How to ensure your sales pipeline is realistic rather than ‘over optimistic’ in 2013

I've got it! We can double our quarterly sales! From now on, each quarter will last six months.

The first thing to do in 2013 is to stop selling.

Yes, really.

Read that sentence again.

Selling, by definition, is about the seller.

It focuses on you and what you need.

It’s an internalised perspective.

And if you’re thinking about what you need to do to make the sale you won’t be focusing on your customer or client and will end up losing the sale.

When you make a sale, you don’t always create a customer.

Think about it.

Selling tends to have a short horizon and tends to focus on a single transaction.

But a customer isn’t a one-night stand – well, at least the customer you want to do business with in the future!

Depending on the nature of your business, contact with your customer or client may be fleeting or sustained, daily or infrequent, but when they have a need for a product or service you want them to come to you and only you.

And the reason they do is because they need help in making the right purchasing decision and fundamentally trust you to provide this to them.

It’s your job to make them believers.

Convert their interest and hope into the conviction that you can give them what they need and desire.

The sales pipeline you’re looking to build in 2013 is all about ‘lead conversion’ because it recognises your prospects’ willingness to become a paying customer or client if you can give them what they need and desire.

You need their custom and loyalty to grow your business and they need your products or services and a relationship that’s gratifying and valuable for them.

This is the sales pipeline or put another way, the ‘customer pipeline’ that needs to be built.

When you stop being manic about doing everything humanely possible to land a sale and instead start look for ways in which you can satisfy your customers’ needs, then the sale – when it comes – will be the natural consequence of giving your customers or clients what they want in order to make that purchase decision.

Living standards in the UK are likely to fall over the next 25 years

In the UK, the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicts that living standards could fall by as much as 25 per cent over the next quarter-century as consumers adjust not only to the pressure from much cheaper Asian labour markets but also from far greater competition for share of scarce resources.

It’s against this backdrop that we must re-wire our approach in constructing a realistic sales pipeline that takes account of these forces for change.

Few would argue that the nature of communication, information and the global economy have all transformed the way we now communicate and prospect for customers and clients.

In many respects, the strategies that are often employed to predict and manage customers’ or clients’ purchasing behaviour have been spurred on by the growth of online data, which in itself has its own challenges for the sales and marketing professional.

What started life within the airline and hotel market segments has rapidly been adopted across other market segments that now database and online strategies proliferate sales pipeline management thinking.

Implementation of these techniques often requires a combination of sophisticated mix of tools with equally sophisticated statistical methods to help manage and track frequency and timing of purchase, repeat purchase behaviour, market share and other indicators of commercial success including cost of sales and profit data and return on equity.

As sales and marketing professionals, we feel we’ve been trained to do things a certain way. To think in a certain way that distinguishes us from our colleagues in other parts of the business or organization, such as operations, logistics, HR and finance.

Yet this distinction that lives in our own minds may in fact inhibit our ability to become successful at sales pipeline management.

At one level, we have much more in common with these guys than we may first believe!

The point here is that at away from the office, we all behave very similarly.

We’ll often hold differing and conflicting points contemporaneously.

We’ll often make compromises and customer sacrifices if we can’t get exactly what we want.

In essence, the way we behave as consumers has also started to seep into our roles as business people.

Henry Ford wasn't exactly in the vanguard of consumer choice

“Customers are more different and individual, more discerning and demanding than ever. Whilst 100 years ago, a new car buyer would be more than happy to buy a Ford Model T, a model that hardly changed in decades, in ‘any colour as long as it’s black’, today customers are intelligent, expectant and pedantic. Their stated needs may well be true, but their unstated needs and wants often matter even more,” observes sales and marketing guru Peter Fisk.

A recent survey by Jupiter Research in the UK showed that 70 per cent of the respondents found that online research and review to be extremely helpful in making a purchase decision and 97 per cent of them also trusted online reviews (both negative and positive) five times more than they trusted information in a TV commercial or newspaper advertisement.

British media entrepreneur Mark Palmer adds: “I see a fundamental shift in power to the consumer, to the people. That requires us to engage, to create and connect with consumers on a scale that we’ve never seen before.”

And this is regardless of whether they are in the home or at the office.

Every consumer today has either heard of or knows someone who’s been on the wrong side of a sales transaction that’s gone badly wrong.

Today, its colleagues, friends, family and peers that your customers and clients will want to listen to and it’s this group that increasingly has a stronger influence on the ultimate purchase decision that’s being made.

The balance of power has fundamentally shifted from sellers to customers and clients.

In markets of infinite choice and over supply, it’s the customer who is in control.

They expect companies to do business where, when and how they want and they don’t appreciate the pursuit of profit being placed in front of their own needs and requirements!

Today, building a sales pipeline isn’t that straight forward and will require you to start from the ‘outside in’, then respond ‘inside out’ in a more enlightened and focused way in order to do business.

Ardi Kolah is author of The Art of Influencing and Selling (£19.99) published by Kogan Page on 3 Jan 2013.

Click on the book to order your copy today!

  • Koen Smeets

    Has TV viewing data not been – and still is – entirely based on panel research? It sounds hypocrite – and incorrect – to say that only face-to-face research can be used to produce nationwide facts. It all depends on the subject matter, the target group you are after and how you are going to interpret the data. Let’s not shoot wildly at non face-to-face research, Neil. Every technique has its pitfalls and strengths…

  • Neil Mortensen

    Koen, you
    misunderstand me. I’m not shooting wildly – that is what online surveys often


    I do not
    say face-to-face research is the only way to produce nationally representative
    results; I say online surveys are not able to do it for all the reasons I give.
    I also acknowledge in the blog that online surveys have their uses. I’ll go
    further and happily say that online surveys can show which way the wind might
    be blowing in terms of public opinion, but they can’t reliably measure the
    behaviour of the nation. Unless you know something I don’t, how can ignoring a
    third of the population ever be nationally representative (and that’s before we
    get to how unrepresentative online surveys are of the online population)?


    viewing in the UK is measured by BARB, widely regarded as the most rigorous
    media measurement in the world. It is indeed a panel, but not an online one and
    it is recruited to be as nationally representative as it possibly can be. Have
    a look at its website. Are you seriously comparing BARB to an online survey?