“Dammit Jim, I’m a sales manager, not a mind reader”

Survey reveals sales managers struggle to understand pipeline health.


[Editor’s note: A couple weeks ago we introduced this exciting 3-part blog series, and this week, we’ll continue to explore the parallels between common challenges sales teams face during the opportunity-to-close (OTC) process and the legendary Star Trek series!]

Part 2. If the OTC process is like Star Trek, then today’s sales manager is the real McCoy.

Oddly, Enterprise chief medical officer Dr. McCoy (AKA “Bones”) would have made a great 21st century sales manager. He’s a driven leader and a pragmatist who trusts his instincts and has justifiable reservations about technology.

Of course, McCoy’s probably best known for his signature catchphrase, “I’m a doctor, not a (insert wildly inappropriate job title here). He’s not a “bricklayer” or an “engineer” or an “astrophysicist.” He’s a doctor. And, despite his protestations, he inevitably completes the task that needs to be done with whatever seemingly inadequate tools he has on hand. Sound like anyone you know?

If you’re a sales manager, you can identify with Bones. On a daily basis you’re compelled to perform the tasks of private investigator, mind reader, cat wrangler, and other sundry professions just to get the job done.

It’s hard to get an accurate read on pipeline when your team of strapped-for-time reps either fails to log their activity or captures only scant deal details that don’t tell the whole story. Findings from a recent Clari survey of enterprise sales organizations reveal that 70 percent of enterprise sales managers look beyond CRM to find the insights they need to understand deal status.

In fairness, the CRM is a little like the “captain’s log” on Star Trek. Beyond being a clever way to catch the TV audience up on key plot points, the captain’s log was a record-keeping device used to keep superiors abreast of what was happening on a mission, and to preserve historical data for future generations. Like a CRM, the captain’s log works great — as long as you have a reliable way to accurately enter and record all that data. Unfortunately, sales reps don’t have the resources and discretionary time that a Starfleet commander has — or a nifty captain’s chair from which to bark out a summary of the day’s activities, and launch the occasional torpedo. In a way, that’s probably for the best — but I digress.

Sadly, only 19 percent of those managers we surveyed find the data captured in their CRM to be “extremely helpful,” with 70 percent admitting they rely on 1:1 meetings, reports, or team calls to get better visibility into pipeline health. And, that’s where the mind reading, private detective work, and cat wrangling comes into play.

Without accurate CRM data, managers glean what they can from stale reports and impromptu meetings with their reps. Unfortunately, just 18 percent find their 1:1s with direct reports to be effective. It turns out the 1:1 is no Vulcan “mind meld” (a telepathic union between two beings).

It’s actually pretty subjective and way less transparent. And it’s precious time that could be better spent on defining a closing strategy rather than interrogating the rep for deal data.

In the end, managers are forced to make decisions about the likelihood of a deal closing based on what they hear, not based on what they see. And with spotty data, no idea if or when a key meeting actually took place, or how engaged a prospect is, their conclusions often miss the mark. Our survey findings confirm that sales managers simply aren’t getting the visibility they need to identify risk and spend too much time chasing reps getting a handle on what’s actually going to close. 

This lack of visibility is taking its toll on sales achievement. Without up-to-date data on deal progress, leadership can’t properly allocate resources or accurately predict close dates. As a result, sales reps fail to make quota, deals slip, and forecasts fall short of predictions. Half of those we surveyed reported less than 50 percent of sales reps in their organizations achieved quota last year. And, an alarming 76 percent reported slippage of up to 50 percent of committed deals per quarter.

These are just some of the issues plaguing the opportunity-to-close process, and preventing sales teams from predictably closing business and growing revenue. But, we’re on a mission — a continuing mission. So, meet us back here on July 18th for the conclusion of our Star Trek series when we explore the strange and terrifying world of forecasting — and where we might boldly go from here. We’ll separate the science from the science fiction, and examine the futuristic tools available now to help sales teams work smarter and close faster. Until then, “live long and prosper.”

Next: Part 3: The “Kobayashi Maru” test: Making a "no-win scenario" winnable.

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