Inaccurate Sales Pipeline Data: Get Out of the Cave

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A dim, dank cave would be no place for a business. You couldn’t see anything clearly or find what you needed. Employees would be forced to store valuable company data in a haphazard fashion underneath rocks and pasted to walls. Customers would come in and become quite lost, with no clear path to follow, and staff wouldn’t know where to send them anyway.

No businessperson would operate a business in a cave. Yet even in a brightly lit office with neatly arranged cubicles, if you’re operating with inaccurate pipeline data, you’re in a cave.

The Dire Consequences of a Murky Pipeline

Many businesses operating with inaccurate pipeline data don’t often see all of its ramifications. This is for very good reason—the lack of pipeline clarity is preventing them from seeing it. But here are just a few of its disastrous effects:

For Sales Management: The sales manager never has a handle on the exact state of sales. They have to constantly check up with reps on each sale’s progress, wasting time and keeping them from doing the most essential part of their job—coaching and mentoring reps.

For Corporate Management: The C-suite looks to the sales manager to provide accurate sales forecasts. Inaccurate pipeline data means forecasts will be as clear and as trustworthy as the depths of that cave — dark and uncertain.

For Salespeople: Because sales management is uncertain about the statuses of sales cycles, they’re constantly harassing reps for updates—in person, during lengthy sales meetings, and in phone calls and emails. How much time is being wasted on these updates—time that would be much better spent actually selling?

Inaccurate pipeline data has the same effect on a salesperson that it does on the sales manager; the salesperson doesn’t know where all their sales cycles stand, either. They miss appointments, forget return phone calls, and lack vital details. Since a sales rep’s income rides on the accuracy of pipeline data, inaccurate data is also a prime source of anxiety and ulcers.

Inaccurate pipeline data also means that the team can’t function as a whole, or in partnership.

How Did You Get Stuck in This Cave in the First Place?

Inaccurate pipeline data comes about in several ways.

Careless, Over-Optimistic, or Downright Untruthful Entries

One way inaccurate data thrives is through carelessness. The person entering the data doesn’t see the value in the data, so just doesn’t care enough to enter it correctly.

Why doesn’t the sales rep see the value? Because they can’t use the data to rapidly and readily track their own sales. Entering data into CRM is just an extra chore for them, for which they see no return. They’re keeping track of vital sales data in their own solutions such as spreadsheets and notes. Those solutions have widely varying levels of accuracy also, so they’re not the greatest solutions, either.

Another common reason for inaccurate pipeline data is a rep trying to make their sales situation look better than it actually is; exaggerating, experiencing over-optimism, or even fabricating the truth. Sales have less chances of coming in than are shown. Tasks are shown as done that actually weren’t, or were only half-done. At worst, potential sales are shown that aren’t even potential sales. Conversely a salesperson might hold back data on a great sale, “sandbagging” it for the next sales period — thwarting the very accountability that a good CRM needs to insure.

Complexity Means Non-productivity

Most salespeople are well-intentioned, but the company’s CRM application is so complicated that salespeople just don’t understand it. They’re entering data as best they know how—but it’s not easy enough to see benefits.

Another side of the complex CRM syndrome is that salespeople are actually entering the data—but the system is so complex that sales managers and others concerned are never sure how to retrieve it.

What Happens When There’s No CRM Solution

If there isn’t a CRM solution in place, then reps are expected to enter data in a thrown-together solution such as a commonly shared spreadsheet. This is uniquely unhelpful, with no accountability and inconsistent data entry.

Acknowledge the Problem To Get Out of the Cave

To really illustrate the problem, a good starting point would be to simply ask each of the key players involved how much time would be saved—and how much more efficient would the operation be—if totally accurate pipeline data were consistently and readily available? And, how much more accurate would sales forecasts be?

Once the problem is perceived to be an actual problem, it of course now needs to be solved. We’ve realized we’re operating in a cave—now how do we get out of here

Firm Up Your Sales Process

If you have an uncertain, inexact sales process–or worse none at all–this is the first thing you need to solve. You’ll never get out of the cave without it. A great guide to doing so is our 12-Step Checklist to Help You Create Your Own Custom Sales Pipeline.

Find the Right CRM Solution

link them to the buyer’s guide, hopefully ready soon

Once you’ve fully worked out your sales process, step by step, you then need the right CRM solution. Maybe that’s an over-obvious answer—and it’s also a very general one. So let’s take a closer look: What characteristics would a CRM solution have to have in order for it to totally cure the problem of inaccurate pipeline data?

Before you go any further, just ask the people who use CRM and rely on it, giving salespeople and sales management top priority. Once you do so, you’ll probably find it must have the following qualities:

  • It would have to exactly mirror your company’s sales process. To the degree it doesn’t is the degree to which inaccurate data will continue to end up in your pipeline. If every single stage of the sales process isn’t reflected in CRM, where is information about the unshown stages supposed to go? Into the murky, dark depths elsewhere in the cave.

  • Not only must CRM mirror your sales process, it must be flexible. A sales process changes over time, as markets, products and sales methodologies change. Your CRM solution must be capable of changing as the sales process changes — or it becomes quickly outmoded. All vital data should have a place to serve its purpose.

  • The CRM presentation must be visual. Sales process stages, individual sales, sales rep pipelines and team pipelines must be available at a glance.

  • Sales reps must want to use it. It would of course have to be visual and easy to use, but there is a much more important point: salespeople would have to be able to obtain value from the CRM solution—much like your prospects and customers have to see value in your product before they buy. Sales reps need to easily track their own sales, readily see which tasks need to be accomplished, and see how they’re progressing on sales targets. When salespeople really see real value in a CRM solution, they tend to stop “sandbagging” or exaggerating data in it, because the data accuracy is to their advantage.

  • It should free up your sales managers from the endless task of chasing up numbers—for the sakes of both sales managers and sales reps. If CRM has all the qualities we’ve spoken of above, it will do that. Sales managers will suddenly have the time to attend to the highly important tasks of coaching and mentoring.

  • CRM must provide accurate forecasts. This can only be done if the data going into it is accurate—so sales forecasts will be as accurate as possible.

If you’ve been operating with inaccurate data in your pipeline, you may not be able to see just how much better it would be for sales and sales management if you weren’t. Once you actually get to the other side, however, and see the radical difference that consistently accurate data will make, you will take a permanent walk out of that cold, dark cave into the bright sun. And trust us, it will feel good.

Bruce Boyers

Staff Writer at Pipeliner CRM
Bruce is a freelance writer and a 20+-year marketing veteran. During his career he has worked very closely with salespeople, achieved an understanding of how they can best be assisted by marketing, and gained a keen insight into the innate and singular abilities they demonstrate day in and day out.

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