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As a successful sales manager you must differentiate between your sales pipeline review meeting and sales forecasting meeting. These meetings are different and serve two different purposes.

Though they are both meant as a way for sales managers to monitor sales, key leading indicators, and strategy, and to coach reps – they each have a distinct focus and objective.

The Pipeline Review takes place in the beginning and middle of each month and is focused on the Top of the Sales Funnel and success in the future sales period, while the Sales Forecasting Meeting reviews Middle of the Sales Funnel opportunities in the current selling period.

Here’s how to differentiate:

Bi-Monthly Pipeline Review Meeting

When: Every two weeks—once in the first few days of the month and one mid-month.
Who: Sales Manager, Sales Development Reps, Inside Sales Reps.
What: Review the top of the sales funnel or early stage pipeline for the future selling period.
Why: To ensure the sales reps have sufficient early stage pipeline to achieve sales goals in the next month or quarter.

Details: In this meeting, focus on top of the funnel opportunities: on the first stage or few stages of the sales funnel – opportunities in the pipeline that are projected to close outside of the current period. Your reps need to build their pipeline for the future to ensure their (and your organization’s) success.  You need to have enough leads and opportunities that will make it down to the last few opportunity stages in your sales funnelthe very opportunities that will move down to later stages and the ones that you will ultimately end up discussing in the future period’s Forecasting Meeting.

In your meeting at the start of the month, the focus should be on ensuring that sales reps start the month with accurate data in their pipeline. The second pipeline review meeting should focus increasingly on the next selling period and you should coach reps on purging their pipeline and strategy for next month. To get more sophisticated in your assessment, understand the sales cycle by Won/Lost for individual sales reps and what a “buyer” sales cycle looks like (by stage) versus a lost opp sales cycle.

Two of your key metrics that you should evaluate in your Pipeline Review meeting are: a) how much in $ and b) how many in # of opportunities each of your reps has in his or her pipeline – here is a chart to demonstrate this example:

Pipeline Management in InsightSquared

Lastly, review your pipeline history to see what’s changed from the previous selling period and how sales reps’ pipelines have evolved over time. This helps you understand whether your sales reps’ effort are resulting in pipeline growth (and success in the next selling period). Pipeline history chart also allows the sales manager to see at which stages the pipeline has trended well over time.  Here is an example of a historical pipeline chart:

Pipeline Management in InsightSquared

The best sales managers not only look at pipeline history but analyze their actual pipeline: deal ratios, instead of using the proverbial 3:1 ratio. Pipeline:deal ratios can be applied at the organization and individual salesperson level. It makes no sense to apply an average ratio like 3:1 as a one-size-fits-all approach. During the Pipeline Review meeting, sales managers must gauge if the rep is going in the right direction to get the necessary momentum and whether the rep will have the pipeline to deal ratio to succeed in the next sales period.

Weekly Sales Forecasting Meeting

When: Weekly, typically each Monday morning.
Who: Sales Manager, VP of Sales, Inside Sales Reps.
What: Middle to bottom of the sales funnel or later stage deals that are far along in the pipeline.
Why: To accurately assess the present reporting period and coach reps to close forecasted deals and to purge stagnant pipeline.

Details: This meeting should focus on accurately forecasting the deals that will close this month (and during the current reporting period – this quarter).  During this meeting, you should inspect each deal to understand whether it has a good probability of landing during this sales cycle.  You should also understand what the total forecast is for the current period, what has changed from before, what strategies to use to close forecasted deals and what the sales rep will be able to backfill any deals that are not going to close to achieve the quota. Inspect the opportunities that had no activity over the past two weeks but are forecasted to close in the current selling period – unless you know your sales cycle is traditionally longer than most, these are stalled and thus the rep should be coached to purge them, moving them to the next selling cycle. Unlike the Pipeline Review meeting, the Sales Forecasting meeting is not meant to help with the future and is only about helping the rep succeed in the present selling period.

Successful sales managers go beyond estimating how likely an opportunity is to close in a stage — they make it a point to understand their historical win rate in each sales stage (for the entire company and by each individual rep). Then they use these historical sales stage conversions to create a metrics-driven forecast rather — a forecast that is based on “pipeline stages” rather than traditional “forecasting stages”. Here is an example of such a metrics-driven forecast, what we call Smart Forecast TM,  that many successful sales managers use to discuss projected opportunities during their weekly Sales Forecasting Meetings:

Sales Forecasting in InsightSquared

So Why Separate the Two?

Sales Managers, VPs, and CEOs need visibility into the present selling period, and the future health of the business, but these two aspects of managing revenue need to be dealt with separately and with full attention to each area individually because their aims are strategically different but equally critical to your business. Use your Sales Forecasting meeting to look at how accurate your projections are and how you can help coach reps to the finish line on their middle of the funnel opportunities, and Pipeline Review meetings to go through the top of the funnel and ensure that there are enough good early stage opportunities  to make your next month or quarter as successful as the current. Do you conduct your meetings together, or focus on each separately?

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