Let’s be clear:  Reps hate to update their pipelines for the same reason most people hate getting weighed.  No salesperson enjoys the act of downgrading their forecast, nor do they want the questions that come from their manager and their manager’s manager when the picture is not good.  Oh it all starts out well and good.  It’s fun to put new opportunities in the pipeline and poke them along in their infancy.  Qualified Lead, Meeting, Proposal.  Slam, bam, thank you ma’am, you have a fat bucket of 1 week old opportunities with a 50% chance of closing this quarter.  But on closer inspection, that one stalled and the pilot didn’t start.  This decision maker goes quiet.  That district went on break.  And so it goes.  Do you downgrade the lot or keep dogging those opportunities?

The answer is yes to both.  You don’t give up, but you do downgrade for the sake of accuracy.  For those of you that struggle with downgrading opportunities that have stalled, I suggest a technique called Zero Based Thinking that you can use to approach your pipeline with a machete and still feel good about it.  Zero Based Thinking is a spin-off of Zero Based Budgeting, in which a business builds a budget by zeroing out every spending category from the prior year and then creates the next year’s budget from scratch.  This contrasts with just upping the amount budgeted in each category last year a little according to inflation or projected growth.  The advantage of clear cutting is that you will theoretically drop waste that was just “in there” with no real justification, and free up dollars for initiatives the company really needs.  Smart.

Zero Based Thinking (ZBT) is similarly a way of revising or reimagining a data set by completely obliterating it and rebuilding it from a fresh perspective.  Investors for example sometimes hang on to certain stocks in their portfolio because they are caught up with regret for a bad decision and don’t want to cut their losses because then the chance for a comeback is gone.  When they use ZBT, they rebuild their portfolio on paper from scratch, and only put in it stocks that meet their growth criteria.  The emotional interference, holding underperforming stocks because they feel bad about losses to date, is not relevant.  Stocks that don’t meet the performance criteria don’t make the list, and therefore should be promptly sold off.  Data-driven decision making.

You can do this with your B2E pipeline!  Start by creating a spreadsheet outside the fray of your CRM, and only put your rock solid late stage opportunities down.  Use ruthless pipeline stage definition criteria.  Be data-driven as to the recent progress of the opportunity.  If you are dealing with someone who isn’t the ultimate decision-maker, or pilot usage is low, or your last couple of messages have gone unanswered, and so on, that opportunity doesn’t make your list.  Your new ZBT pipeline is going to look anemic by comparison but I have a fix for that!

Now that you know why each of your other pipeline opps didn’t make the list, you should be energized to correct the specific thing wrong with each of them.  Attack.  Don’t badger them to buy, but do make an all-out attempt to get them to re-engage; get that pilot ramped up, set up a meeting with the department head, etc.  Hunt down that “next step” as if the life of that opportunity depends on it because in fact, it is about to die on the vine.  School systems rarely make purchases without going through the typical steps that define your sales process and whatever is amiss here is a bad sign.

Once your aggressive sales follow ups take their course, I hope you’ll be able to resuscitate a few more opportunities onto the Zero Based Thinking list.  Either way, you need to go back to your company CRM and update the pipeline stages on your opps accordingly.  But I promise you this, in future sales conversations in those happy go lucky early stage days you are going to think about the mistakes made in letting those downgraded opportunities go cold.  You are going to be much better at getting the plans for the pilot on paper, the ultimate decision-maker in the loop, and the sustainable budget lined up.  Just as people who hop on the scale frequently are better at keeping their weight in check, reps that are ruthless with their pipeline management sell more year in and year out!

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