Sales Funnel Management

By Lain Ehmann

Your reps’ sales funnels are resources that should be actively managed-not just observed and reported on, says George Ludwig, author of Power Selling: Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code (Dearborn, 2004). Here are his tips for how managers can effectively leverage pipelines:

  • Go beyond assigning blame. In the old days, says Ludwig, sales managers used the funnel as a way of cracking the whip on their salespeople. “It’s a valuable tool now,” Ludwig says, noting that a shift in perspective puts the funnel in a new light.
  • Think about building the funnel, not just closing deals. When sales reps think they’re going to be punished for not producing enough, they’re more inclined to give exaggerated information to the boss. But if they think their manager actually wants to help them build a better quality funnel, they’ll provide more accurate data, says Ludwig. Pressure to close can lead to inaccurate reporting, he explains.
  • Quality is as important as quantity. To have a high-quality funnel, both quality and quantity are important, says Ludwig. As such, he believes sales managers should be compensated not only on results, but also on the quality of the team’s pipeline.
  • Define each step in the sales process. To ensure consistency across the team, it’s critical for reps to know where their opportunities fall in the sales cycle. That way individual elements can be folded accurately into the overall picture.
  • Harvest at the right time. If a lead is ready for the picking, harvest immediately, says Ludwig. If reps wait too long, they risk watching the results of their hard worked be plucked by the competition. “This is when the deal is most vulnerable to the competition,” says Ludwig. In addition, it’s in the late stages when customers get cold feet and need to be reassured about their decision to buy.
  • After the picking the ripe ones, worry about planting. After they’ve gathered the ripe fruit, many salespeople move on to trying to foster the not-so-ripe deals. A waste of energy, says Ludwig. “People don’t want to be sold, but they like to buy. And they like to buy on their own timeframe,” he says. Instead of spending time trying to force a buyer to act, work on planting more seeds.
  • Identify best practices for nurturing every buyer in the funnel. The sales process doesn’t end with the sale, reminds Ludwig. Customer retention is a critical step in the cycle, and each client needs a specific approach.

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