Building on the sales pipeline post from last week, a pipeline is about understanding the state of sales. Providing a structure to the sales process enables a team to assess key sales metrics (read: “performance”).

A few metrics to track once an opportunity is created:

  • Close win/ loss rate – what is the ratio of opportunities that are won/ loss
  • Sales stage aging – how long are opportunities in sales stages
  • Close rate by prospect source – based on how the prospect became a lead and then an opportunity, what is the ratio of opportunities that are won
  • Sales cycle time – how long does it take to close opportunities
  • # of close date moves – that is, how often are close dates adjusted for opportunities? This can reflect poor sales forecasts
  • Total win amounts – simply, how much money is generated
  • Conversion rates at every stage – how often are opportunities moving beyond the first stage? Second stage? Etc.

The above sales metrics can further be grouped or aggregated on finer details including:

  • By sales professional – which sales professionals are closing more, less
  • By date(s) – aggregated by months, weeks, quarters, etc.
  • Other standard or custom attributes of opportunities and accounts –fields beyond the above including opportunity size, opportunity creation, account size, account geography, or other custom fields on the opportunity or account level

Then, if data is captured well, a sales leader can go deeper by understanding the activities involved…

  • How many meetings were completed to close a deal?
  • How many people were involved in the sales process? Buying process?
  • How well do customers continue buying services/ products later? That is, understand the renewal rates, cross-sells, and up-sells

There are many sales metrics available once a structure is created and data is gathered. The important element of metrics is keeping them focused and driving action. Consider all the sales metrics mentioned above are gathered. Are there specific areas that need attention this month? Are there specific sales pods or professionals who need more coaching? Stay focused, and have your data inform how to achieve better performance.

Tags: sales, metrics, sales leaders, pipeline

I’ve built several sales pipelines from scratch over the years. They should be fairly straight forward to assemble, especially, for many SaaS companies today. But there are a few key elements that should be remembered when building a pipeline (“sales structure”) as well as refining a pipeline — the stages of a sale.

Purpose of the Pipeline

To start, a sales pipeline serves three primary purposes:

  • Provides a measurable means of all expected sales opportunities.
  • Enables a sales team to follow the appropriate activities to help guide buyers through a sales cycle.
  • Provides a repeatable process to understand the engagement and status of a sales opportunity.

Typical Sales Pipeline

  • Qualified. This first stage typically follows some prospecting activities (marketing, sales development outreach, other) where initial contact with a prospect signals a qualified opportunity. “Qualified” here includes the right signals for continued sales activity such as the right tech stack, target company size, etc.
  • Discovery. The second stage of a typical SaaS sales cycle includes a deeper dive into the pain points of the prospect and how the product or service being sold can meet the goals of the prospect.
  • Evaluation. This stage can vary a good bit depending on product/ service, size of the sale, etc. Here, a prospect may need to involve more stakeholders in the buying process. This stage may also include a demo, trial, or proof of concept period.
  • Proposal. For many companies, this stage represents an 80% chance of closing (win). Here, the buyer knows the cost(s) and terms of the solution. The buyer understands timing and implementation. It’s here where a seller may send a formal proposal or simply a payment link.
  • Close. The penultimate stage of the sales cycle which would include both Close Won and Close Lost deals. Some companies may mark this stage when there is first receipt of a signed proposal or payment.

What to Watch Out For

  • Building the sales stages in silo — without the input of the team.
  • Building the sales stages without considering the buying process of prospects. Bottom line: prospects determine a lot about the speed and constituents involved to make a purchase.
  • The sales stages should be activity driven on both the sales and buyer sides. The progression into a sales stage (and exit) should be based on the activities involved.
  • Sales stages should be not be overly complicated or sales members will not update the pipeline, and thus, will not yield the insights to assess performance. Of course, too simplistic and the pipeline fails to identify areas for improvement or insight.


I discovered my dryer was broke last week – wasn’t heating. I called a local repair service that I had used before for a refrigerator before. While the technician – I’ll call him John – was working on the dryer, we just started talking about business. Turns out he’s one of the owners of the company. He and I batted back and forth thoughts on sales, where he sees opportunities and challenges for his profession, and how he achieves success.

Thoughts on Sales and Business

John started the repair teaching me about my dryer – the do’s and don’t’s. He walked through what he was testing and why. He was teaching me because I took apart some of the dryer before he arrived. I tried to diagnose the problem myself but found myself lacking.
As we talked about the dryer, he asked me what I do – sales. He asked me a lot of questions about sales and why I found it both challenging and rewarding. After a few more probing questions, I asked him his interest. John shared how he viewed sales as an “everyone has to do it” thing. He realizes the most important aspect of sales is building trust. He talks about how he often does not ask for a sale, but find people “buying” his services. Customers want to buy from him. He builds trust with customers. It’s what he was doing with me early on by teaching me about the dryer – establishing credibility. He established more trust while knowing I’d still need help to fix appliances anyways. Read: I’d be a customer again.

Where John Sees Great Opportunity

John feels most technicians, especially those working for big companies, work for a stable hourly wage. But the good technicians want commissions. These are the ones who know that if they deliver for customers, they’ll get repeat customers – earn more money. For John, he sees the opportunity for technicians who have the soft skills knowing technicians are the foot soldier sales force, not back-office staff. Technicians interface directly with customers.
Technical education is where John sees the greatest opportunities. John says local colleges and high schools have done away with many of the basic electrician courses, focusing instead on services. Now, there’s a dearth of capable technicians who can truly troubleshoot, and not just “part changers”. Adding to the problem are larger companies who do not offer proper training to technicians (hard and soft skills).
Being a technician is “recession proof”, he says. People still need to wash clothes. They still need refrigerated foods. People still need HVAC during recessions. He feels this is an area he’s poised to continue to succeed, but where other can step into looking for good job opportunities.

How John Succeeds

John enjoyed talking about business. He’s an avid listener to podcasts like Zig Ziglar’s to help him as a business owner. Since his job takes him across the city at times, John listens to business podcasts daily.
He’s a constant student. He cites his interest and passion for learning about electricity. In the past, in school, he did not apply himself or care much for different school subjects because they weren’t applicable to him. But when John started changing the context of geometry or science into terms he enjoyed like electricity or appliances – everyday objects – he started to absorb material faster and better. 
He credits his success to always learning. It’s one of the reasons why John schedules at least an hour a week – something doable – towards reflection and planning. He calls his Sunday his “ritual” day. He sets this time aside and turns off his electronics to focus on learning – developing “mastery” of his craft and improving his business.
There are entrepreneurs everywhere. They’re not always the internet stars in Silicon Valley. Most are the small business owners striving to build a life for themselves and their families – those pushing themselves.
Setting aside time for a dryer repair became so much more than just a repair. It was a networking opportunity and learning experience. It was an opportunity to meet a Stranger and be empathetic.
Finally, I wrapped up Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. I was recommended the book years ago to better understand psychology. Understanding psychology has many benefits for entrepreneurs, sellers, marketers, and others – better understand people improves interactions within teams, with customers, and even provide hypotheses for product direction.
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow
Let me start off with: this is a dense book. The paperback copy spans 499 pages. It’s both conceptual and technical. I’ll likely need to read this book multiple times to truly appreciate its depth. As it stands, I feel the book could have (should have) been split into multiple books with the latter half diving very deep into sampling (sizes).
The two concepts I took away most from the book:
  • System 1 vs. System 2. This is the most renowned principle of the book – the systems that think “fast” and “slow”. System 1 is the mind’s reactionary processes. System 1 relies on heuristics such as recency (a recent event prejudicing the current situation), anchoring (think about the first number thrown in a negotiation), and others. System 2 is a more deliberate, limited-resourced process of the mind. Solving a math problem like 34×27 being an example. It requires a slower, deliberate thought process.
  • Sample sizes. Especially the latter half of the book, Kahneman makes several points about understanding sample sizes when deliberating biases, results, and even research (psychologists and economists most notably studied). Too often, statements or actions are based on limited sample sizes (read: not statistically significant). Instead, they are influenced solely by “what you see is all there is”.

There’s a lot more covered in the book. I am limiting the concepts here in these two broad concepts because they’re absolutely key to my take-aways. But also, there was so much discussed in this book that sticking to the highlights help influence change.

And what’s the change? Kahneman consistently reminded the reader that the research he and his former partner Amos was applicable to everyone. Though the situations hypothesized often drew criticism or defensiveness from others (readers included), the findings were widely accurate for readers – myself, included. The change then becomes more self-awareness of the fast thinking that occurs, and the necessity to slow down, when more scrupulous attention is needed.
System 2 is a limited resource. It was not hard to realize in my own life how often my System 1 jumped into action to save even just seconds of System 2 “work”. It’s true. Viewing optical illusions within the book or even evaluating double-digit multiplication, my System 2 was lazy. It was easy for my System 1 to take a quick glance and draw a conclusion (usually incorrect as was designed to throw me off) or even renege completely on the problem in front of me. It’s shocking.
I can couple this thinking and need to slow down with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of my greatest challenges is slowing down and stop being immediately reactionary (read: impulsive). Perhaps because of recent events with people and challenges, it’s no wonder being more mindful is one of my main take-aways.
The book is great. It reinforces (or rather, puts a foundational view on) many other literature I’ve read recently including Dale Carnegie’s book as well as Never Split the Difference and others. Helpful to set that foundation. Though, the book is quite long, and half-way through, I wanted to skip to my next book with more actionable tactics. Choices, choices… need some time to slow down and think about this. J

Recently, I was reading an article in IndieHackers where a member sent out a landing page for an idea hoping to lean on sign-ups as a proxy for interest. With good interest, he would continue to chase the idea. However, he didn’t receive any sign-ups or feedback. He was stuck and was looking for feedback. One commenter pointed out the 90/9/1rule of contributors.
  • 90% of the web is made of consumers (“lurkers”).
  • 9% will contribute occasionally, not often.
  • 1% contribute to most of the web. This can apply to social networks, sign-ups, etc.

There are many ratios that have developed over time in business. These are not hard-fast rules. Instead, they are general observations much like the golden ratio in nature or pi. Here are a few other rules.

  • 80/20where 20% of “xyz” contributes to 80% of some result. In consulting, I used to find ~20% of product SKUs contributed to 80% of the company revenue.
  • 10/10/100from a sales leader panel about terminating a sales associate for poor performance/ poor fit. As a sales leader, you’re only aware of 10% of the whole problem. The fear of addressing the problem is 10 times the reality. And these problems are typically solved 100 days late.
  • 10xis commonly referred to as the net benefit needed for a prospect to switch to a new solution as a “must-have”. A venture capitalist (VC) once told me you have to be at least 5x better/ improvement to even be remotely considered.

What are some other ratios you’ve heard of? (Outside of financial ratios.)

There’s a Greek parable I heard recently from a VP of Sales about the Hedgehog Concept. The parable goes, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

In essence, the fox uses his cunning to pounce, sneak upon, play, etc. to attack the hedgehog. However, the hedgehog needs only do one thing and do it well – defend itself. Against the cunning fox, the hedgehog simply rolls into a ball with its spines pointed outward in all directions.
Jim Collins, author of From Good to Great, took the parable and related it to organizations. He suggests companies should find the one thing they’re good at to beat competitors. There are three factors to consider what a company is good — illustrated below.
Copyright © 2001 Jim Collins. Originally published in the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t.” Image source: 
The VP of Sales I spoke with goes on to share how his sales organization must also be the fox. I couldn’t agree more in today’s age where companies are rising from every corner of the internet. In fact, Chief Martec posted last year its annual Marketing Technology Landscape. They mapped almost 4,900 companies. This is a significantgrowth from the 2012 landscape of roughly 150 companies.
Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, May 2017. Image source:
The environment for startups is both exciting as well as daunting. Great startups must do one thing well to survive. Really, they must do one thing well to earn customers. But as they compete against the budgets of their much larger counterparts, startups must also be cunning and use their agility to outmaneuver larger companies.
To that point, people must also think about their own abilities as a hedgehog and as a fox. How are folks surviving and growing beyond themselves and their counterparts?
Consider your now… like a hedgehog, what is the one thing you are truly great at? How are you (or can you be) cunning like a fox?

Just finished Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference. Chris was a 25-year veteran of the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit where he honed his skills in negotiation. In contrast to business school education of negotiation, Chris’ experience was cultivated in real-practice. Though his experience was incredibly serious (negotiations were over lives), he realized his ability to effectively negotiate in most every situation including business.
In contrast to teachings from other negotiation books like Getting to Yes, Chris realized that for him, there could not be a win-win situation. He could not “split the difference” with hostage takers – “I’ll take two hostages, you take the other two”. It was about life or death.
The crux of Chris’ learning and the foundation of the book is being able to separate the emotional side of a person vs. the logical. In this way, Chris could leverage his preparation to shake up the other party, and cause the other party to reveal their intentions. This enabled Chris to influence the negotiation so the other party was moving towards Chris’ goals seemingly on his/ her own.
Lots of take-aways here:
  • Controlling emotions is critical. In negotiations, it’s easy to get personally and emotionally involved. However, this is where rationality can be lost. Exude confidence and calmness to influence the other party.
  • Preparation is key. In every negotiation, it is best to be well informed on the goals of the negotiator, and what are the potential goals of the other. Prepare understanding the other person’s interests – be empathetic.
  • Chris mentions how “black swans” can be important in influencing a negotiation – some outside insight that can change the game. Listen to context clues of the other’s intentions that can reveal clues as to the motivations. These can be financial trouble that is not known at the beginning, etc.
  • Mirror – this isn’t just about mannerisms and behavior. Instead, Chris highlights the effect of repeating the 3 (or so) most important words someone says – in a calm tone with a slight upward inflection like forming a question. This buys the negotiator time to think about a response, but also gives the other party to reveal more data points.
  • Analysts vs. accommodators vs. assertive. These are the three broad types of negotiators. Analysts need time to think about a situation. Rushing them will cause them to push back. Accommodators are collaborative but can also give up more interests to reach an agreement. Assertive negotiators ask less questions; instead, they choose to tell. For assertive negotiators, they need to be heard first before hearing the other.
  • A few questions that help buy time, but also thrusts the onus on the other party to help come up with a resolution (thus, get buy-in later): “How am I supposed to do that?”  “Your offer is very generous. I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me”.
  • Chris offers this one line as a means to get a response via email: “Have you given up on this project?” Many reasons for why/ how this works including its directness in causing the recipient to think about loss aversion. This can be a very incredibly uncomfortable email, and though I think it could work, it could work in a detrimental way without some edits.
  • Label feelings with “It sounds like…”, “It seems like…” to get the other person to confirm and to speak more and reveal more information.
  • “You’re right” vs. “That’s right”. There’s a difference when the other party responds one of these ways. “You’re right”, typically, is the response the other party is just trying to move on. They don’t actually agree. “That’s right”, however, signals an agreement in what the other says. “That’s right” signals the negotiator is on the right-track. Chris asks questions and labels feels to get the other party to suggest solutions, and then, repeats these solutions to get the buy-in from the other party.
  • Use exactness and precision in negotiations to seem like it’s calculated with reason. For example, telling the other party you can only $477.65 seems too precise to be made up vs. $500.
  • Let other party feel like they’re in control by asking a question looking for a “no” (i.e. is now a bad time to talk?” Let them feel comfortable and in control knowing they said no.
  • To turn around objections, consider questions like, “what about this doesn’t work for you?” “what would you need to make this work?”
  • Anchor emotions to the worst case at the beginning, then ask if there’s anything else. (For example, “you probably feel that I want to gouge you of all your money. You might even think that I just want to kick you out of the apartment to make more money from someone else. Am I missing something else?”) Let the other party consider the worst-case scenario before you pitch a not-as-bad scenario.
  • Coupled with using specificity (not round numbers) in a negotiation, offer another concession that you don’t care much about – the “gift”. This has the perception that you really have nothing else to offer.
  • Rule of 3 – the idea is to get the other party to agree to some statement or commitment three times. It’s hard for folks to lie 3 times. Use this to get past seemingly non-committal responses.
  • 7-38-55… ratios of what is communicated. 7% is the words actually being said. 38% is the ton of voice. 55% is the body language including facial expressions. You get so much more by meeting in person – body language.

There are some real good tips in here from Chris, and lots of good take-aways for a sales guy (anyone, since we’re all negotiating something sometime). In hostage negotiation, there are limited options/ alternatives. In sales and business, there are usually other alternatives (best alternative to a negotiating agreement (BATNA)). As such, there are situations where win-win situations is the only way deals can be made. Looking for the only win can be short-sighted.

However, again, there are great take-aways here applicable in many situations. There’s a reason why selling solutions to pains works – there’s an emotional component to pain. Practice and know how to employ Chris’ teachings.
What are you good at?
If you listed 5 or more “talents” or “skills”, try again. What are you really good at? If you listed 3, try again. If someone was to remember you for this, what would that be? Did you say one thing, yet?
Think about someone you know. What’s s/he good at? Who else could you say is also good at that?
Now, what are you really good at? What distinguishes you from someone else who is good in something similar? What differentiates you from the 100’s, 1000’s of others who could be similar?
Can you tell anyone in the world what you’re good at simply and curtly? If you spend more than 15 seconds, try again.
This isn’t just practice. This is your brand. This is your strategy. Think about this for your business. Why should anyone care about you? Why should anyone buy from you? What will you do for the buyer?
Let’s try again: what are you good at?
Target persona is a marketer’s depiction of the profile of a single target consumer. Typically, persona includes the demographic profile of an individual. It may also include the motivations of the individual. For Body Boss, target personas included high school football coaches, collegiate strength and conditioning coaches, collegiate football coaches, professional baseball coaches, etc. Understanding the internal narrative of any persona could be the difference between making a genuine connection (and sale) or being swept aside with the rest of spam.
Google “internal narrative”, and you are left with how to write one, change one, or mixed in with “internal monologue”. My back-of-the-napkin definition is “personal story”.
Marrying the idea of internal narrative with persona would be a crude way of applying something specific and powerful to something otherwise abstract. Instead, internal narrative should be applied to the exact person being engaged with (in sales) – highlight “internal” as how she tells her story.
Persona-wise, I am a 30-year-old male sales and marketing leader at a startup. (There’s more, but let’s leave it at that.)
My internal narrative dives much deeper into who I am. I am highly ambitious with strong entrepreneurial ambitions. My role at SalesWise is to lead and learn. This will help me in the next phase of my career. I care about leveraging technology to further my team and company’s capabilities. With my company and team’s success, so will my own success.
My internal narrative is attuned to my goals, character, risk tolerance, etc. For a sales professional to effectively engage with me, s/he must go beyond my persona and understand my internal narrative – trigger a deeper truth and purpose.
Understand the difference between persona and internal narrative. Apply each accordingly.
In keeping with my theme of sales books this year, I read David Sandler’s You Can’t Teach A Kid To Ride A Bike At A Seminar. Sandler is also the founder of the sales training company with hundreds of franchise locations across the world – Sandler Sales Institute.
I was recommended this book from a former Sandler sales trainer as one of the preeminent books on sales like SPIN Selling and The Challenger Sale. It was one of the first books to break down the complex sales process, and was written to heavily qualify sales opportunities. The gist, like SPIN, was to get the prospect to qualify themselves and want to buy vs. the sales rep selling.
I admit this wasn’t my favorite sales book. It wouldn’t be in my top “self-help” books. However, I think I need to re-read the book to better understand the pieces of the book. As it stands, I was thrown off by the many self-promotions of the book and its clear lead for the Sandler Training courses.
All that being said, here were my top take-aways:
  • Sandler goes into depth and length into teaching the reader to separate the Identity and Role of a person (I/R). Sandler recognizes the difficulty of sales and “close” rates such that results can be de-motivating. He wants readers to recognize that sales not who a person is – trying to separate who someone is with what needs to be done. Thus, sales can be coached and improved.
  • Monkey’s fist is a sales concept borrowed from marine life – instead of tossing a heavy rope to tie up a boat, shipmen will toss over a lighter “monkey’s fist” that is tied to the heavier rope. This allows a reciver on a dock to easily catch the fist and reel in the heavy rope. This concept is used in sales as a means to easy a prospect into a sale rather than going full bore into a sale.
  • Buyers buy when they feel OK. This can be counter to aspects of The Challenger Sale where a Challenger teaches/ challenges a prospect. In many ways, this can put prospects off. Sandler points out that buyers want to feel “OK”. If they don’t feel OK, then they will be defensive and not in a receptive position to listen to you.
  • Mitigate buyer’s remorse when a prospect may back out at the last second, or cancel an order shortly after buying. In this case, Sandler offers tips to slow down the sales cycle by offering a recap of what the buyer is looking for, how the product/ service enables the prospect, and confronting any “negative” feelings head-on. Sandler highlights the importance to follow up with prospects to make sure they want what is being bought. This is another area where reverse psychology can play a role making the buyer talk him/ herself into completing the buy and being happy with the decision.
  • Using an upfront contract throughout the sales cycle helps the prospect agree on nexdt steps prior to any step is truly taken. This enables prospects to more likely move forward with a sale – “advance”.

As I said, this was not one of my favorite sales books. It is indeed packed with good sales information. However, it was not the more engaging reads while the breadth of the book was a lot to absorb.