The Rule of the Lean Pipeline

Friday, April 12, 2019

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Here’s the latest in my series of Observed Truth of Sales.

I’ve collected these patterns (and quirks) of situational behavior of sellers and buyers over the course of a long and successful sales career. They are not science. There’s been no rigorous quantitative or academic analysis of these observations. (Which means they have as much validity as 95% of what passes for research and data into sales these days.)

Today I’m sharing The Rule of the Lean Pipeline.

The Rule of the Lean Pipeline states that the optimum number of qualified opportunities you need in your pipeline is exactly equal to the number of deals you’re going to close this month.


Sales is not baseball.

Yes, it’s spring. And, baseball season is here. (Go Padres! Hey, it’s early. Allow me to dream…)

But batting .300 in sales is not going to get you into the Sales Hall of Fame. That’s purely minor league.

I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of top sales professionals in my career.

They each brought their own style and process to how they sold. No two were alike in how they dealt with buyers and managed their opportunities.

Except in one regard. To a person they are all very good at keeping the crap out of their pipelines.

The logic is inescapable. The thinner you spread your selling time across more opportunities at any one moment, the less likely you are to close any single one of them.

Pipeline coverage ratios become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you need a 5x coverage ratio then you will close 1 out of every 5 qualified opportunities.


Here are some keys to a leaner pipeline:

Your prospecting has to be very targeted. What’s the profile of the buyer that needs your exact product to achieve their desired outcomes?

You have to ruthlessly qualify and disqualify opportunities. Not everyone who is interested is a prospect. Nor are all objections meant to be handled. Many are disqualifiers.

You constantly have to analyze and prioritize how you invest your time. Instead of investing 5 hours on a marginally qualified opportunity, how could you invest the same time to help your most well-qualified buyer move faster to making a decision?

Look, no one closes 100% of their opportunities.

But, why would you build your sales process on the assumption that you’ll only close 20% of your opportunities?

Aim higher. Learn to be lean.

– Andy