Tag Archives: pipeline management

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Pipeline Progression: 7 Steps to Synch Sales Enablement and the Sales Cycle

In my last post, I discussed how sales can improve pipeline visibility by identifying what reps should hear from the customer at each stage of the sales cycle.   Uncovering the right comments helps qualify the opportunity and ensure proper pipeline progression.

Marketing plays a key role in this effort.  I’m not talking about qualifying inquiries at the top of the sales funnel.  I’m talking about an opportunity that has entered the sales cycle.  The customer contact has been qualified.  Sales has accepted the lead.   Marketing and sales work together to pursue the opportunity, like short track skaters drafting off of one another.

Marketing’s role in pipeline progression

Pipeline progression – isn’t that the job of sales management, not marketing?  True, but it is also another important area of CMO-CSO alignment.  For marketing to be effective in producing sales enablement kit, we have to deliver what the sales team needs at each stage of the cycle.

This task is pretty clear when you use an approach to pipeline progression that is based on what you expect to hear from the customer.   The deck below shows a real world example.


Seven Steps to Synch with Sales

Here are seven lessons learned from our approach to enabling the field for pipeline progression.

1. Make the first pitch without pre-sales

baseball-89612_640Although our product was technically innovative, we kept our sales presentation at the business level, using a Challenger Sale approach.  We based the first sales milestone on uncovering urgency and differentiation, rather than product features.  Our sales team ran this stage without pre-sales, helping to keep the conversation focused on business topics.

2. Nail the business issues up front

In order to validate the urgency of getting a cloud service to market, we needed to discover the buyer’s strategic, financial, and personal goals.  The only way to do that was to demonstrate credibility and situational fluency.  Our deck needed to quickly show that we understood the goals and challenges of the cloud market, based on our experience with other customers.

3. Recount relevant customer stories

To validate that our solution provided compelling business value, we built short summaries of relevant customer success stories into the sales deck.  We trained our sales reps so they could tell these stories, as if they were personally involved in each account.

4. Deliver a dynamic demo

Since our design goal was to complete the first pipeline milestone without pre-sales, we recorded a short, compelling demo that explained how our product’s technical capabilities helped customers achieve business goals.  We armed the sales team with product information to augment the demo, but deferred deeper technical discussion until later in the sales engagement.

5. Publish customer case studies in several formats

You never know how your prospect will want to consume a customer case study, so publish them in as many formats as possible.  We used the following:

  • Publicly available website information from customers using our product as the basis for their solutions.  Here’s an example.
  • The usual suspects:  summaries on our website and in pdf format.
  • YouTube videos of customers discussing cool topics they did with our product.
  • Blog posts about customers highlighting their successes.
  • Implementation summaries covering the technical and operational information on how the service was built.

6. Project profit with a financial model

money-167733_640Our competitive advantage was that service providers could use our product to roll out cloud services faster, and at a higher profit margin, than they could with alternative solutions.  To frame this argument, marketing created a detailed financial model to project the profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.  We worked with the customer to tailor the model to their situation, so they could use it in the financial justification for investing in our solution.

7. Generate a Go To Market plan

For our customers to have the confidence to invest with us, they needed to see a clear path to building and launching their cloud services on our platform.  So our kit included implementation and go to market plans to accelerate the customer’s launch.  The plans included timelines, templates, training, and examples based on our experience with other customers.

Are You Synched with Sales on Pipeline Progression?

If you’re a product marketer, you need to know that your kit is being actively used by sales as they progress deals through the sales cycle.   If you’re not sure, that’s a slippery slope.   Find out, or you might take a spill on the next turn.    Let me know how you stay aligned!

Speed skating photo credit:  B Stefanov

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pipeline visibility

Sales Opportunity Pipeline Visibility: You’ll See Better With Your Ears!

We like to think sales opportunity pipeline visibility is a science.  Or at least well-founded math.

Create five or six stages based on the major milestones of the sales cycle.   Assign percentages to represent the probability of closure for that particular sales step.

Sales Pipeline Stages

Drive the business by reviewing the opportunity pipeline every week.  Query the reps on actions they’re taking to progress their deals.  Excellent pipeline visibility is key to ensuring revenue goals are met.

The inconvenient truth about pipeline visibility

If pipeline visibility is such a science, why do so many deals die late in the funnel?

We’ve all been there.  A deal that was at 60% suddenly gets killed off  for reasons that appear out of the blue.

  • No funding
  • Not a strategic project
  • Lost sponsorship

Management goes nuts because the reps should have identified these issues way earlier in the sales cycle.  Before they invested so much time and resources.   So much for visibility!

Why does this happen?  That’s obvious.  The reps didn’t ask the hard questions early enough in the sales cycle.  Why not?  There are many reasons.  I think that one contributing factor lies in how sales management manages the pipeline in the first place.

Emphasizing sales activity causes you to focus in the wrong area

You end up managing what your sales guys are doing, rather than what they are learning from the customer.   Your reps respond accordingly.  They focus on activities like giving the pitch and doing the demo, rather than uncovering the buyer’s pain points.

You get great visibility into your sales reps’ activities, but not into the customer’s buying cycle.

There’s a reason it’s called the customer buying cycle.  It’s based on the information the customer needs before they buy.  Not on what your sales reps do at each stage.  In order to know what the customer needs at each stage you have to listen.

Define your pipeline stages by what you should hear

radar-dish-63013_640You’ll get better pipeline visibility if you specify what your reps should hear at each stage when they ask the right questions.    You’ll hear what the customer is thinking, as they progress along the buying cycle.  And that will give you better visibility into whether or not the deal will close.

A Real World Example

In a recent role, I ran marketing for the cloud platform group within a large company.  We sold our product to service providers who wanted to launch high margin cloud services.   Our product was a true innovation.  Its unique capabilities allowed service providers to get to market fast and with lower capital and operational expenditures.

We faced a real problem with sales opportunity pipeline visibility.  Customers were hugely interested in our product because it was such an innovation.   But interest didn’t always translate into investment.  Deals would fall out of the pipeline after the teams had devoted significant time to presentations, demos, proofs of concept, and reference calls.  We were spending too much time on deals that were never properly qualified.

To improve pipeline visibility, we redefined our pipeline stages.  We knew from successful deals the types of comments our sales reps should hear from the customer at each stage.  We did this along two tracks.  One for business conversations.  The other for product and implementation conversations.    This post focuses only on the business track.

What you should hear at the 20% stage

Deal Progression 20The goal for the 20% “Research” stage was to uncover whether the customer had an urgent business need for a cloud launch, or just interest in learning about our product.  If it was just interest, we’d know not to invest time into prosecuting the deal.

We wanted our reps to hear the business owner say something like the quote in the yellow box.  Anything else less urgent would indicate a risk that the opportunity was not real.  True sense of urgency would be indicated by competitive pressures, specific customer demand, financial targets and a specified time frame for cloud launch.

Pipeline visibility at 40%

Deal Progression 40

At the 40% “Verify” stage, we wanted our reps to hear comments in two different areas.  First, we wanted to hear validation of the cloud service portfolio that the buyer intended to bring to market.  Knowing the specific cloud services they intended to launch would help us orient our demos and customer reference stories appropriately.

Second, we needed to hear as much detail about the decision making process to get a deal done. We needed to understand the business justification our buyer would need to make, in order to justify the investment in our solution.   In our selling approach, we worked with the buyer to build this justification.  So, at this stage, we wanted to learn about the audience, the format, and the level of detail.

What you should hear at 60%

Deal Progression 60

At the 60% “Prove” stage, our goal was to show that our company provided the best way for the service provider to achieve their cloud service goals.  The key deliverable at this stage was a financial model created jointly with the customer projecting the revenue and profit of the planned cloud service portfolio.   We needed to hear the buyer express confidence in the model so that she would feel comfortable presenting it to the Board or investment committee.

Pipeline visibility:   See better by listening better

Once we built this approach into our sales training and sales enablement kit, we had much better pipeline visibility.  Verifying the urgency of cloud service launch at the 20% stage provided a tough hurdle.  But the diligence that the team expended resulted in much less pipeline leakage at later stages.

Try this approach for your business.  What do you need to hear at each stage to improve your pipeline visibility?

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