The end of September marks a turning point in the B2E sales cycle.  It’s the end of the line for many sales opportunities.  It’s time to take an honest look at your pipeline and separate the wheat from the chaff so that you can move forward on the important business of autumn, filling your sales funnel with fresh opportunities.  Here’s how to let go and achieve addition by subtraction.

What is happening on your side of the table:

We know each of the line items in our pipeline, especially the aging ones, like the back of our hand.  Even though our sales manager has told us to downgrade the probability on some of these opps, we’ve stood behind them.  After all, we’ve personally heard the enthusiasm and interest from the decision maker.  Who cares if it’s been 8 months? It could happen.

You might be keeping an old opportunity in your pipeline for one of these (not very good) reasons:

  • The prospect has told you they are not sure what is happening with budget
  • The prospect has told you a lot of initiatives are “in motion”
  • The prospect hasn’t been reachable but they were extremely interested when you last talked
  • You met with the prospect at a budget “off time,” such as April, and it’s not fair to give up just yet
  • Once you clean those weak opportunities out, your pipeline is unacceptably anemic

If these are the reasons you’re keeping old opps around, you don’t fully understand how important it is to keep your pipeline tight.  Realize that your sales manager bases their forecast on what you say is coming in.  If they are smart, they are handicapping that forecast down, particularly if you’re not supporting their queries with evidence of solid buying signals.  But it’s just a handicap.

The bulk of your pipeline figure is getting rolled up to the master company forecast.  That forecast determines what money is spent at your company.  Whether or not to make new hires, run a marketing campaign, invest in product development and so forth are budgeted off your forecast.  Yeah, your co-workers’ job security depends on you coming clean in your pipeline.

What is happening on the prospect’s side of the table:

Opportunity 1:  Last December a sales rep stopped in and showed me a cool ed tech product.  He’s followed up a bunch of times, so I have passed the web url around to some principals and teachers.  Money is tight and there is no urgency around why I have to make a decision on this right now.  Someday, we might do a small pilot and see if we get any results.

Opportunity 2:  Last fall I attended a conference and stopped by the table for a product I was sure solved our problem.  I showed my IT director and called in the company rep and his engineering team to see if we could get this started.  My IT guys like a different solution, but I like this one.  We’re locking horns.  I have been putting the rep off who is diligently checking in with me because I think at some point we will greenlight this buy.

Opportunity 3:  I took a meeting from this rep last school year, because she persistently kept asking me.  It actually interested me quite a bit.  I’ve had a lot of other things to roll out in order to be set up for this to work for us, but in due time I expect them all to fall into place and then would be a good time to introduce her product.

All three opportunities are the kind that hang around in your pipeline at the start of a fresh school year.  I believe only one of them belongs in your pipeline.  Take another look and decide which ones you would choose before reading my answer.

The quick breakdown on Opp 1 is that the prospect has no reason to buy. Let’s assume it’s too late to revitalize it.  Read a few of my prior sales hacks on uncovering need to fix this problem in the future, but cut bait on this one.  Lost/return to prospect.  Opp 2 feels lost to me.  If your prospect has been honest with you, you know there’s a turf war going on.  You can’t count on that falling your way, but more importantly it reads like a stalemate.  The prospect is at the end of his ability to move the sale forward.  I’d downgrade this to Qualified Lead and take a new approach.  Read this post for some ideas.  Opp 3 is active.  The prospect is doing something to drive consensus and move the sale forward.  Keep it in Evaluation/Proposal stage and keep working it.

Did you agree with me?  You can post a comment if you’d like to share different logic.  Remember, it doesn’t mean the sale will not come in because you called it lost.  Opp 1 could write that check 6 months after you moved it to Lost, but it’s just not good forecasting to presume it will.

And it’s weighing you down.  A pipeline littered with opportunities like 1 or 2 gives not just your company but you false hope that goal is in hand.  If this is all you have, you’re about to miss goal.  Nothing is more motivating than facing the reality that your opportunity cupboard is bare.  Trimming that pipeline (like your sales manager begs you to do on a monthly basis) will free you to start succeeding.

September is about turning over to a new year.  (Australian readers, that would translate to January for you).  For the last month or two you’ve had your chance to stir the pot with those aging opportunities and if they aren’t in by now, it’s time to move on.  Put your efforts into filling your funnel with fresh opps and do a great job of establishing need and discovering how your product aligns with their top priority for this year so that you’ll increase your odds of a quicker close.

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