<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=255109411347912&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
// Blog

How to Clear Your Pipeline of Dead Wood

It's an all too familiar story. A seller's pipeline looks full! Bursting. Exciting. It stays like that for 2 months, 5 months, 10 months… more keeps going in. Nothing comes out.

It looked great, but it wasn't great. Not even good. Too many sellers have lots of opportunities in their pipelines that shouldn't be there. Neither managers nor sellers want mirage pipelines with visions of promised lands that simply aren't there.

For managers, it prevents forecasting. It makes it impossible to coach sellers to get to maximum performance. It's terribly costly and wasteful. For sellers, pipelines full of dead wood are a frustrating recipe for missing quota.

It's not difficult to clear pipelines of dead wood, though.

4 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Pipeline

  1. Want to do it. Some sellers are afraid to show their bosses a thin pipeline. Some sellers are afraid of hearing "no" from buyers. You want to hear yes or no, or even maybe, so you can know where to focus.

    Wanting to have a clean, real pipeline means wanting performance, being brave enough to show a pipeline to managers (and yourself) that looks thin, and getting over your need for approval, or fear of no. Whatever the case, unless you decide to do it, your pipelines will forever mislead you.

  2. Maintain at least a four-stage pipeline. The names may be different in your organization, but you should manage a pipeline in some semblance of four categories:

    • Suspect: Someone who has indicated interest, but perhaps not financial ability to buy, authority to buy, need, or a timeframe. Or it could be someone you are trying to convince to take a certain course of action who does have authority and financial ability.

      Suspects are not, however, what you should refer to as active pipeline. These are people you are working to get in the pipeline.

    • Prospect: Someone who has indicated interest and need, and the organization has financial ability to buy, but you might not be talking to the right person or people with authority yet, and you may not have a timeframe.
    • Qualified Prospect: Someone who meets the FAINT criteria as a qualified buyer, and you have the right decision roles involved with authority and urgency to move forward.
    • Win-Ready: Where you are in active pursuit of a win in the short-term. You have a proposal out and are expecting a go/no-go decision in the near-term.

    Note your pipeline runs from Prospect to Win-Ready. Suspects are just all the calls you are having in early stages, or the people you are trying to put in the pipeline. Too many sellers think a long list of suspects is a pipeline. It's not.

  3. Move deliberately on unresponsives. Unresponsive buyers have gone dark. Go here and follow the sequence to keep them in or shake them out.
  4. Reverse direction to clear out dead wood. Buyers expect sellers to chase and chase them indefinitely. It's the expected dynamic. Sellers want the sale. Buyers can play coy and go silent, but still expect sellers to chase them.

    This is what leads to pipelines that fill and never empty.

    As a seller, you need to change the dynamic. Establish yourself as a peer whose time is as important as theirs, and not be afraid of hearing—even inspiring—a "no" response.

    You can use the reverse direction strategy at any stage of the pipeline after a few regular outreach attempts have gone into the abyss. When you do, use phone and email at a minimum, and LinkedIn, text, Facebook, and other outreach methods as you can.

    Suspect you met:

    Dan,

    It was good catching up with you at the conference. Sorry we haven't been able to connect in the last few weeks. I'm guessing since I haven't heard back from you that you're not interested in talking more or have moved on. If that's the case, and I don't hear back, I'll assume I'm right and won't be reaching out anymore.

    If, however, I'm wrong and there's another reason I haven't heard back, please drop me a line and we can keep pursuing.

    In any case, great to meet you. Let me know what you're thinking as you can because I think there's an opportunity here for you to achieve if you'd like to pursue it.

    Best regards,

    Alicia

    Suspect on your cold (or cold-ish) outreach list:

    Dan,

    Sorry we haven't been able to connect in the last few weeks. I'm guessing since I haven't heard back from you that you're not interested, have moved on, or that is not a priority. If that's the case, and I don't hear back, I'll assume I'm right and won't be reaching out anymore.

    If, however, I'm wrong and there's another reason I haven't heard back, please drop me a line and we can talk and see what's possible.

    Let me know what you're thinking as you can because I think there's an opportunity here for you to (insert something important / key benefit).

    Best regards,

    Alicia

    Prospect / Qualified Prospect / Win-Ready:

    Dan,

    Sorry we haven't been able to reconnect since our meeting on the fourth. I'm guessing since I haven’t heard back from you that you're not interested, have moved on, or that is not a priority. If that's the case, and I don't hear back, I'll assume I'm right and won't be reaching out anymore.

    If, however, I'm wrong and there's another reason I haven't heard back, please drop me a line and we can talk and see what's possible.

    Let me know what you're thinking as you can because I think there's an opportunity here for you to (insert something important / key benefit).

    Best regards,

    Alicia

    When you send reverse direction messages, you'll get one of three reactions:

    1. Yes, I'm still interested! (You can pursue from here.)
    2. No, you are right. We have moved on, selected something else, etc. (You can remove from your pipeline.)
    3. No response. (You can remove from your pipeline. That's it!)

    When you use reverse direction, not only will you separate the wheat from the chaff, you will also resurrect some sales you thought might be dead. It's quite common that the last communication inspires an "I'm still here!" kind of response, allowing you to re-engage something you thought was lost.

    Discontinuing contact after a reverse direction message doesn't mean you can never contact them again, either. Let's assume they are a buyer worthy of high pursuit. If you give it a rest for a time, you can reach back out later. A few months later, you can send an article you thought they would like, drop them a "how's it going" note (if you know them well enough), or let them know you have new research to share with them, and ask if they'd like to see it. Get a response on any of these and you will certainly find out if there is still a possibility of working together. If they respond, they'll expect to talk to you about it.

What's not just a possibility, however—it's a surety—is that if you follow the steps outlined in this article, you'll save yourself an immense amount of time, resurrect what you thought were lost sales, and clear all the dead wood out of your pipeline.

Additional Reading
What Makes for Successful Strategic Account Management?

Why are some companies able to consistently grow their strategic accounts and maximize value while others struggle? This is a question that confounds many a sales leader.

Some think it is largely related to the strength of product and service offerings. The companies that grow their accounts the most must have superior offerings that keep customers coming back for more, right?

A New Way to Collaborate with Buyers

The more sophisticated and advanced sellers become, the more they make selling about conversations and collaboration, not presentations and pitching. Even their presentations become interactive collaborations when done right.

Comments