Pipeline Management – When is a Juicy Melon really a Blueberry?
Our latest blog is the first from our guest bloggers. The subject is sales pipeline management. The author, James Fleetwood, currently works very successfully in business development but prefers a nom de plume rather than reveal their real name. We think he has created a highly amusing and interesting blog on the subject.
Ever had to explain why your CEO is now one pineapple short of a fruit salad? I have, and it all could have been avoided with a little more conversation, and a little less stats action.
It was my first thought. It was a melon. It had to be. I hadn’t had one this juicy since I’d cold called an industry-leading export company and discovered that they needed more logistical support than a three-legged donkey in an Asymmetrical Loading Competition.
Yet, I had to be cautious. The last time I’d marked a lead down as anything other than the first tier of development on our in-house CRM the deal had fallen apart quicker than a Maltese scaffold. It was as if my sales pitch had been a 7 year old girl singing Edelweiss in a weird corporate version of the X-factor. The opening performance had gone so well and the judges had loved it so much that they’d cooed approval and encouragement to my fledgling pitch like sycophantic primary school teachers – I couldn’t help but get excited! Then WHAM. The semi-finals. One more step to developmental greatness and the great British public had voted. Sadly in this instance it had been with their feet, by callously failing to purchase sufficient quantities of the aforementioned company’s goods. The following acquisition by a competitive leviathan had curtailed all business activity and the deal was off in a single bland email. The disappointment had been huge and had left me sat at the edge of my proverbial stage, distraught, desperately pleading for another chance to perform.
In the quirky world of our in-house CRM, where leads are graded by the size of fruit, my Prize Marrow had just withered to Mouldy Courgette.
After all, it could have been a Melon. Or a Mango, or some other similarly sized seed-pod that the humorous VisualBasic programmer who’d built the damn thing had decided to use. After all, no-one really likes blueberries, however super they’re supposed to be. Perhaps my disappointment would have been lessened if it had just been simply ‘Hot’, or ‘Likely’, or ‘Top Prospect Pink’. Certainly it would have better tempered my Line Manager’s reaction for, having just delivered his Prospective New Business Report to the Board, he was now looking at a significant missing ingredient to his departmental fruit salad. Either way, it certainly didn’t help the fact that he’d just spent three hours presenting said salad to our wide-eyed CEO through a combination of PowerPoint, exciting 3D rotating graphs and a customised Rubik’s cube.
Because here’s the thing.
Arbitrary gradation of a sales pipeline is simply that, arbitrary. And therein lies the rub. One man’s hot lead is another’s warm. Some may get the gut instinct from cold contact that a prospect is hotter than a sauna spoon on Mercury, whereas another may only declare victory once the ink lays wet, shed in boardroom battle upon Contract Field.
It has always been my belief that each and every lead is unique to its circumstance. There are patterns of progression that is beyond doubt. There is a road to walk down with milestones and a destination, but when has anything ever been 80% certain? To be certain by definition is to be sure.
I hesitate to count the number of times over the years that I have grown my precious developmental fruit from pip to potential pineapple only to be quashed by the Finance Director falling into a combine harvester (or some other unforeseen act of Fiscal God). Yet, for every lead smoothie I’ve made I could equally recount the fetid fruit, rotten and covered in that weird white fur, that has reared its head months after developmental infarction to become a sweet and juicy client.
Gradation of the pipeline serves only to whet the appetite, if not to the feed the beast. It is the experience and honesty of the BDM in conjunction with regular contact with management that is far more telling than any lead scored by its arbitrary progression down a predefined path of success.
The reporting of a pipeline begs bigger questions. How are you driving your staff to succeed? How are you measuring success or failure? Does this driver skew the reporting of prospects by its very nature? Is it not here where you sow the true seeds of success?
In the end the whole Eton Mess could have been solved by some straightforward talking. I know we live in an eat fast, vomit later culture where everything has been shortened into an 8 second soundbit, but there just isn’t an app for this. Your half hour a week at TaiBoYogaBoxerExercise won’t make you into the Karate Kid in the same way that pushing a button and simply relying on a CRM output will accurately forecast your pipeline. It’ll give you an idea, put you in the ballpark, define your envelope. But I don’t want to blue sky the horizon in search of the rainbow. I want to bring in new business. So let’s talk about it, in real words.
We all have to report figures at some point, to show progress, or potential. Yet numbers on a page are only ever going to be half the story. The lead may be a melon, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get to eat it. After all, business development takes time, skill and judgement – and you can’t grade that by the size of fruit.
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