How to Make Pipeline Calls Your Favorite Calls – “Death to Happy Ears”
Pipeline calls are a necessary evil for every sales team. It’s clear that deal inspection and strategy are essential — but all too often, these calls devolve into micro-management, rote answers to rote questions, and leave the team thinking, “Well, that’s an hour I won’t get back.”
But what if these regular calls could be the highlight of your week? Not possible? I beg to differ.
Why pipeline reviews suck
Pipeline review calls should be an open discussion between reps and leadership about each deal’s status so they can strategize together how to achieve the best outcomes for their clients while simultaneously getting accurate predictive data for forecasting.
Sadly most calls devolve into reps checking boxes for leadership instead of working out how best to serve their customers and saying whatever they think will get them off the calls fastest so they can “get back to selling”. This results in poor deal staging, poor forecasting, and a general sense of “why are we doing these again when we’re just saying what management wants us to say?”
“Happy Ears” are the death of an accurate pipeline. Pipeline reviews cannot be about showing progress and hitting a number at all costs. The moment you hear a rep say, “Well, I’ve called eight times and sent three emails,” you’re no longer holding a pipeline review — you’re auditing activity. Sales activity has some bearing on deal status — yet it’s frequently the only indicator of status.
Pipeline issues like those above are compounded by the optimistic/fatalistic nature of most sales reps. Sales reps tend either to sandbag (deny how good their chances are) or inflate (overestimate how good their chances are) in the best circumstances. By focusing on activity and the rep’s assessment of the situation, calls become further detached from what matters . . .
Focus on the buyer to bring your number into focus
Pipeline reviews should be an opportunity to examine and create alignment around:
- Compelling events – Have you identified one, and what’s the due date?
- Key Players – Do you have the entire buying team identified? When do you expect each role to show up, and what’s the plan for each?
- What work do you need to be done by the buying team? When is it due, and did they do it on time?
Switching the conversation from “What did [the rep] do to move the deal forward?” to “What does the client need next?” seems simple — but it’s the difference between accurate forecasting and wishful thinking.
Ideally, these pipeline reviews will reference a Mutual Action Plan (or a MAP — more on how those make you money here) where the buying team and selling team agree who needs to do what and when the actions need to happen. Even without a MAP, a pipeline review should be all about the client’s needs and timeline — NOT THE SELLERS DEADLINES AND NUMBERS.
Once you shift to talking about compelling events, buying team, and mutually agreed-upon deadlines, it’s shocking not just how much more accurate your forecasts are but how engaged and open to help your sellers are.
Three things to make your Pipeline Calls GREAT
Ready to make the shift from optimistic self-assessments and activity staging to a customer focus? Start with three simple actions.
Set milestones early and confirm buy-in
Confirm every deal that enters the pipeline has set milestones and deadlines that both selling and buying teams agreed to. Then on the pipeline calls, all you do is ask if the last deadline was met and if you’re on track for the next milestone.
Ask about relationships – not activity.
Rather than asking when the last conversation was, ask “When are you expecting [stakeholder] to enter the picture for approval?” or “Did [stakeholder] show as expected?” The quality of the relationship will always outweigh the volume of activity.
What do you need from the buying team?
Small question — big impact. Getting alignment and support within your internal team is easy compared to getting alignment and support from a prospective client. Asking this early and often will drive movement without putting uncomfortable pressure on the client to adhere to your timeline.
Finally – Just imagine
You dial into that weekly pipeline call. The sense of dread builds waiting for reps who think they’re totally pulling the wool over your eyes. Don’t they know you used to carry a quota?
But when your first question isn’t “How are you going to make up this gap?” or “When did you talk to Joe last?” you instead say, “Do you need anything from the buying team at ABC corp?”
You and your team relax because they tell you they’re waiting for the prospect to make technical changes on the IT side to finish the POC. Everything else is going according to plan — the only thing needed is patience and it’ll be completed by the deadline they gave you.
Suddenly the call is a chance to share how you’re building relationships and managing the projects you’re really excited about with your prospective clients — not an interrogation where you justify your existence through activity.
We think that sounds nice.
Just a thought.
So what do you want your next quarter to look like? Let’s talk.