Pipeline Velocity: Why it matters and how to measure it

In the Guinness World Records there is the record for the fastest 100 meter hurdles wearing swim fins (Christopher Irmscher, Germany – 14.82 Seconds), fastest mile on spring loaded stilts (Ashrita Furman, USA – 7 minutes 13 seconds), and the fastest 100 meters with a can balanced on head, category—dog (Sweet Pea, Border Collie cross, USA – 2 minutes 55 seconds).

What this should tell you—apart from American dogs are winners—is that there is a lot of competition to be the fastest. We can’t all be Usain Bolt, nor Sweet Pea, but you can aspire to beat Christopher or Ashrita with a little bit of effort.

Within sales, moving plenty of high-value opportunities successfully through the pipeline is a record any sales VP would want. That speed is measured by pipeline velocity, a way for you to see exactly how you are succeeding in getting your prospects from one end of the funnel to the other.

By measuring this, not only will you be able to benchmark and track how well you’re doing, you’ll be able to guide changes to your sales process and coach to build a better, quicker-moving team.

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Measuring Pipeline Velocity

“I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.” — Isaac Asimov

First, we need to understand what speed, or velocity, is. Velocity, in the physics sense, is the rate of change of position with respect to time. In math, it looks like this:

If you go 60 miles in one hour, you’ve gone (drum roll please) 60 mph:

Pretty simple. Pipeline velocity takes this idea and applies it to sales:

Here the “position” is your sales position, comprised of:

  • The number of qualified opportunities in your pipeline
  • The overall win rate percentage for your sales team
  • The average deal size for your sales team

The “time” is the average duration of your sales cycle. Here you can see how that works with some numbers. If there are 100 opportunities available and your average win rate and deal size are 30% and $5,000, respectively, then your sales “position” is $150,000.

To determine your sales velocity you can divide this position by time taken, in this case a 45-day sales cycle.

Therefore, with these numbers, pipeline velocity = $3,333. This is essentially telling you that every day you have ~$3K coming through your pipeline.

What it doesn’t tell you is if that’s good or bad. Just as you don’t necessarily know a VW Beetle is slow until you put it up against a Tesla, you will not necessarily know whether your velocity is fast or slow until you benchmark against other sales teams.

However, internally you can use this number to track the rate of change of your velocity (effectively your pipeline acceleration) and its high and low points. What should be evident is that a change in any of the composite numbers—opportunities, win rate, deal size, sales cycle—impacts your pipeline velocity.

This is one of the reasons that pipeline velocity is an excellent metric to calculate and track. It combines all of these numbers in one, and you can see if you’re increasing or decreasing your sales speed.

Interactive Pipeline Benchmarks

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How To Increase Your Velocity

“Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.” — Hunter S. Thompson

Though we don’t recommend increasing your pipeline velocity until you no longer have a fear of death, everyone wants a faster pipeline—more valuable, won opportunities through the pipeline, in a quicker time.

More revenue, less time.

To do so, you have those 4 variables to play with. To increase overall velocity, the numerators—opportunities, win rate, deal size—have to increase, or the denominator—sales cycle length—has to decrease. Or, ideally, both!

Let’s look at how you can change each of these numbers for the better, through both a more efficient sales process, and better sales coaching of your team.

Increasing Opportunities – Know Your Conversion Rates By Stage

The number inputted into your pipeline velocity treats all open opportunities the same, no matter whether they are fresh or just about to close. This aggregated number is good for a headline view, but not actionable. For that, you have to break the number back down into your distinct funnel stages and look for where opportunities are stalling.

If there is a particular stage where you are losing the most opportunities, then that is where you need to put the work first. In the above case, there is significant loss between the evaluation stage and the buying process stage (44% loss). What is happening there that is causing so many prospects to try out your product, but not want to go any further? This could be:

  • a process problem—the need wasn’t identified in the qualification stage, and when they evaluated the product, the potential customers couldn’t see value. By defining exactly how each prospect should be qualified as early as possible, you can increase the conversion rates between stages.
  • a coaching problem—the sales reps weren’t able to show the value of the product to the prospect, even when there was a need. In this case, individual reps can be better coached in the demo and trial phases, to show prospects the core value of your product.

For the original numbers, a small 10% increase in pipeline opportunities, either new ones entering the pipeline or an improvement in conversions throughout (or both), can easily increase your pipeline velocity:

Increasing Win Rate – Know Why You Lost

If you want to win more, you have to know why you lost. Determining the “Why” of your closed-lost deals should be at the forefront of any sales leader’s mind. By finding why you are losing the most deals, you can tailor your sales and marketing strategy towards those issues, and start to turn the closed-losts into closed-wons.

In this scenario, it’s pretty clear where the lost opportunities are going: timing and lost momentum.

  • Timing is likely a process problem. Not identifying through the right qualification process whether the prospect is capable of purchasing the product at this time, whether they are really in need right now, or whether it is a priority for the company.
  • Lost momentum comes down to a coaching problem. Are the reps driving the sale in a Tesla, or are they a passenger in a VW? Sales reps need to set out agreed actions at each stage to keep the momentum going. This could be something as big as agreeing to legal terms, or as small as scheduling the next phone call. At the end of one interaction, the rep and the prospect have to know what will happen next.

Plugging in an increased win rate to our pipeline velocity equation shows what an impact this can have. An increase by 10% in win rate leads to a 33% increase in pipeline velocity:

Increasing Deal Size – Know Your Mix of Deals

Getting the right mix of deals is crucial to a good sales process. Too many low-value deals and your team will clearly be inefficient. But too many high-value deals and they might be stuck in long sales cycles. Ideally you want more high value than lower, but a healthy mix will keep your pipeline ticking along.

Here the mix of deal values is quite erratic. This is bad news for your pipeline velocity calculation as it could shift widely from week-to-week. In a more normal sales operation, the mix is likely to be more stable. In that case the goal is to increase the upper portions of these graphs, increasing the percentage of high-value deals.

  • Alignment between sales and marketing is the key process change that can lead to higher value customers. In particular, a switch from lead-based marketing to account-based marketing can provide more air cover, helping to build pipeline and close deals.
  • Coaching-wise, it’s important that sales reps see where marketing can help them in their role, using them wisely to warm up high-value leads through specifically targeted messaging, and to provide support to hot opportunities.

Increasing the deal size again bumps up the pipeline’s speed. In this case adding an extra 20% to the velocity through choosing more wisely in the marketing and qualification stages of the funnel:

Decreasing Cycle Length – Know Each Employee’s Sales Cycle

Whereas the previous metrics all had to be increased to impact the pipeline velocity, as the denominator, sales cycle length has to decrease for you to increase your selling speed.

In the figure above, Joe Smith is spending inordinately long in each stage. His numbers are likely skewing the average sales cycle in aggregate. It could be the Joe is handling some of the tougher assignments, but it could also be that he could learn a thing or two from Dorothy McGuire.

  • By analyzing the sales cycle of each employee independently, you get a much finer resolution of the issues slowing down the cycle. You can then coach each of these issues independently instead of trying to instigate some one-size-fits-all training.
  • If a constant issue comes up then you know it is a sales process problem. Just as reps can learn from their sales leaders, so can the leaders learn from the reps, especially when it comes to what is happening on the ground.

By decreasing the sales cycle by just a few days overall—taking just one or two days of each level of the overall stages—you can dramatically increase your pipeline velocity.

Ringing The Changes

“A rising tide lifts all boats” — John F. Kennedy

Any sales leader is unlikely to be happy just impacting one of these numbers—they’ll expect all 4 to change for the better.

And this is possible, because the overarching improvements—better processes and better coaching—will improve all numbers simultaneously.

This is what happens if we make all the changes above:

Velocity doubles. These are all minor changes brought about by slightly better processes and slightly better coaching throughout the entire organization.

Pipeline velocity allows you to see the impact of any new implementations in aggregate. Through this metric you can see how a new qualification strategy, or just showing individual reps how to better demo the product, impacts your sales performance.

By tracking pipeline velocity, along with the underlying metrics, you can constantly identify ways to put your foot further on the gas without the fear of death.