There is no doubt frontline sales managers have one of the toughest jobs in Sales. Between dealing with upper management requests and running their team, stress is high and time is short. In the process, they need to attend (and sometimes drive) many meetings: Forecasting, Planning & Individual deal coaching among others.
Some of these meetings are driven out of compliance (forecasting) or to drive short-term outcomes (individual deal coaching). All these are necessary for sure, but there is one that is really at the center of a Sales Manager’s function: The pipeline review.
The pipeline review is a portfolio level discussion, usually covering various quarters, which allows the Sales Manager to have a 10,000-foot view of risk and upsides towards meeting the quota commitments. This review is a combination of inspection and coaching, and should include topics like lost deals, current pipeline, potential pull forwards, dormant and new account coverage, data quality and even coaching for performance. As a result of this meeting, the sales manager will have a better-informed forecast, identify the need to refine account plans or determine that a more detailed opportunity review with the rep is needed.
So why is it the most important?
This meeting is critical because it helps sales managers avoid being blind sighted by potential gaps in their portfolio of opportunities by just doing 1:1 deal reviews, allowing them to identify upside to meet or exceed quota. It also allows sales managers to embed coaching performance discussions on a regular basis rather than only at the end of year checkpoint. Forecasts become more accurate over time, and data quality improves. In essence it becomes the central point to diagnose and plan the sales execution due to the unique view it provides.
If it is so great why are we not doing them?
Sales managers feel at ease doing 1:1 deal coaching since it is part of their DNA as many were successful reps themselves, and it is a clear opportunity to provide value to their team and produce short term results. Forecasting meetings, on the other hand, are driven top-down by management to drive accountability and not a choice. Pipeline reviews though are typically both not natural nor part of an established discipline across the management chain, and therefore many organizations leave it up to each sales managers to decide how and when to do them, often with no prior training or adequate tools to support preparation and execution.
Ok, so what’s the best practice?
These discussions should happen weekly, and you do not need to cover all topics every time. It is important though, to have a structured agenda, and prepare well beforehand to ask powerful questions and not only rely on the rep’s feedback. Another key point is to ensure that each point discussed has an action item that you both agree on, and that those are rigorously followed up in subsequent meetings.
I have written multiple posts that provide more detail on how to run these meeting effectively, here, here and here and I believe based on my experience that they can be the difference between the good and the great.
I leave you with an infographic that illustrates how these meetings vary in structure and purpose (click to view full size PDF).
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