I must have done thousands of pipeline reviews over my career. Somewhat casually, I toss around the terms “Pipeline Quality And Integrity” Usually, we get into a discussion about what these things mean–it’s dangerous to assume people understand.

But I usually talk about those terms collectively, that is I don’t differentiate between “Quality” and “Integrity.”

Up until yesterday, no one had ever asked me, “What do you mean by integrity? Are you suggesting my sales people may be lacking integrity? Or are you really talking about quality?”

The question caused me to pause and think a moment. As I reflected, I realized there are subtle differences between the words, some overlap, but each is important.

Here are my thoughts, I’d love your views.

Quality in the pipeline is important. We want the deals accurately positioned in the pipeline. For example are they in the correct stage, do we have the best estimate of target value, target close date, what we are selling, and so forth. We want accurate data about each deal. So quality reflects that.

Sometimes, the sales person just isn’t keeping things current (all of us make this mistake every so often.). They may be working deals, they just haven’t updated the CRM or pipeline management system. They have an accurate view of what’s going on, it’s just not reflected accurately in the pipeline.

Integrity is also important, but it reflects more about “Is the sales person doing the right job in managing the opportunities and representing those opportunities in CRM or whatever system is used to generate and track pipeline.”

And here’s where thing get a little dicey. Too often, a sales person positions an opportunity based on what they want the opportunity to be, what management is suggesting they want the opportunity to be—not what it really is.

For example, they set target close dates for the end of this quarter, because managers are telling them they need to make the numbers, and doing this is an easy way to get the managers off their backs. The sales person may try very hard to make that happen, primarily to keep their managers happen, but if it isn’t driven by a customer need to make something happen by that date, the likelihood that it will close on that date is very low.

Or perhaps, the sales person is representing an opportunity in a certain sales stage. But they’ve skipped critical steps in their sales process, or they are not aligned with where the customer is in their buying process. As a result, there are real weaknesses and alignment problems in the way the sales person is managing the deal.

Or they are just driven by wishful thinking. Hoping through sheer perseverance, hard work, and perhaps a lot of luck they can make a deal happen, but there is little customer feedback/data to support this.

These represent integrity issues. By that I mean the sales person (and perhaps the manager pressuring the sales person) is not managing the opportunity the way we expect them to. They are not leveraging our best practices, they may not be working in alignment with the customers in the way we expect, they aren’t managing the opportunity in a way that maximizes our ability to win.

As I reflect on this separation of quality and integrity, I realize most of the performance issues I see, tend to be more on the integrity side. Stated differently, we know what we should be doing–assuming our managers spend time helping us understand this. We know how to best do it–assuming we’ve been trained properly and have the right tools. We just don’t execute!

As a result we fail to perform as we could and should, and as expected by our managers. These are integrity issues. Not the “good versus evil,” or people intent on manipulation.

These integrity issues are really about relentlessly, perhaps obsessively, executing what we know to produces results and doing this as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Thanks, David, for the great question!

Afterword: There is a link between this context of integrity and the more traditional view of integrity. Integrity does have to do with values, beliefs, ethics, honesty, respect, caring, customer/employee experience–and those are all critical to our effectiveness with our customers and with our colleagues. But this is another post.