Could your growth rate be higher with better pipeline management? If you’re like most businesses, the answer is “yes.”
Companies with effective pipeline management saw a 15% increase in revenue growth according to a Harvard Business Review study. Even more staggering, that number increased to 28% when businesses could master three specific pipeline practices. Let’s explore those three areas as they relate to accounting firms.
Three Pipeline Management Practices
Clearly Define A Sales Process
Does your firm have a uniform sale process? If two different team members were asked to describe a qualified lead, would they have the same answer? Could they list the various stages of your sale process accurately?
A pipeline without a sales process can only do so much. There are a lot of reputable sales process out there. Some have as few as four steps while others have seven or more. One is not necessarily better than other, but your defined process should be applicable to the complex sales process accountants face.
They key is to find a process that works for you and then put everyone in the firm responsible for selling through the same training. When you are talking about where you are in the sales process on a pipeline review call, you are much more effective this way. People can provide better advice to one another. And it’s easier to align what you do next to what your sales process dictates. When someone speaks up and says they are in the qualifying stage, the evaluation stage or the presentation stage, everyone knows what that means and what it takes to get to the next stage.
Speaking the same lingo goes a long way to ensuring more wins. It also makes it easier for accountants, who aren’t salespeople naturally, to understand what they need to do to add leads to the pipeline and move them toward a close.
Spend Quality Time Each Month On Pipeline Management
Too many firms have pipelines without pipeline review meetings. This is a mistake. Scheduling a review meeting or call is where the magic happens!
Of course, a pipeline review itself won’t necessarily translate in to increased revenue growth. They need to be quality conversations. In many firms these pipeline meetings revert to people reporting out what they did. While it’s important to know what was done, that’s really only the foundation for what to do next. The majority of your time should be spent discussing next steps.
Next steps are discussed in a group for accountability, but also so everyone can share ideas, connections, success stories, etc. It takes a village, right? Well, group selling in accounting firms is often more effective than one person working a target list alone. If you assign a due date to that identified next step and follow-up to see that it was done, you’re adding in an extra layer of accountability that’s often needed.
The study showed that three hours a month dedicated toward pipeline management was most effective. In accounting firms, this probably translates into a pipeline review meeting every other week. The pipeline reviews themselves should be 30 minutes; larger firms may need 45 minutes and smaller only 20. In addition to the meetings, everyone needs to spend time adding leads to the pipeline and updating the status of their leads. High growth takes an investment of time.
Provide Pipeline Management Training
Pipeline management is a discipline. In corporate America, larger companies have sales managers who are responsible for working hand-in-hand with each sales person to address specific challenges that arise. These people are responsible for knowing what is needed in the pipeline to hit the company’s growth goals at any point in time. They need to know how to handle effective pipeline reviews and encourage participation.
In accounting firms, the best person to hold this sales management role is someone the other partners in the meeting are beholden to. This is often the managing partner. In larger firms it could be a VP, the head of a geographic area or a service-line leader. Appointing someone pipeline leader is leadership by title only. If you truly want them to be effective, they need to understand the pipeline review process and their role in it.
Coach this person on which target metrics are needed. For example, do you need 10% or 15% of current revenue in the pipeline at all times? Is a 45% win rate good or does it need to be higher? Should there be a minimum requirement for each person to have on the pipeline? And what should the pipeline leader do if a lead gets stuck in a “waiting for response” phase? Or what can be said when there is an objection to price?
You will not be as effective honing the skills of your partner group if the pipeline leader doesn’t have the training needed on pipeline management to be effective their role.
Don’t Aim For Perfect
As you read this, you may think you have lots of areas to improve to really see the large increases to revenue growth that other companies have. Don’t let that stop you from taking action. You don’t need a perfect process. You need a mindset that you can continuously improve your pipeline management process a little bit at a time until you’re operating at the highest levels of effectiveness.
Focus on getting leads on the pipeline to begin with and helping those pursing the leads to take the right next step in an appropriate timeline. Most importantly, understand when this may be outside your area of expertise. And, if you don’t have the resources to train internally, be willing to talk with any of the number of sales training companies out there.
Your revenue stream is critical to your growth. Manage your pipeline with the same level of focus you’d put on understanding the latest tax legislation passed. If you do this effectively, you will see stronger revenue growth.
About Katie Tolin
Katie Tolin is the president and chief growth guide at CPA Growth Guides. She’s a former in-house marketer having spent time at regional, super-regional and national accounting firms. Today she helps CPA firms drive top-line revenue and profitability through data-driven marketing strategies. She’s a past president of AAM, a former marketer of the year and was inducted into the Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame.