Point A to Point B

What can the London Underground teach you about sales management?

Many owners and sales leaders struggle to get their sales pipeline and forecasts in order. Many salespeople seem allergic to typing in the data you need, so getting an accurate picture can be like pulling molars.

What to do? Keep it simple and clean … like the London Underground map.

A little background: when first designed, the maps of the London subway system mirrored the chaos on the streets above, twisting and turning to track the actual streets and thoroughly confusing the passengers. See the top half of the image shown here; the one that looks like a bowl of spaghetti.

Then a graphic designer realized that riders don’t care about how many turns a train is making; they want to know which stop is next and whether they’re headed for the right destination. And so the map was redesigned into the iconic version we know today: clean, simple and color-coded, showing the next stop, the general direction of travel and where the lines intersect. It’s dead simple to figure out how to get where you’re going, and the map has been a model for other systems worldwide.

In working with start-ups and Fortune 200 companies, we’ve seen sales pipelines of all shapes and complexities, and here’s what we’ve learned: the more stages and steps, the more data to be entered for management review (in other words, the more twists and turns the train is taking), the less likely it is that salespeople will cooperate and enter the necessary data.

Try adapting this thinking to your next sales pipeline meeting:

Screen out all the noise and distractions your salespeople can throw at you as a leader and simply ask these questions: What’s the next step in the process towards closing a deal? Not how many streets you’ll cross between here and Paddington Gate, just where point B is and how you get there in the fewest steps. Define the dollar amount and contract signing date and figure out whether you’re headed in that direction. If you and the sales rep can agree on the ultimate goal and the next successful step to get there, you’ve made it a smoother trip.

Think 5 to 7 steps in your pipeline process: the train leaves the station at Starter Conversation, passes through Detailed Discovery Meeting, Demo, Initial Proposal, Final Proposal and Verbal “Yes,” and then pulls into Signed Contract right on schedule. Your industry may vary, but it doesn’t need to be much more complex than that.

If you insist on including the twists and turns of 20 different steps along the way, don’t be surprised when your pipeline seems perpetually stuck in rush-hour traffic.