Growing Your Sales Pipeline

By Tom Callinan

In this article we will delve into ways to work with each sales rep to drive the company’s revenue growth.

Acccount Reviews:

I have not found any process that works better than account reviews to drive revenue growth. Account reviews should be conducted quarterly on each of a sales rep’s base and targeted accounts. At the minimum, the manager and rep participate in the account review, but upper management should participate in the top 50 reviews, 25 current customers and 25 targeted accounts, and should periodically participate in other reviews. Account reviews have a strategic focus but there are always tactical actions as outcomes.

The rep needs to prepare for the review by completing an account overview. The overview has basic account information — name, address, contacts — as well as information regarding the products and services you sell: what share of wallet do you have (if any); who are the competitors; what business does the competition have; what has changed in the account since the last review; where are your areas of opportunity; and your areas of vulnerability. You also need organizational charts that show the hierarchy from the front-line contact through to the C-level in the purchasing, IT, and finance departments with any relationships mapped to your company’s employees.

I recommend the manager spend at least an hour per week with each sales rep conducting account reviews. A review on a middle-market account takes about 10 minutes and a major account about 20 minutes. If you are dealing with Fortune 200 accounts those may take 30 to 40 minutes. So depending on the account bases the reps manage, they should prepare three to six accounts each week to be reviewed. To ensure you get through each rep’s assignment, schedule out the reviews in advance. If you leave it up to the reps to choose the accounts there is a good chance you will never see the accounts where they are struggling. Make certain each rep provides the manager with his “package” the day before the review so the manager is prepared for the meeting.

After the rep provides the account overview from a strategic and tactical perspective those involved in the account review have a robust discussion of how to help the rep achieve his short-term goals while working toward the common long-term goal of 100 percent share of wallet. It would be really easy being a sales manager if all reps were spot on in their account assessments. Unfortunately, that will only happen with a minority of reps so you will have to ask some probing questions after the rep’s overview so you can help identify areas they have missed. Additional areas of opportunity or concern will surface as you discuss certain tactics and strategies — and as you go through future iterations of the review — so do not try to find every nook and cranny in the overview stage.

I could give a full-day seminar on account reviews so it is impossible to cover everything you need to look for in this article, but I will try to cover some of the more critical areas.

You want to develop relationships higher and wider. Wider would be other departments; for example, you have a strong relationship with the manager of IT so now you need to develop relationships in finance and purchasing. Higher refers to working up to the C-level; how do you develop a relationship with the director of IT and eventually the CIO? Use the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” method to determine who in your company can leverage relationships with those folks you need to meet. Do not depend on the rep to initiate and manage all of the relationships — multiple levels of employees in your company should have relationships with multiple levels of employees in the customer or prospect company.

You want to thwart any competitive threats. Who is their copier provider? Who handles the printers in their data center? Do they have a facilities management provider? Do they have branch offices outside of their other vendors’ service area? Or do they have branches inside of the other vendors’ service area yet outside of your service area? How do you get that business while ensuring that those vendors do not displace you? Can you get the customer into a stronger contractual relationship or move some of their output from the copiers to the printers? Can you partner with somebody you trust for the outlying offices?

These areas define the robust discussion I mentioned earlier. As each manager facilitates more and more reviews they will become better and, by learning from each rep, they will be able to pass their knowledge onto the entire sales force. By having other managers in the company participating in the reviews they can help with the quality of plans and with the development of the manager and the sales employees. You will be working opportunities strategically rather than living month-to-month. The employee development and growth in the sales pipeline will result in more successful sales employees and reduce your employee turnover — compounding your growth. I have found no better process to drive revenue growth.

Pipeline: Some people refer to this as the sales funnel. Whatever you call it, it is a critical aspect of growing your business and of being able to see into future periods.

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3 thoughts on “Growing Your Sales Pipeline”

  1. Kathleen, I think this article illuminates an important point as you divided up the time reserved for different account reviews. If the types of accounts differ enough to dedicate 3 to 4x the amount of time to review, it probably makes sense to consider a key account management process, yes? Because buyers are evolving at a rapid pace and the Pareto principle applies in many companies (80% revenue from 20% customers) it’s important to make the investment into those customers. Do you have different review plans for “regular” reps vs “key account” reps? Enjoyed the read. -Nat

  2. Nat, absolutely agree. It is critical to dedicate more time to your key accounts in these reviews. I don’t have a different review plan for regular reps vs key account reps as I don’t split them out that way currently. However, I just dedicate more time and drill deeper on the key accounts when reviewing with each rep.

  3. I agree. Account reviews are an important method for maximizing the revenue and loyalty of existing accounts and mapping a path to success with prospective accounts. The key to success in my mind is 1) Account planning and review sessions must be disciplined and time conscientious and 2) the role of the reviewing manager is not to intimidate but to be viewed as a gate to the company’s resources which will be channeled towards meeting the account goals.

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