It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: How Sales Professionals Maintain a Strong Pipeline

Building a successful sales pipeline that hits quotas and functions over the long run requires preparation, attention to detail and time management.
September 21, 2022Updated: September 21, 2022

Elite distance runners are experts in preparation. With months-long, meticulously designed training plans, workout assessments that log weather conditions and muscle ailments, and top-to-bottom analysis of race-day logistics, no detail goes unaccounted for. 

When vying for that goal race performance, many elite runners have found success in significantly increasing their weekly training mileage. In fact, it’s what led Molly Seidel to an Olympic Marathon bronze medal in 2021. To get there, she raised her normal regimen of 80 to 100 miles all the way to 135 during peak training weeks. That’s five times the miles she’d run on race day. 

By increasing the average weekly miles in a training plan, a bad week or a missed workout isn’t likely to set a runner back on achieving their race day potential. 

This mindset is similar to how one enterprise account executive at Bringg builds his pipeline to hit quotas and perform well over the long term. Instead of miles, it’s the number of opportunities that count. “Pipeline generation comes down to building your pipeline to four or five times the size of your annual quota to ensure you crush your number,” said Chris Miller. By doing so, “You create an environment that enables you to be successful so you don’t have to scramble to find a replacement opportunity when one doesn’t work out.”

And just as an elite runner sticks to their training plan and logs the details of each workout, it’s important for salespeople to keep their pipeline on track and organized. 

“Time and calendar management is key,” said Evan Diamond, global strategic account executive at Braze. “I recommend blocking dedicated hours on your schedule, at whatever cadence best suits your productivity, to focus on pipeline replenishment and early-stage opportunities.”

While success for an elite marathoner might mean winning their race — or in Seidel’s case, an Olympic medal — for Miller, “Winning in my world means I’m crushing the competition, building champions, solving customer challenges and closing deals so that I can provide a better life for my customers.”

Built In Chicago sat down with Miller, Diamond and sales leaders from two other Chicago tech companies to learn their tips for maintaining a winning pipeline. 

 

Chris Miller
Enterprise Account Executive

 

Bringg’s cloud-based last-mile platform helps companies deliver on their fulfillment promises. 

 

What are some common mistakes that can cause a sales pipeline to break down, and how do you avoid them?

There are many variables at play in pipeline generation, or PG, that can cause a salesperson to fall short. Not generating enough pipeline is enemy number one. Before you embark on pipeline generation, you need to know your territory’s high-value leads. At Bringg, for example, we sell value rather than a commoditized service. Managers in different roles interpret value differently, which affects sales messaging. 

Before you embark on pipeline generation, you need to know your territory’s high-value leads.”

 

The next challenge is keeping your pipeline full at all times. Salespeople who think about PG as a grueling chore to avoid will fail to generate enough pipeline to consistently participate in closing deals. At Bringg, we dedicate an entire day to outbound activity. So, I’ve got my plan, a day dedicated to PG and I’m generating meetings. 

Assuming you execute your first meeting with excellence and find a product-market fit for the prospect, you need to shine by creating a mutual success plan with target dates to outline the steps needed to close the deal. As time passes, the mutual success plan will be an indicator of the opportunity’s health. 

 

How do you manage your own sales pipeline? 

I focus on operating with an execution mindset. What that means is I’m constantly moving the ball forward on the steps we laid out in the mutual success plan so that my company wins the deal. What comes next is every salesperson’s favorite acronym, MEDDIC, which stands for: metrics, economic buyer, decision criteria, decision process, identify pain and champion.

It shouldn’t be the only tool in your belt, but it’s a great health indicator of specific opportunities that make up the overall pipeline. A MEDDIC of 100 means you know everything there is to know about the company and the opportunity — down to who approves and signs. If you’re executing on the mutual success plan with excellence, then each and every prospect interaction will help to fill in the perceived MEDDIC gaps, resulting in a stronger opportunity and overall pipeline. 

There’s no better group of people to help move the ball forward than a team of highly skilled sales professionals. At Bringg, we use team deal reviews to ask questions about each other’s opportunities, uncover risks and also brainstorm.

 

What are the advantages of a robust and fully functioning sales pipeline?

You save yourself from being between a rock and a hard place when opportunities go sideways. You’ve invested the time to build a plan, and now you’re executing on it as if you were a first-round draft pick. If you’re in sales, it’s because there’s something inside of you that ticks and wants to win. Success starts with building a healthy pipeline and ends with getting a higher quota the next year.

 

 

 

Braze logo on the office
Braze

 

Evan Diamond
Global Strategic Account Executive

 

Through Braze’s customer engagement platform, brands are able to learn more about consumers to deliver contextually relevant content. 

 

What’s a common mistake that can cause a sales pipeline to break down, and how do you avoid it?

One common mistake is a tendency to reduce energy or attention to detail on prospecting and upper-funnel opportunities, especially when lower-funnel opportunities become more demanding of a person’s time. It’s crucial to spend an equal amount of time focusing on all stages of a sales pipeline. It’s also important to ensure that every detail in your pipeline is defendable. There has to be tangible evidence or sound reasoning behind the close dates and amounts — otherwise, a pipeline can have too much variability and constant fluidity.

 

What tips can you offer for managing an effective sales pipeline? 

It’s okay to be selective about what you put in your pipeline. All too often, the quality of an opportunity is overlooked and deprioritized over quantity, but that can lead to a bloated pipeline of questionable deals. Once an opportunity is in your pipeline, you’re choosing to commit your time and energy toward ensuring it advances to the best of your abilities. Those resources are finite, so learning to be comfortable with disqualification is one of the best things that you can do. Healthy skepticism often leads to more valuable discovery and qualification conversations. Scrutinize every opportunity as much as you can.

Healthy skepticism often leads to more valuable discovery and qualification conversations. Scrutinize every opportunity as much as you can.”

 

What is the advantage of a robust and fully functioning sales pipeline?

The advantage of establishing a robust and fully functioning pipeline is that it can increase your chances of being successful. Success in sales is often described as cyclical, but it doesn’t have to be. If you prioritize time management, and focus on executing at the top of your pipeline just as much as the bottom of it, you can avoid some of the doldrums that many account executives find themselves in after having a wildly successful quarter or year.

 

 

UPshow team members in the office
UPshow

 

Laura Lieder
Enterprise Account Executive

 

Through its digital signage platform, UPshow helps businesses create engaging in-venue screen experiences. 

 

What are some common mistakes that can cause a sales pipeline to break down, and how do you avoid them?

Unrealistic expectations and poor pipeline management are two common threads. Whether it’s adding an opportunity the day it closes or putting in an opportunity at its optimal value versus what’s realistic, these actions can mess up both your forecasting and your mindset toward the pipeline. Try to be realistic with the dollar amount and as close to the month as possible.

 

How do you manage your own sales pipeline? 

I’m conservative — but not too conservative. It is incredibly important to keep your pipeline realistic based on where the opportunity is in the funnel, the probability of closing and where you stand with the customer at that moment. 

I also hold myself to a monthly number of how many new prospects and opportunities I add to the funnel based on my close ratios. This sets me up for my future months and year, but more importantly, it never lets my pipeline run dry. Of course, that all starts with generating leads that can convert to opportunities.

Pipeline management can be tedious, but when it’s fully functioning, it allows you to spend more time on generating more revenue for you and the company.”

 

What is the advantage of a robust and fully functioning sales pipeline?

I’d say forecasting is the number one advantage of a fully functioning sales pipeline. It helps me understand where I’m coming up short and where I need to add to in order to reach or surpass my number for the year. Pipeline management can be tedious, but when it’s fully functioning, it allows you to spend more time on generating more revenue for you and the company.

 

 

Danny Martinez
Team Lead, Digital Sales

 

Fast Radius evolves companies’ manufacturing processes with 3D printing, injection molding and other tech capabilities.  

 

What are some common mistakes that can cause a sales pipeline to break down, and how do you avoid them?

It is easy for a sales pipeline to get out of control, but with the appropriate maintenance, it becomes painless to keep it healthy. I’ve had instances when my pipeline is a disaster for many reasons — having a lot of new accounts, forgetting about accounts, accounts that I’ve had a bad experience with or just simply not having enough time. Staying organized is key.

It is easy for a sales pipeline to get out of control, but with the appropriate maintenance, it becomes painless to keep it healthy.”

 

How do you manage your own sales pipeline?

Something that drastically changed the way I viewed my pipeline was Microsoft Excel. I created a document where I color-coded accounts and added the “last contact date” field. I look at my sheet every day to stay accountable and keep a healthy pipeline. Using Salesforce reports is helpful to keep track of open and closed opportunities. I constantly check my report and close any opportunities that are past due — that way I know what to focus on and plan on when to reach back out to my customers.

 

What are the advantages of a robust and fully functioning sales pipeline?

It provides a clear view of what you need to focus on in the month or quarter. If you close all your opportunities that you are no longer working on, you’ll have better visibility of the accounts you are still actively working on. It’s helpful for managers to see this to be able to help their salespeople game plan. I have had instances when I’ve worked on only a few opportunities and have not had the best week; however, my manager can see a pipeline of 30 or more open opportunities that show I’m in a good position. With a clean pipeline, you can develop a better strategy to reach your weekly and monthly goals.

 

 

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