can actually count on coming out of their pipeline. This affects more than just revenue. It affects staffing levels, inventory, cash flow, manufacturing, and operations. Much like a heart in the human body, the sales pipeline pumps the lifeblood (sales) through the organization creating the opportunity for optimum health. If there isn’t enough lifeblood or if the lifeblood gets stuck, potential is created for disease and death.

Salespeople tend to keep dead prospects in the pipeline for lots of reasons, not the least of which are:

- they hate prospecting or they simply aren’t any good at it;

- they don’t know how to effectively disqualify prospects or;

- are afraid to because they don’t have enough prospects to begin with;

- they lack the skills necessary to effectively execute the selling process (How to hire and develop stronger salespeople);

- they lack the desire to be the best in their role (or even to be in sales at all);

- they lack effective pipeline processes;

- they aren’t held accountable for a quality pipeline;

- they aren’t managed by skilled, performance-driven managers;

So what can you do about it? Well, Meatloaf has given us a few hints about what a prospect might be trying to tell you. Let’s listen to the lyrics.

“Baby we can talk all night. But that ain’t getting us nowhere.”

Most salespeople talk too much and they talk about the wrong things. Me, me, me. And we, we, we. Sure, you can convince some people through persuasion and even coercion to do business with you but usually at a cost: a lower price, value reduction, loss of ongoing relationship opportunities, loss of referrals, just to name a few.

And some were going to buy from you anyway but that’s no excuse for your salespeople to not be able to effectively help a prospect move forward with you or move on without you.

Train your salespeople how to talk about what really matters. But what does really matter? In a nutshell: the prospect, their business, their problems, their vision, and all the stuff that’s getting in the way of their success. If the salesperson has done their job, the prospect will be ready to make a decision. No is an acceptable outcome.

“I told you everything I possibly can. There's nothing left inside of here.”

Sometimes it’s simply time to move on and sometimes you need to move to a different conversation.

Do you have a process that tells the salesperson when it’s over? Do your salespeople have permission to let go of prospects that don’t qualify? What about those who aren’t ready now but may require nurturing? Do you have a clean hand-off back to the marketing function?

“And maybe you can cry all night. But that'll never change the way I feel.”

Your salesperson’s feelings are secondary to the prospect’s feelings. Stop badgering the prospect and focus instead on helping them discover a good reason to say yes.

Did your salesperson do all they could to elicit passionate, driving, and moving reasons from the prospect about why they would, could, and should do business with you? If your salespeople have asked enough questions, especially enough of the tough questions, and the prospect still isn’t moved to change, find more prospects.

Getting this step right is critical to maintaining a healthy pipeline.

“I'll never be able to give you something - something that I just haven't got.”

Maybe it’s purchase authority. Perhaps it’s money. It could be a long-term contract standing in the way. Who knows, maybe their brother-in-law is in the same business as you and they promised the family they’d support him. Whatever it is it’s your salespeople’s job to find out, and quickly, whether they are:

> Willing and Able
> Willing but Unable
> Unwilling but Able
> Unwilling and Unable
…to do business with you.

Chasing prospects that can’t do business with you is a great way to be busy on your way to nowhere. And if you have a long sales cycle and hefty sales salaries to cover, you can’t afford to get this wrong for very long.

“I want you. I need you. But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you. Now don't be sad 'cause two out of three ain't bad.”

Don’t be sad but please move on because two out of three is a deal killer. You’re looking for alignment on every level in order to have a viable deal.

Your grandmother was right; most people are nice. They want to let you down easy. And for weak salespeople, nice people are a trap because they’re easy to talk to and because some salespeople insist on seeing future potential where none exists.

Your pipeline should be optimized to ensure that your salespeople understand the difference between a friendly chat and a business conversation. The pipeline process should force the salesperson to move the sales conversation to the next step, even if that step is to the “dead” file.

(You can request information about optimizing your sales pipeline here.)

“You'll never find your gold on a sandy beach. You'll never drill for oil on a city street. I know you're looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks. But there ain't no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”

I can’t tell you how many companies I talk with, yes even big ones, who struggle with getting their sales teams to prospect well, prospect enough, or even to prospect at all. I have spoken with countless business leaders around the world from different industries who tell me their salespeople hate being referred to as salespeople.

This role confusion, especially if it is allowed to flourish, causes salespeople and their managers to behave incredibly inefficiently. They put too much focus and pressure on closing “big deals” which may or may not happen, they see and hear potential opportunity with people who aren’t valid prospects, and they waste precious time and resources “developing” phantom business.

So thanks, Meatloaf, wherever you are for helping us sort this all out. Now, if you’re a sales director, VP, president or CEO, this is your turnaround ballad. It’s time to break-up with bad sales and pipeline practices. Let me know your thoughts by leaving your comments below or by contacting me directly at [email protected].

© Cheryl Powers 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Photo Credit: CMG

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