Empty your pipeline regularly to keep deals flowing

Pipeline pig brush

Although emptying your sales pipeline sounds counterintuitive, it’s necessary for most of us. When I say “empty your pipeline,” what I’m really talking about is being choosy about whom you keep in and when it’s time to clean house.

Bigger isn’t always better

There’s such a thing as too big.  When it comes to your sales pipeline, you must be careful about not letting it get overstuffed with prospects.

Think of it this way: If your goal is to have 20 deals in your pipeline at any given time, and you have 50, this seems like a good thing, doesn’t it? After all, with so many deals in the various stages of your pipeline, you’re ahead of the game.

The reality is that this may not always be the case. Too many deals spread your available resources too thin. You tend not to pay the proper amount of attention to all the deals in the pipeline and some can grow cold and stale.

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We know, it happened to us

In my pre-Pipedrive days we once hired a salesman who had really distinguished himself before signing on with us. Strangely, it didn’t take very long before we realized he was having some challenges. In one month, he began with 10 really great leads, but by the end of the month most hadn’t moved along the pipeline.

It took us awhile before we both had come to the conclusion that the old “we’re still thinking about it and we should have a definite decision in a couple of weeks” response wasn’t good enough. We had heard it too many times.

When our new star changed his close tactics and asked all prospects if they were ready to place an order that month, we found out that only one was going to make a purchase. It was clear that while the volume of conversations he was putting into the pipeline was reasonable, the velocity of those deals was abysmal. His pipeline which had seemed healthy had actually been “clogged.”

He quickly learned his lesson and became one of the best closers on the sales team.

How to tell when to flush the pipeline

There are some indicators that a prospect in your pipeline is not worth immediate and continuous attention. Three examples:

  • Ask yourself: Would a customer laugh at the idea of being in your pipeline? If they don’t take you seriously, don’t take them seriously.
  • Ask your prospects if it’s possible if they will make a decision this month. If the answer is no, it’s time to move on.
  • When someone says that they would like your product or service, but not this month/quarter/year, it may not seem like a lost cause, but it is. You must consider them for flushing because there’s nothing you can do to close them within the constraints of your sales cycle, or even the near future.

How to keep your pipeline squeaky clean

Exactly how you flush them is up to you, but here are a few suggestions:

 

  • Go through all of the contacts in your sales pipeline once a week, or every two weeks. If you find a prospect who’s been sitting in the pipe and clogging it up for longer than your typical sales cycle, and doesn’t show any signs of moving to the next stage soon, flush them.
  • Don’t get rid of them entirely. Put these flushed prospects into a future pipeline or a future callback list. If you’re using sales management software such as Pipedrive, schedule a follow-up call or email.
  • Stay focused on deals that have a strong chance of closing during your established sales cycle.

 

Flushing prospects out of your sales pipeline will feel a bit strange. It’s hard to put aside a potential customer, even a lukewarm one. But the whole thrust of this course is to keep your focus on the strong candidates and to keep them moving along the stages of your pipeline. Proper focus, good work habits and continuous effort create a steady flow of revenue through your pipeline.

P.S. If you liked this post, check out Sales Pipeline Academy. We’ve distilled our sales management experience into 11 actionable emails over 25 days. It’s not bedtime reading, and there is some homework involved, but the feedback has been great, so check it out.

Illustration courtesy: patent for Method of making a pipeline pig brush and brush assembly.

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Timo Rein

CEO and Co-Founder of Pipedrive

  • How can I move multiple (say 100) deals from a stage to another in Pipedrive?

    • Hi Jarno,
      You can use the bulk editing feature for this.

      Go to your list view and create a filter for the deals by stage. Then select the created filter and turn on bulk editing on the upper left hand side. Highlight the stage field for the deals you want to change stages, and a small window will prompt you to change the stage.

      Here’s an article that explains this in more detail: http://support.pipedrive.com/support/articles/1000158179-bulk-edit-and-inline-edit-in-pipedrive

      Hope this helps.
      Ott from Pipedrive

  • Omry Revach

    that’s exactly what i was looking for in order to keep my pipeline clean.
    Thanks!

  • Pablo Orvañanos

    In Pipedrive, what other options besides creating a new pipeline would be a good solution to keep those deals that have been placed on hold by our customers?

    • Another option is to follow this workflow:
      – Add an activity to the deal with a date to follow up
      – Mark the deal as lost
      – Put in a lost reason of ‘On Hold’
      – Keep working on the active deals in your pipeline
      – Follow up with the customer when the activity reminder comes in
      – If the follow up is successful reopen the deal
      – If not, leave it as lost

      This helps you keep the pipeline clean and focus on the active deals. At the same time you won’t forget to follow up and you can create filters to pull up a list of lost deals with that specific lost reason for deeper analysis.

      • Martin Long

        I’ve been thinking about this and while I “get” the suggested approach for flushing the pipeline isn’t that going to play havoc with the Pipedrive statistics tool? ie it is suddenly going to see a load of lost deals and skew conversion rates. I was wondering whether there was a way that you could set up a first stage as a sort of holding stage and then from a reporting point of view exclude it from the “active” pipeline statistics? You can obviously filter the contents from view – but can you take them out of the analysis?

        • Owen Brown

          We have been finding it helpful to create a new pipeline, titled something like “On Hold.” It can have the same stages as your typical sales pipeline, but you can easily drag deals to this one.

          This way you can keep your priority deals upfront, but also occasionally check your On Hold pipeline to see if there are any deals you want to pursue again.

        • Sebastian

          @pipedrive:disqus that’s my concerne as well. Are there any suggestions how to best deal with these “on hold” deals and still be able to have valid statistics?
          @disqus_WwwUGDaGnR:disqus may I ask: did you solve this issue for you already?

          • Martin Long

            I resorted to setting up a separate ‘holding/long term prospects’ pipeline and switching leads back and forth between it and the ‘active’ pipeline. You can then select which pipeline populates the stats.

            It may be a consideration that if a deal does come out of holding and become active again, I think it still carries the original start date – which could skew the time to conversion stats (although I have quite a lot on hold and not that much comes back into active so it probably doesn’t have that big an impact). And anyway the stats will be representing the real overall length of time it has taken to convert the deal so it isn’t that big a problem.

            This approach does also mean that I have a much tidier active pipeline without having to look at a pile of on hold deals that I know are not going anywhere (for the time being). It also means that I don’t have to muck up my win rates by marking on hold deals as lost. Hope this helps

  • @pipedrive:disqus I have a “Prospects” pipeline that I move peole into when a deal goes cold. My concern is that if I eventually mark the deal as lost, this doesn’t get included in my stats in the main sales pipeline. So would it be best to keep all deals (even cold leads) in one pipeline so that I get better stats?

    • Mario Tasane

      Hey Paul, in statistics, you can choose “All pipelines” in the filtering. This would combine stats from different pipelines. Hope this helps.

      • Thanks @mario_tasane:disqus, but how are the conversion rates on two pipelines calculated if the stages are different?