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In Accomplishing the Impossible—It Takes Extraordinary Management

In Accomplishing the Impossible—It Takes Extraordinary Management

Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.

― Peter F. Drucker, The Essential Drucker

While researching my new ebook Accomplishing the Impossible: Lessons from the Apollo Space Program, I made some fascinating discoveries. For example, did you know that at its height the Apollo program employed some 400,000 people?

Think for a moment what it must have taken to manage a project that size. Aside from that sheer number, these people weren’t all located in the same room. Or even the same building. Or even the same city. Or even the same state.

Today, if we were to once again take on a project of this scope, we’d at least have modern communication tools. But during the time of Apollo, we had no internet. We had no cell phones. There was no way all the different individuals and groups could instantly communicate.


How complex was this undertaking? Let’s examine just it’s main moving parts. First, there was the rocket: the Saturn V SA-506, the biggest rocket ever built. There was the Lunar Module, the Eagle, which had to be precisely landed on the moon. Then there was the Command Module, the Columbia, which had to be maneuvered so exactly it could meet up with the Eagle when it returned from landing on the moon, so everyone could come home once again.

The Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, housed all the primary ground teams needed for the mission. Every detail was monitored. Just the creation of this center was amazing—look at pictures of it sometime, or visit it in person, and witness the amazing complexity of the dozens of panels and monitoring devices.

Prior to anyone leaving Earth, the Apollo program was the first program to utilize an entire series of prototypes—through which the astronauts learned to pilot and fly the craft.

Of course all the media attention, from all over the world, went on the astronauts. But they were but a small piece of the puzzle, even if a final and very important piece. And the astronauts knew it: When Neil Armstrong was recalling how he came up with his now-famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he said, “I thought, well, when I step off it’s just going to be a little step—a step from there down to there—but then I thought about all those 400,000 people who had given me the opportunity to make that step and thought it’s going to be a big something for all those folks and, indeed for a lot of others that weren’t even involved in the project, so it was kind of a simple correlation.”

Great Management for a Great Undertaking

So how does good management come about? Stated simply, good management is based on sound, proven principles. In my opinion, management principles should be taught from the first day of school—with so many people in the world, we certainly need great management from every quarter possible. Fortunately management is a craft, not an art, and can be taught and learned.

Interestingly, when we look at a project the size of Apollo, we look for the extraordinary people. But in truth, when you’re looking to successfully manage 400,000 people, you’re looking to ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That is done with management principles.

These principles, from the beginning, have been woven in as part of Pipeliner CRM. So used, they assist users to focus on the real priorities. These management principles, themselves, comprise business. What is business all about? It’s about reducing risk and leveraging opportunities.

And that is what the future is all about: reducing risk and leveraging opportunities to make a healthy business. When a businesses are healthy and thriving, it makes for a stable living environment for the whole culture.

That’s what we’re shooting for.

Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.

CRM Software, Automation and the Human Factor

CRM Software, Automation and the Human Factor

The world of the future will be an even more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.
― Norbert Wiener, The Human Use Of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society

In researching my new ebook Achieving the Impossible, Lessons from the Apollo Space Program I of course ran across much information about the automation of many sectors of society. At the time of the Apollo space program—the 1960s and the 1970s—research was occurring at MIT and elsewhere into the blooming science of cybernetics.

Cybernetics originated with American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener. In 1948 he defined cybernetics as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” Cybernetic pioneer W. Ross Ashby also referred to cybernetics as the “science of simplification.” Today cybernetics have had a profound impact on software, including our own CRM software.

Human Action at the Core

One impact of cybernetics, in modern software application, comes down to algorithms that pull information from a broad system, or from a general data source such as the internet. But it all comes back to humans interacting with a computer. The human acts, the computer gives information back, the human takes further action.

We saw in the moon landing the perfect example of human-computer interaction. During the descent to the moon, a computer error message occurred which, left alone, could have actually resulted in a mission abort. Between the flight and ground crews, they were able to override the error message and land safely on the moon.

If in the future we eliminate the human factor—as has been suggested by some scientific authorities—then everything would come back to only algorithms. But algorithms were created for specific scenarios, and aren’t actually alive, so cannot possibly be a perfect match for the real world in every instance.

On top of that, humans themselves have become more and more complex, and cannot possibly be addressed by algorithms only. As an example, today we have many more intercultural relationships than ever before—which merge varying aspects of 2 different cultures. The child of one of these relationships absorbs characteristics of both cultures into his or her life.

Complexity has certainly found its way into sales, too. Today’s sales landscape is far more complex than that of even 20 years ago. For that reason, we are directly applying cybernetics to Pipeliner CRM to simplify this complex sales landscape for salespeople and sales managers.

Cybernetics smoothly assists the human-computer interaction and also assists users to simplify data and use it.

Data Interpretation and Use

A common complaint about traditional CRM software, in the past, has been that data input was complex or difficult. Today, however, this issue has been solved, especially by CRM solutions such as Pipeliner.

A much more pertinent issue is what kind of insight the user is gaining from CRM data. This obviously has to do with how the user is interpreting the data—but it also has to do with how intuitive CRM is, and how the data is presented for use.

In the human-computer relationship, it is always the human in charge. Likewise, when it comes to a salesperson or sales manager and sales automation (such as CRM), it is always the salesperson or sales manager that is in charge. Automation assists in the analysis of data, but it must always be a human that draws the conclusions from that analysis. For that reason, at Pipeliner, we always place the human in charge.

In a similar manner, the sales manager requires data from salespeople, from the team, from the territory—but again the conclusion comes from the sales manager, and not from CRM. CRM can give the sales manager some insight—that’s why we call it insight—but the final decision will always be up to the manager.

The data in Pipeliner CRM is totally transparent—the sales manager sees the exact same data as the sales rep. The only difference is that the sales manager is able to view all the sales reps’ data, while a sales rep can only view data for that rep, not any of the others.

If a salesperson is well trained, the salesperson will interpret the data just as well as the sales manager. While the salesperson is being trained, the sales manager uses CRM data to mentor the sales rep, and instruct him or her on interpreting the data correctly.

We’re Addressing People

We can see that people are essential to both sides of the sales equation. In the end, the winning human-automation combination is aimed at marketing, selling to and—most importantly—helping people.

And there are a lot of them out there! According to the Population Reference Bureau, every single day Earth’s population expands by a net growth of 250,000 people. That’s basically the population of a small city coming into the world every day.

Where is this growth happening? In some parts of the world, it is happening dramatically, and in other parts, the population is actually declining. For example, Northern Africa currently stands at 229 million. In the next 13 years, that figure is expected to balloon out to 293 million. 30 years beyond that, the population is expected to reach 400 million. Parts of Europe, on the other hand, are declining.

What does this mean for our current world view? Every day, approximately 5,000 – 8,000 people are trying to travel by boat from Africa to Europe. This number, too, will increase. Is Europe ready for this kind of immigration? These people are from a drastically different culture than Europe and are and have often had much less access to education, if at all. This is the real challenge for Europe.

But every single one of these 250,000 people coming into the world every day, at some point, will buy something. They will be somebody’s customer. Today people expect to be treated as individuals, to have their particular needs and wants addressed. For that reason automation, today, has been tailored to keep careful track of buyer profiles.

So from both sides, it’s the humans that matter. As Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer, Accenture, has said: “Humans are at the heart of the digital revolution.”

Pipeliner CRM software is the perfect automated assistant for sales.  Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.

Sales CRM is the Co-Pilot, Not the Pilot

Sales CRM is the Co-Pilot, Not the Pilot

In researching my recent ebook Achieving the Impossible, Lessons from the Apollo Space Program  I made a very interesting discovery that very much applies to sales CRM. Along with other history-making factors, the Apollo program, thanks to a person almost never mentioned in the news and history of the time, set the stage for the symbiosis between human and machine.

Margaret Hamilton

If you’ve never heard of Margaret Hamilton, it is because her name was conveniently left out of any historical mention of important people associated with the Apollo programs and lunar landings. It was only in 2003 that Hamilton received an award from NASA for her groundbreaking work, without which the moon landings would not have been possible. Additionally her work had much to do with the actual launching of the software industry.

In the early days of the software industry, software coding was, in fact, mainly a woman’s job simply because coding involved a lot of typing—something that many men eschewed, rather foolishly as we see in hindsight. But today this “background” task (that in fact helped save the moon landings) is very much at the forefront and exploding.

Hamilton was the director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed onboard flight software for the Apollo program. In just one notable example of her work, her design of systems software for the Apollo Guidance Computer included error detection that helped avert an abort of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Symbiosis: Human and Machine

Hamilton’s work made it possible for what has become the symbiosis between human and machine—the computer is the co-pilot, not the pilot. This fit right into the Apollo astronauts’ ethic: they insisted on having control of their craft instead of turning it over to automatic control (autopilot). The necessity of having human involvement became very apparent when Neil Armstrong, instead of following what the computer was telling him to do, changed the landing site for the Apollo 11 LM (Lunar Module) because the original site chosen—and the one the computer program was guiding him to—was too rock-strewn for a safe landing.

Automatic pilot has been part of jetliner flight for many years, and many pilots won’t trust it for takeoff and landing. A number of years ago I was allowed to sit behind the pilot, in the cockpit of a jetliner landing in Los Angeles. He informed me he was taking it off of autopilot to land.

This kind of “autopilot” has even made its way into our daily lives. The latest software upgrade to my car allows for fully automatic parking, if I so desire.

But despite arguments and “innovations” to the contrary, automation should always remain the assistant to the person’s operation, as opposed to being given total control.

Relationship to Sales Automation

There has been an effort over the last 20 years to totally automate sales. In fact it was recently predicted that thousands of jobs would be lost as sales became totally automated.

There’s an opposing school of thought formed by myself and many others, that the salesperson will never be “outmoded” or disappear. A machine cannot interact with buyers, and address their specific issues, especially when it comes to complex B2B sales. But even in the B2C world, take a look at Apple: their stores are well-staffed with live salespeople, and those salespeople are an expected part of the buying experience.

Salespeople certainly use automation. But as with the Apollo program and with piloting jet planes, automation is their assistant—it will never replace them.

Pipeliner CRM-Sales Symbiosis

This school of thought has completely influenced how we designed Pipeliner CRM. We designed it to be the “co-pilot” for the salesperson. Pipeliner focuses salespeople, and provides the necessary intuitive and visual tools for them to control and stay on top of their opportunities. But salespeople are clearly the ones in change, and Pipeliner is there to back them up.

Not only have we made this symbiosis part of the creation of our sales CRM, but also of the way data is stored and synchronized. Pipeliner is the only CRM system with both online and offline capabilities. We didn’t want a salesperson to have to rely solely on cloud data centers; what would happen if the salesperson, for whatever reason, didn’t have internet access? With Pipeliner the complete CRM, with all data, is still there. This approach cost us 4 years of programming effort—but for us there was and is no other way.

Automation is the assistant, the co-pilot, and today is a totally necessary one.

Pipeliner CRM is the best assistant a salesperson or sales manager could have.  Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.

Pipeliner CRM Continuity: Streamline and Supercharge Sales Activities

Pipeliner CRM Continuity: Streamline and Supercharge Sales Activities

Introducing Pipeliner CRM 11.0, which we have named Continuity. With this version, we are demonstrating absolute continuity in streamlining and supercharging sales activities throughout the world.

A salesperson, every minute of every hour of every day is performing activities. Everything is an activity: the sending of collateral, a call, a task, a meeting, an appointment, or anything else of this nature. Tasks and activities, successfully completed, make it possible to move opportunities from stage to stage of the sales process—creating continuity throughout the sales pipeline. Hence, it is the enhancement of Pipeliner CRM’s powerful Sales Activities functionality that is at the heart of this release.

The name of this release—in a similar way to our last several major releases of Pipeliner CRM—was taken from an ancient work, the Law of Continuity. The Law of Continuity is a principle introduced by German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in 1701, that states, “Whatever succeeds for the finite, also succeeds for the infinite.

Sales Activity Management

Pipeliner CRM Continuity presents a number of key enhancements to Pipeliner’s sales activity management features—several of which can be found in no other CRM application.

  • Attach the same activity to one or more accounts, contacts, leads or opportunities–anywhere it applies–with Activity 1:N
  • Create and set recurring tasks, so there is never a need to create the same task every time you need it
  • Set a default appointment duration—if, for example, you normally give a standard presentation lasting 30 minutes, you can set a default duration for such meetings, and eliminate having to enter a duration again for this type of appointment
  • Set a default length of time for a reminder before a task, such as an hour before a call or appointment
  • The Appointment Planner instantly informs you of the time zone your prospect or customer is in, when setting an appointment

Other Enhancements

As always, we have brought other major enhancements to Pipeliner CRM with this release, including major additions to our Product Catalogue feature, new Reporting features, and several robust additions to Pipeliner Mobile CRM.

Learn more about Pipeliner CRM Continuity.

Pipeliner CRM is instant intelligence, visualized. Try a free trial today.

The Apollo Program, Accomplishing the Impossible and The Real Commitment

The Apollo Program, Accomplishing the Impossible and The Real Commitment

I just released a new ebook entitled Accomplishing the Impossible: Lessons from the Apollo Space Program. For this book, I did a considerable amount of research on the Apollo space program—the incredible program that put man on the moon. In addition to the famous Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, the Apollo program was responsible for 5 more moon landings before it was concluded in 1972.

The Apollo program had its real beginnings in President John F. Kennedy’s address to Congress on May 25, 1961, in which he famously said:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

At the time of Kennedy’s statement, that last phrase was especially true: “…none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” We had not even made it into outer space yet—that wouldn’t happen, for the US, until the following February, when John Glenn piloted the first American manned space flight. To build a ship that would support three astronauts as opposed to one, and carry them all the way to the moon and back, was nearly inconceivable. A number of the technologies eventually utilized in the Apollo program didn’t even exist at the time. It would certainly be “accomplishing the impossible.”

The Vision…and the Hard Work

What’s the major problem with a project the size of the Apollo program? It doesn’t come ready made out of a box. There’s not even any books on building one. Nobody knows what it’s supposed to look like. To start with, then, a vision is required.

But it takes a great deal more than just a vision. All kinds of people have visions—I call them dreamers. I meet them in life and they say, for example, “Oh, yes, I want to go to America just like you did!” I ask, “Why haven’t you done it?” They usually can’t answer me.

Most people want to avoid the hard work behind bringing a vision to real life. Most don’t even want to go into the heavy details. But success only comes about through those details. Can you imagine if one detail had not worked in the Apollo program perfectly? They might not have made it back from the moon.

In addition to the mentality of someone who has a vision and is willing to pursue it, that person’s employees must also be of a mentality to stick with it, and have the willingness to hang in there for years or tens of years. They need to constantly keep in mind an end product that may not be visible within what they can conceive as a timeframe, and still be committed to performing a great job.

The Cathedral

A great analogy here is the cathedral. The great cathedrals of Europe which today stand as astounding monuments to artistry and architecture took centuries to build. Construction on London’s Westminster Abbey began in 1245, and continued into the 1800s. Construction on the famous cathedral in Milan, Italy began in 1386 and was finally completed in 1965, over 500 years later. The Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, was designed by Antoni Gaudi; construction began in 1882 and has yet to be completed.

The people that began building either of these cathedrals knew they wouldn’t live to see its completion—yet were still very committed to it.

Such a thing would almost surely never happen today. Oh sure, people today still have and desire big visions, but when it comes right down to it, everything today has to be quick, fast and easy or it almost never happens.

This phenomenon is actually ruining the future for all of us. We are right now hopping from one little app, which everyone wants to fully scale in a year, to another. If you don’t scale unbelievably fast, you’re not the instant superstar that everyone is looking for. But there is an enormous amount of difference, for example, in building a Google app—and building Google.

The Overall Plan

Going back to the Apollo program, the foundation for something so grand is its overall plan. Of course that plan is not something that will be immediately put into action. For Apollo, such a plan contained many details, such as the escape velocity from the moon, the moon’s surface composition, the gravity differentials between Earth and the moon, and many others.

Such a plan must be composed before any of the details progress. For example, you can’t have someone writing code for a computer that isn’t even built yet—you have to create the architecture for those that will write the code.

Pipeliner CRM

On a smaller scale, we can take a look at what we have done for Pipeliner CRM. We have an overall plan or strategy, which is to be business-critical. The strategy is based on sound business principles, so nothing about it can be instantly replaced, as is the case with an app.

We developed a tool with which to do this, Pipeliner CRM. This is not simply an application, it is part of the foundation for our platform.

We have written about 90 ebooks designed to help businesses in many areas, and posted countless helpful blogs by ourselves and others. We are also putting into place an online sales academy called the Knowledge Factory which will be launched soon.

All of these things are parts of the overall strategy.


In addition to those willing to step up and make a dream come true, in the overall society we’re also losing investors who would commit to the long-term. Such investors were certainly involved back in the beginning of one of the cathedrals we discussed above—people who knew they would not even live to see the end result. But today many investors don’t even want to commit for a few years.

At Pipeliner, we have been very fortunate. As the founder and CEO I am committed for the long term, our investors have committed for the long term, and my primary staff have certainly made that commitment—some have already been with me for 10 years and longer.

Take Your Time and Do It Right

While we certainly don’t want to take centuries to build a business today, it does need to be done correctly and stably. Stable, steady growth over time, into a successful future, beats a near-vertical explosion and burn-out every time.

Like us, if you’re traveling such a path, you may see other companies around you, maybe even competitors, growing at 1,000 percent. You may wonder if you’re on the wrong team. Trust me, if you’re building a company with solid, long term fundamentals as its foundation, then you are not!

The critics might answer with, “Well, that’s easy to say. You’re just making that up so you won’t be under pressure to deliver now.” But the reality is that we are delivering now, through our product and through our publications. We’ve grown by 100% each year, for the last 4 years.

And we’ll still be here, growing exponentially, when most or all of the overnight sensations are long gone.

You should be, too.

Pipeliner CRM is designed to guide your sales team through the long term. Download it today.

Learning from Failure: Trying to Grow Too Fast

Learning from Failure: Trying to Grow Too Fast

For some, failure can mean the end of the road on some activity, venture or goal. But that is only true if you give up and just stop. For me—and for many others like me—failure in some area can act as a valuable learning experience that further enables success. This new series of blogs illustrates, with my own experience and observation, how learning from failure is possible.

Instant Gratification

Many places you look today, you see examples of the demand for instant gratification. People want things without taking the time to cultivate them. They want the payoff without having to build anything first. They want to grow things fast so they can get the results now, now, now.

A prime example is today’s industrial agriculture: corn, tomatoes and other crops are grown in record time, to big sizes. Nutrition and flavor quality come in a distant second to getting the crops fully grown, picked, and to market in record time.

If you go and buy a tomato in the supermarket today, you’ll notice that its flavor is pretty bland. Now go to a farmer’s market and purchase an organically grown heirloom tomato—and the difference in flavor will astound you. You’ll most likely exclaim, “That’s what a tomato should taste like!” You’ll also find, if you analyze them, that they’re far more nutritious than average supermarket tomatoes. But they took longer to grow, and they’re certainly not as big as some of their industrial counterparts.

Lessons from Nature

How fast do things naturally grow? Have you ever seen a child instantly grow up? Or an animal, or even a plant?

Right at this moment my family is getting a dog. The breeder gave us very explicit instructions to only feed the puppy the diet prescribed by the breeder, otherwise the dog will grow too fast and it won’t have healthy bones.

The very universe in which we live took billions of years. The petroleum that we so carelessly take from the ground and use up, took millions of years to arrive in its current state.

No…these things take time. And it’s a lesson we should learn well.

In Economy as In Nature

When we move out of nature and into business and economy, we learn the same lesson. We see now, especially with VC-funded startups, people thinking that if you throw enough money at something, it will grow.

It’s a total falsehood. All the money in the world won’t substitute for proper staff training and putting the proper infrastructure in place. Without such actions, even with endless funding an organization will collapse.

It’s very much the same as nature: things grown too fast have weak points. Just as the dog grown too fast will not have healthy bones, a company grown too fast won’t have a healthy structure.

My Own Sales Team Lesson

I’ve certainly learned this lesson firsthand. When I brought my company to America from Austria, I was strongly advised that since the company was now online, leads were being created in countries all over the world. I should have sales reps in those countries to follow them up. I immediately hired salaried salespeople in four countries where we were getting the most leads.

Over the next 6 months, we made few to no sales in those countries—certainly not nearly enough business to justify the cost of paying the reps.

Fortunately we realized our mistake before too long, and put those reps on commission only. But where did we really go wrong?

First, I assumed that the reps we were bringing on were entrepreneurial, and would forge a market for themselves in their territories. But it turned out that they were not, and were also not self-responsible enough to figure out what they needed to do and get going.

But the real problem was this: we hadn’t yet figured out what it took to bring a salesperson onboard for our product and company. We hadn’t figured it out for the US locally, let alone for foreign markets remotely. Therefore we didn’t know how to manage even a local rep. How could we then manage a rep thousands or even tens of thousands of miles away? It was the missing infrastructure we talked about above.

Now we know. Once we fully figure out onboarding for ourselves here in America, and have really made it work, then it makes sense to move out into other countries. We’ve only now arrived at the point where sales is really working here, and can now do that.

The Takeaway

Of course in business we want to do things as fast as possible—that has always been true and will always be true.

But no matter how “fast” you go, you must take the time to do it right. As tempting as it is, growing too fast is dangerous. You only have so many hours in a day, and so many personnel. The work needs to actually be done, and the personnel need care, training and mentoring.

Lesson learned: Grow at the speed that makes the most sense for your company, and ensure your infrastructure is there before you try and go global!

For more on growing and managing a sales team, download our free ebook The Vital Essentials of Building a Sales Team.

Pipeliner CRM is the sales tool that grows along with your company, and is with you every step of the way. Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.


The Many Views of Pipeliner CRM

The Many Views of Pipeliner CRM

We discovered long ago that when it comes to CRM, it really matters how data is viewed. That is why Pipeliner CRM has, from the beginning, been developed to be the most visual CRM on the market. It is instant intelligence, visualized.

But no 2 companies are alike–and neither is no 2 salespeople or sales managers alike. That is why we offer a multitude of views of your CRM data.

Filter Views

Pipeliner offers you many ways to visualize and instantly filter data so that you can have the precise view you need. Filter options allow you to filter and view tasks based on any field. Views that will be regularly used can be saved.

Pipeline View

Pipeliner’s Pipeline View is a graphical representation of your sales process. From left to right, opportunities are shown within the sales process stages in which they currently reside. You can hover over them or click on them for further detail.

The Pipeline View also applies to Pipeliner CRM’s unique Archive, where lost deals are stored complete with all data.

Bubble Chart View

Another very useful view of opportunities is our Bubble Chart View. This view is a 3D map of opportunities which include 3 crucial dimensions: the sales process stage in which the deal resides, the estimated close date and the deal size.

Compact View

With Pipeliner’s Compact View you can, at a glance, view the last time a prospect was touched, the sales opportunities that involve them, and activity from their running feed (latest internal messages, social CRM updates or emails).

Compact View can be applied to opportunities, leads, accounts, contacts, and opportunities within the archive.

Card View

Pipeliner’s Card View is the large, detailed view of a lead, account, or contact, showing all relevant data.

List View

With our list view, you can see your leads, opportunities, accounts, contacts or opportunities with the archive in a column/row format, totally customizable for your particular needs.

If you haven’t done so, experience Pipeliner CRM’s many views for yourself.  Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.

Pipeline Projections on CRM: A Godsend for Sales Management

Pipeline Projections on CRM: A Godsend for Sales Management

Sales management is a tough job, but it’s even tougher when your forecasting is done ‘blindfolded,’ using only a spreadsheet, when not using your CRM system properly, or when you have a CRM system without the best forecasting capability.

As an interim sales manager, one of the first things I do, aside from boosting the qualified sales lead count, is get control of the forecast to understand exactly where I am. To get control:

  1. I review the pipeline and look at dates, to see how long deals have been in the pipeline. If salespeople aren’t making quota and they have a large, aging pipeline, the reps and entries have to be cleaned up.  The pipeline at this stage is artificially inflated and that hurts everyone.
  2. Next I pull a report looking for The Big Three:
    1. This Month? What is forecasted to close this month?
    2. Next month?
    3. In a three-month window?
  3. In each window, I look for:
    1. The size of the pipeline vs. the sales required.
    2. The current month’s pipe to be 2-3x the sales required.
    3. Next month’s pipeline to be 3-4x sales required.
    4. The three-month window to be 4-6x sales required.
  4. I look at the future pipeline:
    1. I want to see if there is a predictable slow curve downward, indicating future deals, or is there an abrupt decline? An abrupt decline at nine months tells me the pipeline is weak and future revenue flow is in trouble.

At this point I’m building a roadmap of increasing demand, cleaning up the forecast, and getting it real again. Everyone in the company wants the forecast to be accurate, but nobody wants to do what it takes to get it done. The salespeople resist reality because if the pipeline is too low they risk being fired or placed on probation. If this has been going on for six months, the sales manager is becoming a victim of the “Stockholm Syndrome,” and he or she is starting to echo the unfounded hopes of the salespeople. As someone once reminded me, “Hope is not a strategy.”

Why it’s important?

Clint Eastwood said it best in the movie Sudden Impact:

It’s just a matter of results. Everyone wants results but nobody wants to do what it takes to get it done.  

Getting a sales pipeline back to reality has the same issue.

I know it takes at least 30-60 days to start increasing the total lead level; qualifying leads take just as long, and there are fewer of them. It’s now a race because sales from the increase in leads won’t materialize for most companies for 3-6 months. This leaves me with my only short-term options:

  1. Sell more to current customers
  2. Increase the closing rate of what is in the pipeline

If the pipeline is in bad shape from the third month onward, I know the company needs a serious reality check. It took time to degrade to this situation and it will take as much time to climb out of it.  As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The only thing I’d add is to do it fast.

  1. Create as many qualified leads as fast as you can.
  2. Bring the pipeline into reality land as soon as possible.
  3. Recruit as many executives, sales managers, marketing managers and sales engineers as possible to assist the salespeople in scheduling as many face-to-face sales closing meetings as possible.
  4. Don’t be surprised if the pipeline gets worse before it gets better.
  5. Reduce spending, except for marketing, as it will take 6+ months to emerge.

Which brings me to the pipeline tool issue.

Without a proper tool for the salespeople to maintain and use for reports, the sales manager cannot have a firm grasp on forecast or the probability results. Make sure your CRM system can track:

  • A timeline view of the future by month, by rep, by product, etc. Most systems can do it; not all do it easily or visually enough. Yes, the C-level likes pretty charts. Charts communicate quickly to all C-level managers.
  • Track sales activities by rep: what is each doing with their time?
  • View the sales stages, and be sure there are filters to adjust the view based on your specific sales process stages.

Successful sales management within any type of complex organization with more than a few salespeople can’t manage sales without a forecasting tool in their CRM system. Unfortunately, I have seen CRM systems in place where sales managers still rely on Excel.

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