This is an excerpt from my second book, Managing the Sales Process, available on Amazon.com. You can find a series of these excerpts in a dedicated blog category to get a broad overview, post-by-post, of the book (they are listed in reverse order in the category, so start with the oldest).

From Chapter 2 – The Right Skills: Pipeline Management

Earlier in this chapter, I spoke about the very sophisticated pipeline and relationship management mechanism called “what’s next.” When salespeople operate on a “what’s next” basis, they are most of the way to an effective pipeline and relationship management strategy.

The “what’s next” mechanism ensures that some future contact is scheduled for each active contact in a salesperson’s contact management system. The other important piece of the mechanism is, of course, is specifically what is scheduled. In other words, your salespeople need to be smart about picking the next opportunity for follow up, scheduling it, and making contact at the right time.

As a skill, it is hard to learn about the content part from an interview, but you can absolutely ask about how the sales candidate has ensured that he or she stayed on top of his client base in past jobs. What you want to listen for is a macro strategy, a way to make sure that everyone is managed. You want to hear that there were tools, systems, and strategies behind past efforts to stay on top of pipelines and relationships.

With pipelines specifically, you want to ask what part of the pipeline usually was the most full? Since the pipeline follows the sales process, the fullest part of the pipeline should be closer to the front. If your salesperson tells you tales of woe about being overwhelmed with leads, then whittling them down into a smooth pipeline, hire this person immediately!

It is more likely that pipelines get overly full a bit further into the sales process, for example, after the first few meetings or after proposals are given.

If your salespeople or sales candidates suffer from pipelines that are bloated after the first few meetings but before a proposal is offered, they may not be seen as valuable by the prospect and the prospect is not offering up the information needed in needs analysis to allow the salesperson to make a proposal. This prospect should be qualified as disinterested, or the salesperson needs to be seen as ineffective in building trust. One or the other is likely to be true, depending on the size and relative frequency of the problem.

If the bloat occurs after proposals are given, then the proposals are not based on good qualification and needs analysis and/or the salesperson can’t close them (probably because the prospect was not qualified or the needs analysis did not cover the real problem or a problem urgent enough to act on via the solution your company offers).

Ask your prospective salespeople about their pipelines, and monitor the pipelines of your existing salespeople closely. A salesperson who manages his or her pipeline well is an asset that you want to keep. More on this in the next chapter.

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Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!

-David