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One of the biggest mistakes sales managers and sales people make is spending too much time focusing on the health of the pipeline.

Managers are constantly holding pipeline reviews. They are constantly asking, “What’s changed since we reviewed the pipeline yesterday?” (You can see how tedious these constant reviews are, particularly if you have a long sales cycle (anything over 3 months).) Inevitably, there are problems with the pipeline. There’s the universal managerial answer to these issues, “You need to get more in the pipeline!”

“Well yeah, but…….”

Turns out the advice to get more into the pipeline isn’t really helpful. Why more? How much? What else could I do?

The pipeline is a terrific analytic tool and can help the manager and sales person identify potential problems. For example, not enough in the pipeline—we need to focus on adding more opportunities by prospecting. Alternatively, we have enough in the pipeline, but deals are stalled or we aren’t winning enough. Or maybe the quality of the opportunities isn’t great.

The pipeline is a terrific tool for the sales person and manager to identify problem areas. But you don’t fix those problems in the pipeline. We fix those problems by focusing on other areas.

Not enough in the pipeline? We need to do more prospecting! Our territory and account planning processes are basically structured approaches to prospecting. They help us identify where we find new opportunities. Coaching in prospecting helps us understand how to to this most effectively.

Deals stalled, win rates too low? We need to build stronger deal/opportunity strategies! Leveraging our sales process and any sales methodology helps us look at each deal maximizing our ability to win these in the shortest time possible, at the greatest value possible.

Quality of the deals in the pipeline bad? We need to focus on our ICP and more effective qualifying. If the deals are falling out after they’ve been qualified, we need to build stronger deal strategies.

We solve problems in the pipeline by building/executing stronger deal strategies, leveraging our sales process more effectively, doing better qualifying, and executing higher impact sales calls. We fill the pipeline by building and executing strong territory and account plans.

Ironically, too many managers are obsessed with the pipeline, spending virtually no time coaching deals, account, territory, prospecting, or call plans. They think they can fix the pipeline by obsessing on it, not realizing the pipeline only tells you where the problems are likely to be.

If managers spent less time on the pipeline and more time coaching sales people in the problem areas identified by the pipeline, they would have to spend less time on the pipeline. (Hmmm, that circular logic actually makes sense.)