Too many lawyers take the "fogameer" approach to prospecting and sales investment. They'll let anyone into their pipeline who can fog a mirror. 

Managing your sales pipeline is very similar to hosting a party, i.e., by letting someone in, you take on obligations. In the party context, that means spending time with them, interacting, and paying attention -- even if you discover that you have nothing in common and that they're not the kind of person you'd choose to associate with. Then, you have to find a graceful way to get them to leave.

The sales context isn't much different. If you let someone into your pipeline, you take on obligations. You have to stay in touch, continue to check on progress or the lack of it, and generally "follow up" (the most meaningless expression I can think of).

To Do: Apply pipeline discipline, i.e., have a concrete reason for admitting anyone

Begin by defining and profiling your optimal client. "Anybody who'll pay us a lot of money" doesn't count. We're talking the demand-triggering business problem, industry, size, key stakeholder role(s). Next, change your default pipeline-entry mindset to "no." That means, nobody gets in unless you have a concrete reason for letting them in. This discipline is pretty straightforward:

  • Your initial contact acknowledges having a business problem that you can solve. If not, the conversation isn't about them; it's about your services and you. That's not a sustainable conversation.
  • This "suspect" has identified specific, tangible, negative consequences of the problem's presence (Cost of Doing Nothing), and declared that they're not acceptable. If not, they have the luxury of waiting. They have no reason to take action, or hire anyone nowThere's nothing for you to win. This is the source of all the stalled items in your pipeline now.
  • You've facilitated the suspect converting these consequences into negative economic impact, expressed in dollars. If not, they'll struggle to see a return on investment, which delays decisions and strips you of any pricing power.
  • You've discussed, at least conceptually, how the problem should be solved, and given a ballpark estimate of what it tends to cost to solve this kind of problem. Until you've discussed money, you don't have a prospect.
  • Your initial contact has concluded that the organization must take action, and is helping you identify the remainder of the core decision group, and an internal champion. (Stakeholder Alignment)

Only now do you have a legitimate prospect. This is somebody that's worth your scarce sales time and energy. Right now, you're probably thinking, "Gee isn't that basically the whole sales process?" No. It's merely the sales-qualification process. Only qualified prospects are allowed into your pipeline.

flow valve

If you tighten up the valve on the front end of your pipeline, you'll waste less time chasing sales that don't exist, and free up time for better prospects. Does this make sense?

Mike O'Horo

This is a 13-part series featuring To-Do and Not-To-Do pairs. Next week: Not-To-Do: Meet face-to-face until necessary. 

Each of the links in this post connect to online courses that teach you the referenced skill.