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Pipeline Management and Sales Forecasting—Where’s the Training?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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In a recent study that Vantage Point conducted with the Sales Management Association, we asked 62 large B2B companies about their organizations’ sales pipeline management practices. There were many great insights from the study, but one thing came through loud and clear: sales pipelines are very important to sales leadership. 

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of the companies in our study said they expect frontline sales managers to meet with their salespeople more than once a month to discuss the sales pipeline. Another 17 percent expect sales managers to meet with their sellers no less than once monthly to have that same discussion.

When you consider that B2B sales managers today commonly have 8 to 12 direct reports, that’s a lot of meetings each month. And when you further consider that the average duration of these meetings is approximately 53 minutes, that’s A LOT of time spent discussing sales pipelines. 

Why do senior leaders expect major investments in sales pipeline discussions? 

Respondents declared that the number one objective for sales pipeline discussion meetings is to create more accurate sales forecasts. In fact, 85 percent of sales forces build their forecasts off the deals in their sales pipelines. So, if these pipeline meetings don’t take place, then the forecasts aren’t updated—and updated forecasts are very important to senior leaders. 

There are two key conclusions to be drawn from the research we just shared: 

1) Pipeline management consumes a lot of a sales force’s time.

2) Sales pipelines exist primarily to enable better forecasting.

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The BIG problem is that the majority of sales managers don’t receive enough training on how to do either of these tasks. More than half (54 percent) of the surveyed companies claim that their sales managers have not been adequately trained in either pipeline management or forecasting.

Not surprisingly, 56 percent also claim their companies are ineffective at these tasks. And when we look at smaller companies, those percentages grow dramatically higher.

Bottom line: This is really important to sales leadership, but there’s not enough training, so managers are really bad at it. This is not a good state of affairs.

Where are the sales training programs?  

The question to the sales training industry then becomes: Why aren’t pipeline management and sales forecasting training programs being delivered consistently to every sales manager around the world, so their pipelines are clean and their forecasts are accurate?  

The biggest issue our research uncovered is remarkably fundamental: pipeline management and forecasting processes are poorly defined in most companies. Managers lack fundamental guidance like how to define where an opportunity goes in their pipeline and how different deals should be forecasted. And to develop great training, these are the sorts of things we need to know—the specific knowledge to be transferred and the specific behaviors to be changed.  

So in the absence of any clearly guidance, what’s a trainer to do? Well, we do the best we can and provide generic training programs like coaching and business acumen. These give sales managers generally relevant skills at least, but they aren’t specific enough to really improve the forecasts. We need to know precisely what the managers should be doing!

Moving forward 

The good news is that our research with the Sales Management Association provided us with some great insights into pipeline management and forecasting best practices—things like defining a formal sales process and deciding how to forecast different types of deals. So, we’re starting to chip away at this big and pervasive problem. Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

About the Author
Jason Jordan is a partner of Vantage Point Performance, a sales management training and development firm. He is a recognized thought leader in business-to-business selling and conducts ongoing research into management best practices in hiring, developing, measuring, and managing world-class sales organizations. He is co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code.
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