I have noticed many businesses have set up their sales pipelines with the wrong purpose in mind. A sales pipeline’s purpose must be to support us manage a sales lead to a successful closure. A successful closure is when our client walks away satisfied, and we have maximised our outcome. Successful closures can only be achieved by placing our sales leads’ interests centre stage.
Unfortunately, most sales pipelines are obsessed with focusing on the end. They monitor milestones, report on and estimate a sales lead to closure. Focusing on the end creates a risk your sales leads will become anonymous opportunities moving through your sales pipeline.
There are several tools and techniques available to us to improve our sales forecasting. The one I want to discuss today is one we developed called ‘The Timeline Technique’. It is a powerful tool that sales teams and leaders can use to improve their sales forecast accuracy.
Using this technique requires us to create a timeline and split it into three equal stages. Commencing from when the sales lead started their project to their target completion end date:
- The Beginning
- The Middle
- The End
Managing our sales pipelines, we become obsessed with focusing on The End. Gazing into the distance estimating when we will close the sale. Consequently, as we move through the beginning and middle, we do not notice we have moved from one milestone to another.
The beginning, middle and end are important periods when we should be discovering new insights and acting upon them. These milestones will also provide us with triggers when to change our own sales behaviour. Being aware of these milestones helps us move our sales leads forward towards the end and consequently accurately forecast its closure.
Why are we obsessed with focusing on the end?
We have become overly focussed with predicting when the ship will arrive rather than keeping the ship on course. Consequently, the ship drifts off course and deals slip in our sales forecast.
Because our sales pipelines are obsessed with when we will close the deal, we risk losing the emotional connection with the sales leads moving through our sales pipeline. This makes them anonymous opportunities in our sales forecast.
This emotional gap is a major contributor to poor sales forecasting. To prevent this occurring, we need our sales pipeline management to be more personal.
How do we make our sales pipeline more personal?
To demonstrate the power of making it personal, I will share a story about a young Israeli radiologist. His name is Yehonatan Turner. He experimented with the permission of 300 patients and attached their photos to their radiology scans.
He worked with a group of radiologists who were unaware of his experiment’s purpose. By making it personal, the radiologists reported feeling more empathy for the patients having seen their picture. As a result, they were more meticulous examining each patients’ scan.
One of the skills that separate an outstanding radiologist from an average one is their ability to find “incidental findings”. These are abnormalities the radiologists were not instructed to look for.
It is this same skill that separates exceptional salespeople from the average salesperson. Often, we find ourselves in a buying process competing on a level playing field, usually on price and product features against our competitors.
A good salesperson creates an uneven playing field where they have a competitive advantage. Rather than only solving problems, they also find other problems buyers are not aware of. They become problem finders. Being a problem finder allows them to take greater control of the sale. Doing so moves the sales lead from a buying process controlled by the buyer to a selling process managed by the sales rep.
Become a Problem Finder
To explain how we can do this, we need to return to Turner’s radiology scan experiment. The full potential of Turner’s findings surfaced three months later, when he repeated the same experiment, with the same radiology team. This time he did not include the patients’ picture with their radiology scan. Because the team review so many scans each day, they did not notice these were the same patient scans they had reviewed three months earlier.
The results surprised everyone. Eighty percent, yes 80% of incidental findings were not reported!
The radiology team were less meticulous. Turner told the ScienceDaily “Our study emphasises approaching the patient as a human and not as an anonymous case study”. ScienceDaily features breaking news about the latest discoveries in science, health, the environment, and technology.
To be more competitive, win more deals and grow our businesses. We must make it personal to close the emotional gap between yourself and the buyer. Making it personal ensures we do not have anonymous sales leads moving through our sales pipeline. Making it personal also helps us improve our sales forecasting accuracy.
It also helps us move from problem solver to becoming a problem finder uncovering more incidental findings. Being a problem finder means we become more relevant and valuable to the buying organisation than our competitors.
Being a problem finder also means we can also develop more meaningful conversations, strengthen trusted relationships and increase the value of each sales opportunity in our sales forecast.
We discuss this further in our sales blog “Is your sales forecast eroding from the inside out?”
Also check The Sales Pipeline Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners. Within this guide, you can also download another Guide – Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews.