6 Steps to Streamline Your Sales Funnel Process


The Issue with Funnel Bloat

Many of the sales managers I have worked with at over 100 technology companies believed that having more deals in the sales funnel translated to a greater likelihood of hitting their sales goals. While they looked at the size of the sales funnel (revenue potential), they forgot to consider when the deals were put on the sales funnel. They also neglected to determine if the deals were really viable.

In general, the rule of thumb is that sales funnels should be about 3X-6X the revenue objective to ensure that revenue targets are met. Most of my clients showed me sales funnels that exceeded this range. At first glance, I thought that the Sales Managers were doing well at managing sales funnel growth, but as I browsed further, I discovered that 80-90% of the deals were over 2 years old and not viable. Week after week, these Sales Managers would review the deals, and week after week their Reps convinced them that the older deals would close at some point in the future.

The next issue that I uncovered with my clients’ sales funnels was the viability of the newer deals being added to the funnel. After the initial call, Sales Reps should be validating the quality of the lead. Questions to determine viability can vary: Has a decision maker been contacted? Is there real need and pain established? Is the prospect looking at solutions to solve these problems within a reasonable time period? Did the prospect indicate some interest but didn’t have a real need?

One of my clients believed that every prospecting onsite meeting was a true indicator that the prospect was interested in the solution. The Sales Manager required that a quote/contract be left with the prospect after every meeting. When I worked with my client, I found that the Sales Reps did a good job of “showing” the solution. However, they were ineffective at qualifying for need, interest, decision process, and timeframe. This client’s prospects were in the State and Local Government space, where prospects are more willing to meet and see presentations. My client had hundreds of deals on the sales funnel; however, he never hit his sales targets.

Finally, the last issue that I uncovered was movement of deals from the top of the funnel to the “closed” or “closed-lost” stage.  Many deals were stalled in the various stages of the funnel prior to “closed” or “closed-lost” for many months or even years.

These funnel symptoms created a false impression that the client’s sales funnels were healthy and viable. These issues arise when a Sales Manager lacks a good sales methodology or has not made sure that their Reps understand the methodology. In any case, all three symptoms kept my clients from hitting their targets.

6 Steps to Cure the Sales Funnel Bloat

Even though Funnel Bloat can be deadly to a sales team’s ability to hit targets, it can, fortunately, be cured. Follow these 6 steps to continue finding leads and ensure that you don’t fall victim to Funnel Bloat:

STEP 1: Develop a sales methodology that works for your company.

Determine the following:

  • Who are your targets?
  • What pain does your solution solve?
  • What is an average time frame in which most deals should close?

STEP 2: Once you know these elements, figure out the number of stages most of your deals go through. Is the number of stages 5 or more? During each stage, decide what triggers must happen before the deals move to the next stage.

STEP 3: Retrain your team on the new sales methodology and make sure that they understand it.

STEP 4: Take a fine-toothed comb to your current funnel. Any deal that is older than your required time frame, whether that is 3-months, 9-months or 18-months on average, should be removed and re-qualified or put into a nurture program.

STEP 5: Build Sales Engagement tools that support the movement of each deal through the sales funnel.  For example, build an ROI calculator which is easy to use and shows cost savings or build a “standard” demo that can be used by your team in a middle stage to keep prospects interested.

In the final stage, before close, send your prospect a Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU should outline an overview of the prospect’s needs/pains, how your solution can solve their problem, the outlined ROI, and the agreed price. The MOU should also include a date for when the prospect will finalize and legally sign documents and procure the product.

STEP 6: Be ruthless with any deal that is added to the funnel. Your Reps should have to justify why a deal should be added based upon your company’s sales methodology. One of my Sales VP’s used to say, “Get the bad news early.” If there isn’t really pain or necessity, then you don’t really have a deal.

After the cure has been applied, though painful, you will have a viable sales funnel. Once you have a viable sales funnel, you will probably need to ramp up your marketing efforts to get the sales funnel to a level of 3x-6x your revenue objective. Funnel bloat is deadly, so apply the cure and hit your revenue targets.

Why your SQL’s Get Ignored at the End Every Quarter

During my career and at most of the companies that I have supported, I noticed a strange cycle that occurred at the end of every month and especially at the end of every quarter.  At these times, Sales completely ignored the Teleprospectors’ SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads).  The worst time was at the end of every quarter when SQLs would not be called until 15 days or longer after they were passed to Sales. My managers and I started to track this cycle which we called the “Care Factor.”

We dubbed it so, because field reps were very interested in (cared about) SQLs during the first weeks of every month and the first month of every quarter. In contrast, they ignored SQLs during the last week of every month and the last month of every quarter. During the last month of the quarter, after the 15th day, the field wouldn’t touch any new SQL until at least for a few days after the quarter ended.  This was often as long as two full weeks after the SQL was passed.  By then, the SQLs were stale.  Stale SQLs require requalification.

We had a SQL follow-up rule in place for the field.  SQLs needed to be contacted within 48 hours; however, there wasn’t one Regional VP of Sales who cared about this rule at the end of the quarter. Our company, like most, suffered from the ”hockey stick” factor; a few deals close at the beginning of a quarter while most deals are closed at quarters end (spiking up, like a hockey stick).  The “hockey stick” factor caused the field to be super busy with trying to pull in revenue.  They had no time to review potential opportunities (SQLs).  The combination of these two factors, “hockey stick” and “Care Factor,” created a vicious cycle that impacted pipeline and revenue growth.

I developed a solution to the “Care Factor” problem.  Each regional sales office should assign one person to review SQLs as they come in.  SQLs should go to the sales rep that has the bandwidth to work the deal at the time the lead is passed over.  It is far better for your company to be responsive to the needs of your prospects than to let quality SQLs slip away or to stall due to lack of timely follow-up.  If you must, create a commission sharing model to keep the peace among your field reps.

In the end, your company will build quality sales pipeline a lot faster. The Teleprospecting resource will be used efficiently, as time will be spent garnering new SQLs vs. re-qualifying old SQLs.  The benefit to your company will be a consistent flow of opportunities to your sales pipeline which will mean more revenue each and every quarter.

How Does the Care Factor Impact Revenue?

  • Constant requalification of leads is a waste of limited resources.  Most companies don’t have enough Teleprospecting horse-power to support their sales organization.  Rather than going after new prospects, Teleprospectors are then required to regularly re-qualify solid SQLs that have already been contacted and previously qualified.  This requalification prevents a steady stream of new SQLs to Sales.
  • The SQL-to-Sales Funnel quota will be impacted.
  • The Field teams’ delay in follow-up gives prospects the impression that your company is not responsive. C-level executives take time to answer the Teleprospectors questions and/or give them the right person to contact.  The delayed response makes your company look bad due to the slow follow-up by Sales. I have heard from clients that many of their deals were lost due to lack of Sales responsiveness.
  • Growth of the sales funnel is hampered as quality SQLs are delayed.  In some cases, SQLs won’t make the funnel because of the delay in follow-up.  The delayed funnel growth has a direct impact on when deals will close.

Manage all SQLs well, no matter when they come into your sales funnel.  In doing so, your prospects will feel that your team is responsive and effective.  Your Teleprospecting resources will be used effectively and won’t have to re-qualify stale leads.  In the end your company will have consistent sales funnel growth.

Sales Management: Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFs) That Work

Business man giving a thumbs up for es Performance Inventive Funds(SPIFs)

Sales Performance Inventive Funds (SPIFs) are a great way for Sales Management to motivate their teams. A SPIF is a bonus, paid to Teleprospecting and Sales teams for their achievement of specific goals. SPIFs are paid separately from the commission plan, and can be used to drive specific behavior or achieve specific goals.

In my experience, I was given a specific SPIF budget ($900-$1,200) per quarter and asked to determine the areas that required improvement. Having identified the issues, I would assign a SPIF day and week(s), and gather the team to focus on the issue that requires attention.

Done correctly, SPIFs are a great way to re-energize teams and shift their focus from daily, tedious work. Teleprospectors carry out 50-100 dials per day. Many times they are received with rejection. Team success and confidence can degrade over time. SPIFs create a competitive atmosphere, as spot bonuses are distributed when each objective is reached.

SPIFs are also effective training methods, with team members competing against each other, while collaborating skills and experience.

My most effective SPIFs have aimed to improve the following Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

  • C-Level /Key Decision Maker Conversations:  These are the conversations that a Teleprospector has with a C-Level Executive or a person who is a key decision maker.  Conversations with these prospects tend to improve the quality of leads.  These are the people who understand the issues and can provide the best insights into their needs and pain.  These leads are most valued by Sales Reps.
  • Teleprospecting Funnel: Effective Teleprospecting teams are assigned a monthly lead quota.  In order to achieve this quota, they will need a list of “potential leads”.  These potential leads may have some of the qualification criteria.  They, however, are not quite ready to turn over to sales.  For example, if the lead quota is 8 per Teleprospector, per month, the list of Potential Leads should be around 3X that number of 24, to ensure that 8 will be turned over to Sales by month end.
  • Key Conversations:  A Key Conversation is a conversation with a person who can provide insights and answer the basic qualification questions that are required to make a lead qualified.  The more Key Conversations a Teleprospector has, the more likely they will meet their monthly lead quota.

While dials are important – Teleprospecting is a telephone job – they are not directly responsible for Sales Funnel and revenue growth.  KPIs such as C-Level conversations, Teleprospecting Funnel size and Key Conversations have a more direct impact on lead quality and sales funnel growth.  I have, however, used a “Dial-Ramp” SPIF when team dials have dropped by 25-30%. Power-dial days show the team how making more dials can dramatically impact their KPIs.

Make a big deal out of your SPIF days.  Create a flyer to announce the SPIF goals and objectives, the rules and hours of “play”.  If your budget allows, bring in lunch and take a team lunch break to enable them to share their experiences and early results. I recommend that small bonus amounts, for specific objectives, be paid out hourly.  For example, every hour set a Key Conversation goal.  The first person to meet that hourly goal would receive a $50 bonus.  Then at day’s end, have a big celebration, to celebrate the winners of the hourly bonuses and announce the over-all winner for the day.

The rhythm of your SPIFs will depend on team morale and performance issues.  SPIFs shouldn’t be the norm.  Rather, they should be used to re-energize the team and improve specific areas of performance.

Sales Management: How to Refocus Complainers at work to be Positive

complainers at work

As I sat at my desk browsing LinkedIn, I came across a Slideshare that was funny and clever and made me laugh out loud. It was about people who complain at work but let me tell you, for Managers, complainers are not fun. Complainers at work can suck the positive energy out of a team and bring morale down in a flash. This is where it is essential for good Sales Management to step in. Here are 6 strategies that I have personally used to refocus complainers at work to get them back on track:

  1. Let them vent. Set up a meeting with your complainers and let them tell you their perspectives about everything that’s wrong with the job. Let them vent about their frustrations and write their complaints down on your whiteboard. Review their complaints and ask the complainers to prioritize the most important issues. Let them know that you believe that there is a solution to every problem (which there is) and you will work with them to resolve the issues to the best of your ability.
  1. Select the top 2-3 issues and create task forces to address these issues. Each task force should be comprised of a group of 3-5 team members. Give the complainers at work a leadership role on some or all of the task forces. The goal of the task force is to brainstorm to find a solution. After the brainstorm session, weed out the ideas that aren’t viable and build a plan around the viable solutions. Present the solutions to the senior executives who, ultimately, will need to approve the plan.
  1. Tell your team to bring their complaints and solutions to you. Once your team sees that you are open to finding solutions to their issues (perhaps you’ll need to run several task forces to build trust), let your team know that you will listen to their complaints and work with the team to find workable solutions.
  1. Create a solutions board. Set up a whiteboard in the team area. This board is a place for team members to outline issues and possible solutions. Once a week, meet your team at the board and review issues and solutions. Prioritize the issues and create a plan (and maybe a task force) to resolve the issues.
  1. Personal complaints need HR support. If your team member is spreading rumors, gossiping about others, or is randomly ranting about unspecified “things,” I recommend that you work with HR to come up with some team building exercises to rebuild morale. When people meet outside of the office, they may gain a new perspective about the people or person that they think they dislike. Set an example of respect and make sure that you respect every team member and show it. Make it clear that every team member is to be treated with respect and dignity.
  1. Hold a team appreciation day. Set aside one day where everyone on the team is appreciated. During the appreciation day, get a big thank you card for each team member. Pass the cards around so that everyone can write statements of appreciation for each team member. If you have 5 team members, you’ll need 5 cards, for example. At the end of the day, each person gets their card. Each person has to think of a positive aspect to write about each team member so once team members receive their cards, they will understand that they are appreciated. This is a very powerful exercise and I have seen amazing results while applying this process.

If the complainers at work are under-performers, take time to provide additional training and support. It is the Manager’s job to help team members meet performance objectives, so ask them to outline where they feel like they need support to grow and provide them with constructive feedback. Good Sales Management means realizing that sometimes complainers need more attention. The additional training and support will help them to be more effective. With this approach, their complaints may decrease as their performance improves. If you work with your team and give them opportunities to find solutions, your complainers will feel valued and see fewer reasons to complain. We are all just people and you need these people (your team) to meet your objectives. In short, “you are all in this together.” Value your team and they will value you and the job!


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Sales Management: Setting up Task Force Teams to Get Team Buy-In for Great Results

task force teams

Overview: Learn an effective method for managing your sales team through the development and implementation of task force teams. 

Managing people has been, and always will be, a widely discussed topic. Managing Sales Teams is no exception. Should management be a top-down approach, where the manager implements their Best Practices no matter what? Or should management take a bottom-up approach, where employees participate in the decision-making process and are allowed to influence goal-setting and change workflows to the best of their knowledge? What is the best way to improve performance and productivity?

Setting Up Task Force Teams for Sales

Over the past 15 years, I have been asked to turn-around over 50 Inside Sales and Teleprospecting organizations.  The method that I used to win over the hearts and minds of each team was Task Force Teams.

After the first week or so in the role, I created task force teams regarding specific issues and concerns that I uncovered during interviews with each team member. I created task force teams on topics such as Key Performance Indicators (the metrics used to manage the team), Commission Rates, Quotas, CRM, Contracts, and other issues deemed important. I asked that team members join one or more of the task forces to resolve the outstanding issues. I also informed them that some of the issues, like commissions and quotas, will need Executive-level sign off and that some issues may not be resolved exactly as we would like. My teams knew that once our recommendations were approved, we would be held accountable for achieving our numbers for the plans we outlined.

I limited participation to 5-7 team members for each of the task force teams. I managed the task forces as follows:

  • I started with a brainstorm session or two which helped us get all ideas on the board for later review
  • The ideas review is the next step. During this phase, the task force reviews and eliminates any ideas that are not viable or are less likely to be approved by Senior Management
  • Task force recommendations are captured in a power-point deck and reviewed by the team prior to the presentation to the manager
  • Each Task Force Leader presents the approved recommendations to the entire team. It is understood that the approved task force recommendations are to be adhered to by the entire team. In most cases, there have been a 95% or more agreement rate about the recommendations as outlined by the various task force teams

Task Force Teams – Case Study

One of the organizations that I turned-around was the Inside Sales team for a company that had lost half of its clients and had not seen any new customer sales since the recession. The Inside Sales team had not hit their revenue targets in many years.

During the assessment of the organization, I found that the sales team had no metrics that they were measured against and held to. For example, Sales Reps didn’t have quotas. The sales funnel was full of opportunities; however, 80% of these were no longer feasible because there was no sales methodology in place to effectively manage deals through the sales funnel. To complex the issues, team members made fewer than 10 dials per day each. I knew we had to get that number up because this was a phone job and the only opportunity to get more prospects was by calling them. I realized that my Sales Management experience was needed to get this team to achieve their goals and increase revenue.

Working with the task force teams, we decided on a sales methodology and a set of metrics that the team agreed would help them achieve their newly assigned quotas. Everyone agreed to the minimum metrics and worked towards them as a team. At the end of the first year, revenue had increased by 57% and revenue from new prospects had increased by 80%.

However, I don’t always agree with task force recommendations. If their recommendations are way off the mark (from my experience), I work with the team to get their ideas to align with what I know will work. No matter what, the caveat is that if we don’t see improvement within 90-days, we will need to regroup and come up with a better process or set of metrics. This becomes a continuous improvement process in which experimentation is essential. Similarly, Sales Management is not a stagnant process. As the manager of a team you need to be flexible and listen to the suggestions of your employees. Sales Management is about working with your employees and it’s really good when task force members can work together to analyze how their recommendations are working or not. I recommend that these teams review their recommendations and results at the end of each quarter.

Increase Productivity

Many studies have been undertaken on the subject of Sales Management and employee involvement in the decision making process. Most research agrees that participation has positive effects on performance and thus productivity. For example, C. A. L. Pearson conducted an experiment involving two groups of workers: a group where employees were included in goal setting and a control group that executed traditional work procedures. The results indicated not only that those “who were engaged in participative goal setting reported […] greater job satisfaction”, but that “goal setting and performance were positively related.”[1] Similarly, another paper found that “empowered employees largely improve performance by finding innovative ways of correcting errors in service delivery and redesigning work processes.”[2] These findings are in line with my own experience, and show that if you get the buy-ins from your employees, you will see an increase in performance, productivity, and eventually revenues.

Rather than telling the team what to do, I give my teams the ability to determine their destiny. When teams are given the opportunity to provide their input on specific aspects of the job, the manager has their “buy-in,” and team members are more likely to work toward the “team” assigned goals. Why wouldn’t they? It’s their plans and their ideas and therefore their responsibility to make them work. This process has worked for me and has helped my teams greatly improve their performance.

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[1] C. L. A. Pearson, “Participative Goal Setting as a Strategy for Improving Performance and Job Satisfaction” (1987), Human Relations Journal, Volume 40 (8), pp 473-488 <http://hum.sagepub.com/content/40/8/473.abstract>

[2] S. Fernandez and T. Moldogaziev, “Using Employee Empowerment to Encourage Innovative Behavior in the Public Sector” (2013), Journal of Administration Research and Theory, Volume 23 (1), pp 155-187 <http://jpart.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/1/155.abstract>

Sales Management: Love Thy Employee

I believe that all people should be treated with respect.  People who believe they are respected, appreciated and valued tend to be happy people.  From my experience, employees who believe that they are respected, appreciated and valued are productive and motivated.  I believe that it is the job of every manager to respect, appreciate and value their employees. This is what good Sales Management is all about.

When I was the Director of Inside Sales for a large educational software company, I managed a team of 18 Inside Sales Reps and 2 Telemarketers.  Many of my team members were at their desks by 5:30 AM Pacific, because they had Eastern territories.  I made it a point to walk around their area at 5:45 AM and then again at 7:30 AM, when the rest of the team was at their desks.  I did this ritual every day to offer encouragement, answer questions and to let everyone know that I appreciate them.  Sometimes I would bring in bagels or donuts and offer these to the team.  After a few weeks in my new position, the team began to expect my daily walk-throughs.  They were ready with their feedback or progress updates.  If someone was down, I would offer encouragement or provide insights on how they might solve a particular problem.

Every quarter, the CEO of this company made it a point to come to our offices and do “call-challenges” with the team.  He would sit with each Rep and make calls to their prospects using his opening statement.  Then the team member would do the same, using their opening statement or script.  He would provide feedback and encouragement throughout the process of making these calls.  The goal was to see who was able to move the prospect to the next level.  (The CEO never mentioned to prospects that he was the CEO, which would have given him an unfair advantage).  The team welcomed his visits and the CEO got a kick out of seeing how each team member handled their prospects.  He admitted to me, after these events, that he learned some new tricks.  He let the team know that he was impressed by their focus and effort.

The VP of Sales, at the same company, would often ask me what the team needed from him to boost morale and to make them feel appreciated.  He would drop by the office as well, providing feedback and congratulating the team when we met our monthly and quarterly objectives.

I saw how important it was to the team to have the Executives visit, and provide their insights and feedback.  I decided to ask other Executives from Marketing/ Finance/Legal /Product Management to visit us to discuss campaigns or to address issues on contracts or commissions and to hear about new product functionality.  The team loved having the opportunity to meet with the Executives.  These meetings gave them the sense that they were valued and respected.

This team was named region of the year for achieving 114% of quota.  Our success was due to many factors.  However, I believe one important factor was that this team felt the “love” from the company’s Senior Executive team.

My opinion is not only supported by my own experiences, but by many human resource studies. After my research, I can conclude that an overwhelming percentage of literature confirms that respect at the workplace generates not only a more productive working environment, but helps the organization meet its goals. For example, Daniel J. Koys concludes from his literature review that “organizational commitment is positively related to the perception that HRM activities are motivated by (a) management’s desire to show respect for the individual and (b) management’s desire to attract/retain employees”. [1] Similarly, a study of Total Quality Management argues that “Empowerment and teamwork significantly enhance job involvement, job satisfaction, career satisfaction, and organizational commitment.”[2] Commitment and a feeling of belonging create a positive working environment, and if an employee feels like his/her work is appreciated and valued, he/she is more willing to go the extra mile for the company’s well-being.

Create a culture of appreciation.  Ask senior executives and mid-level managers to take part in this process.  Morale will be high and your teams will, by feeling the “love”, be more productive and engaged at work.


[1] D. J. Koys, “Human resource management and a culture of Respect: Effects on employees’ organizational commitment” (1988), Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 1 (1), pp 57-68. < http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01385453>

[2] N. Karia and M. Asaari, “The effects of total quality management practices on employees’ work-related attitudes” (2006), The TQM Magazine, Volume 18 (1), pp. 30-43
< http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1537485&show=abstract>