Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 28: Robert Pease’s 10 step pipeline performance checklist


By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which currently runs every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific.  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg.  Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise.  Recent Guests: Jim KeenanJoanne BlackAaron RossJosiane FeigonMeagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at and subscribe on iTunes.

Guest host, our own Robert Pease, Pipeline Performance Practice Lead at Heinz Marketing went through this pipeline performance checklist. Get your notepad out for this one.

Paul: Welcome all you marketing surfers there and sales surfers! It’s time for another episode of Sales Pipeline. And today we have a guest host with us here. Welcome Robert Pease. Did I say the name correctly here?

Robert: You did indeed.

Paul: Alright welcome! Identify yourself and tell us how you got to be the guest host today here.

Robert: Yeah, so I lead a practice area at Heinz Marketing called pipeline performance, which is going to be the topic for today. And I know Matt is the regular guest on this show and he asked me to step in today and share a little bit of my perspective and what I do at Heinz.

I’ve been on the operating side for a number of years, VP of marketing, several companies as CMO – ran as a software company for several years as the CEO so I am infinitely familiar with revenue and all of the different things related to the funnel and have been working with the Heinz team for the past couple of years.

Paul: Well they tell us that today you are going to talk about The 10 Step Pipeline Performance Checklist, that’s quite a mouthful here. Do I need to get my pencil and paper out? Should you give us a couple of minutes here to grab a sheet of paper?

Robert: Yeah, that might be worthwhile. I think that there are a lot of elements of this that companies already do and salespeople do and marketing people do. I think in a lot of places that we go and when we help companies get this full funnel view of what they do and how marketing relates to sales and how sales relates to marketing. And this is literally something that I would like to sit down and go through with clients or prospective clients just to get the feel of where we are and where our focus needs to be and we all like checklists, right? So we all like to mark all the different steps.

Paul: That’s it, David Letterman’s famous top 10 list that he did for years; yeah, right? Well let’s jump in, give us the top 10. Let’s see if we can get through three or four of them before the break here.

Robert: Yeah, no kidding so I looked at this and I mapped into the stages of the funnel if you will right? So very outer edge stuff is finding our customers and getting the conversations all the way down to getting them to become our customers. And believe it or not, the first step here is all about understanding your target customer. And it’s not just knowing that you want people that happen to want to pay for what it is you sell, it’s about mapping out and articulating this notion of an ideal customer profile. So what makes the best customer for the product or service you sell? What creates the longest term relationships with that customer? Ultimately you want to understand them and their business as well as they do because it certainly helps you understand what your product or service and how it fits into their world; so articulating that is important.

Paul: And let me interrupt you here for one second. Why is that such a perplexing question for most companies? For years I did public relations, I’ve also done radio for years and somebody wants to run an ad, somebody wants the target a PR piece at some audience and I say who is your target audience? – Everybody. Everybody can buy this. Well maybe but everybody isn’t an answer that you can build a strategy around.

Robert: Agreed and so much hinges off of understanding your target customer, even the PR example. Your goal is to get into the consumption patterns of this optimal profile of customer and who in that organization impacts a buying decision? If there is four or five people then you’ve got some complexity because you’ve got to reach all of those people but you have to take a very structured approach to this. And also it’s about being in a sense, stingy with sales time been efficient with marketing spend because you don’t want to market or sell to people that aren’t going to be your customer.

Paul: Or marginally worthwhile pursuing. That’s another thing; not only who will buy it but I am surprised most companies haven’t taken the time to analyze who the best customer? Okay so maybe everybody can buy, but who do you make the most money off? Who do you close the most deals with? Who has the most need for your services? I don’t see companies really do that. They think somehow that’s limiting. Do you guys work with them and help them define this target customer?

Robert: We do, for sure and that leads to the second piece on the checklist which is knowing what a qualified lead or qualified customer looks like.

Paul: Boy, that’s a whole big one. We could spend the whole topic on that. Because sales managers always say give me more leads to the PR and marketing people and then they send the leads through and then they say oh I’m sorry, I wanted qualified leads not just quantity.

Robert: That’s around definitions. We spend a lot of time at the intersection between sales and marketing and drilling into those definitions. And look, there certainly is something interesting about someone who comes to you and downloads a white paper. That person is not ready to receive an order form.

If you’ve done your job correctly you’ve targeted the ideal customer profile and you have a set of criteria that says okay, it’s this kind of company and this kind of size and this role. And now that person has raised their hand and they are interested in some way and then having a little bit of patience in how you do this – which is to say there may be two or three marketing touches or more required before someone gets to the point where they actually are leaning forward enough to talk someone about doing business with you before it goes to sales.

And so there is everything you can do from writing this down on a piece of paper and having both marketing teams and sales teams all sign it. It becomes almost this service-level agreement thing. And I am a huge fan of just in meetings; just have everybody saying the definition out loud.

Paul: All of this sounds so silly. I mean I am laughing and yet I’ve sat in so many meetings and thought these guys don’t have a clue what a qualified lead is, they are just looking for massive lists of people to call which of course means the salespeople are going to be throwing these away because they find that this is a worthless list!

Robert: Well sure and it doesn’t encourage anybody. If all you are basically getting is maybe a valid phone number and maybe a valid email and your expectation, if it is on you, is to close that business, that just sets everybody up for failure. So I think those are important things and as we go, as we are moving to our checklist here, the third point which dovetails nicely off of this is the message that you use. This isn’t just this higher-level softer what are the words that we use? But it’s about speaking to your ideal customer profile to attract the qualified leads you are looking for and understanding the problem they have and the outcome they are seeking.

So many companies want to spend time talking about their features and their benefits and how they do what they do and I get it and there is a time and a place for that. But it’s almost like, spend the first couple of customer interactions or prospecting interactions and don’t talk about you at all. Understand a day in the life, understand the pressure, understand the need and if what you sell is not something that’s a top priority for a company then you are going to have to elevate that need.

If it is a top priority then your command of that problem or that issue is really going to come forward in the sales process and will make you stand apart. And again this is back to this notion of being patient with the overall sales process. I mean again, we want to have our metrics and our numbers and our quarterly goals and all of those things but you can’t close in the first contact.

Paul: Yeah, and why do we think we can? You must have been listening to our shows this morning here because we did two different shows this morning and each touched on this same topic. One of them was a show called Contact marketing and it’s all about how do you break through to people of… you really need to meet, how do you through the gatekeepers? – Creative strategies, fun stuff, interesting stuff, crazy stuff. How do you get through to people? And the point that this guy, the guest, was making this morning is: okay now you got through to them, don’t just burst out and start rattling out your features and benefits as quickly as you can as if that’s all he wants to hear. You got through to the guy, you’ve got – he or she – you’ve got their attention, now what do you do? You listen, you ask them questions, you talk about them, don’t talk about you immediately.

Robert: You and it’s hard to do this when you are in the in the mix but have an interaction and leave something with the prospect that they will get value out of whether or not they talk to you ever again. And so you see this a lot where you have someone who is at that event and there is bunch of people in the audience and somebody wants to get on stage because they’ve got their 20 minutes and they want to do a demo. The only person in that auditorium that wants to see the demo is the person speaking.

Paul: And their sales manager.

Robert: They feel they gave a demo and that’s going to get actually to the next point on our checklist here which is around conversion rates. But to reinforce that point which is look, if you have command of the subject matter and you appear almost, in the discussion, the natural conclusion that you are the best to solve it will unfold. You have to be methodical about this and that’s number four on our checklist.

Paul: Before you go though, one of the things that drives me crazy, maybe I am the only way that feels this way but I suspect not. When you talk about asking questions and getting to know people, it doesn’t have to be this fake discourse that so many people start with: hey, how are you doing today? How is your day going? – As if that’s all you need to do before you launch into your sales pitch here. It really is diving deeper into that, isn’t it?

Robert: Oh, I think so. I think human relationships are certainly important but the utilization of someone’s time has to be efficient. If someone is going to give you time on their day, time on their calendar, the icebreaker making small talk, I would rather spend that time sharing what I’ve seen out there. I think one of the most powerful phrases is “what we see is.” Because if you are in the market and you sell products or services to companies like the one that you are visiting, you establish more credibility when you are like look, yeah, everyone is struggling with this same issue because of this change in technology or this new regulation or this change in consumer purchasing and here’s how we see companies tackling it and how we’ve helped people is the following.

I think those are important things. I think especially given there is so much available online now to help arm you with context before you walk in.

Paul: That’s what I was going to ask. Do you really advise people or work with them or train them, teach them how to do their homework before they walk in the door?

Robert: Oh absolutely and what’s so disappointing about it is that the bar is so low. One of my pet peeves of sales outreach or prospecting emails that go out or emails that say, “Can you point me to the right person?”

Paul: Yeah, right. I am too lazy to figure it out so here. I’ve got your name somehow; you do my work for me here.

Robert: It’s malpractice. It’s like look; there are so many resources available. Again, if you know who your ideal customer is and you know who you are supposed to talk to within that customer, getting that last mile of information to know that that’s Robert Pease is not that very complex.

The balance here is you want to do as much as you can as fast as you can so you depersonalize and you remove context because you send the same message to 10,000 people hoping that some percentage will convert. Conversion rates are number four on the checklist here and understanding what those are is an absolute quantitative measure you need to know. But don’t fool yourself based on the size of the numbers. If you feel good because you send 10,000 emails and you had two clicks, could you have been that much better if you had been that much more targeted and much more value added. And again, knowing the different stages of your funnel and understanding that math is appropriate here. And if your sales plan says you have to have 1000 customers by the end of the year and your sales cycle is 12 months long, all those deals have to be in the pipe now.

Paul: Right. So explain the differences so I understand it, between conversion ratio and closing ratio. Closing would be the end of the cycle and those can be dramatically different numbers. If you get in front of the right person you are probably going to get a higher closing ratio and I if you’ve got a good product, you explain it well and you take the time to get to know them, all of these things you’re saying. But conversion, you’re saying how much of this initial outreach do people really receive and respond to.

Robert: Yeah. I mean I like to look at it again we are funnel people at Heinz and different levels of it which is look, if I’ve identified and set a target accounts and I know the people within those accounts and am trying to get some level of conversation started whether I choose to do that via email or I do that via a webinar whatever it is, there is a conversion that’s happening, between that prospect universe and active conversations. And then there’s a conversion that happens between that active conversation and some type of sales engagement. And then there is some type of conversion between sales engagement and forecasted to close. And then there is another stage of forecasting to close to close rate and the math in all those is important because you have to be vigilant and constantly look at how can I improve that?

Paul: That’s what I was going to say because conversion, that’s why I’ve taken a moment to stop on this. I see so many people say all right so we send out 10,000 emails, to use your example, and we got two people to click on this stuff here – great. We just accept that our conversion rate so now we need to send out 100,000 emails to get four or whatever the math is. And I am like wait a minute, maybe you got crappy stuff you are sending out here. Maybe you should reevaluate. Why do you accept that that’s just the way it is?

Robert: Yeah, for sure and you see that as well in like conversion rates on landing pages, a very topical thing in online marketing. And everybody that visits a page is not going to convert. If your conversion is low because you are doing stuff and there is a goal to drive traffic versus contextual traffic to that page, download the asset or request information, and there is also a lot of things that go on.

So 100 visits to a page with one conversion versus five visits to a page and three and knowing how that efficiency all comes together. So I think this setback point is it’s important to look at the entire funnel from getting people engaged to getting them into a sales process and how each of these different percentages of progress play out and looking at that over time. And knowing with some certainty like wow, if I can get somebody to give us a chance, if I can get somebody to give me 20 minutes to do a demo, I know that I can close 70% of those and that becomes what the focal point is and you can then forecast off of that.

Paul: Exactly. Well that’s why we are trying to break it down into a simple checklist they can go through and analyze what part of it they are missing, what data are they not understanding here. We’ve got to take a quick break. We’ve only gone through four of them so we will go to the rest when we come back right after this.


Paul: All right, well we can’t give you the whole field guide in 20 minutes you but we are trying to come up with at least a checklist here. What have we gone two – four here? Summarize the four and let’s launch into five here.

Robert: Yeah, so we’ve covered number one which is understanding your target customer, knowing what a qualified lead looks like his number two, emphasizing needs and outcomes in your sales and marketing messaging and then number four; understanding your conversion rates.

Paul: And I get everybody groaning saying – I know all of that stuff right now. It seems like some of those, they want to jump to the end of how do I close stuff here and they are creating… they are confused who they should go after, they are unclear of how many of them they need to approach to get a conversation started and they haven’t really analyzed and thought through a lot of these metrics here and then they are wondering why they are closing ratio is so low on these things here. All right, number five.

Robert: I’m going to take five and six together to give us some optimization. Number five is around follow-up and it’s always follow-up which I think is a rule in life.

Paul: You mean you’ve got to follow up? I think this is automated! I send it out and the orders come in. Come on!

Robert: Follow-up and the number six is engaging context. And we talked a little bit about context already but simple follow-up is if you tell somebody you’re going to do something then do it. If someone requests some information, then provide it to them. If you have a conversation, then follow up with the action items. I think it’s just good vigilance and there is automated ways to do this. If someone comes to your site and requests information and that kicks off a conversation internally and it routes to a person but they are out of the office today or they don’t get to it. I mean there is ways to just follow up in a more automated way that you need to understand and also just because somebody is not ready to buy today or next week or the next month doesn’t mean you can’t continue or you don’t need to continue to communicate with that person. I’ve seen a lot of times – just add a stage to sales pipeline which is nurture.

Paul: Yes. And I see so many people throw stuff away. Jim Obermayer who runs the funnel radio channel those his own show, SLMA talks about it all the time – the shockingly low follow up on leads. Leads are generated, maybe they are good qualified leads, half of them never get called. If they do, and they don’t get through to the person or they don’t buy right away, half of those again get thrown away in a wastebasket. And yet somebody, the statistics show that those leads that somebody raised their hand, probably 75% to 80% of them are going to buy something in the next few months here, that’s why they raised their hand.

Robert: Yeah for sure, it’s just a matter of…

Paul: Why do we give up so quick here? Why do we throw this away and say oh, that’s no good.

Robert: I think that good salespeople view the world through their compensation plans. If I get a lead and it doesn’t look like it’s going to close within a certain time period then I’m going to push that off. I think most, not most, a lot of organizations just don’t have a good cadence between that scenario and letting marketing know that that needs additional help, that one is going to need two or three touches, it’s going to need a case study, it’s going to need a best practices guide, it’s going to need whatever to get them back into the fold. Because again, there is tons of scary stats out there about leads just falling through the cracks and it’s expensive and it’s a waste of money.

Paul: And don’t some of it goes to the sales management as well because they are driving you to get results today, tomorrow, that leads you to say well this one isn’t going to close tomorrow so I better throw it away or put it away, I’ve got to focus on tomorrow?

Robert: Well these work together. Is it qualified? Do we have a good read up on qualification criteria. And then as we, moving through our checklist here and the number seven point is actually this which is to understand how your customer buys. Sales and marketing processes are so often the vendor dictating that process on the customer and it’s out of alignment. I am a huge fan of you should staff around how your customer buys and you should certainly sell and market around how they buy.

Paul: So give me an example of that one because the one I don’t understand clearly. How would I know what their internal process is; how long it takes, how many steps there are and…

Robert: I mean, if it’s a hands on let’s say piece of software that requires pilots and committee base purchasing or whatever which certainly is a category that’s out there, you don’t want to be emphasizing to too much degree or your marketing staffing around pay per click advertising. You don’t need to have that. What you need is to have a solutions marketing person. You need someone that can help understand and enable that entire process. If it is 12 to 15 meetings before a decision is made, that is how you build supporting sales and marketing process. If it’s a high-volume high transaction visit the website sign up for a trial, the product takes you through the entire thing, then you optimize around that from a staffing standpoint.

Again, it gets to the next point here, number eight which is about getting on the same side of the table. And this is consistent thematically with what we have been talking about which is you and your prospect view the problem or challenge together, it’s much less confrontational. You imagine sitting down in a room and looking at a screen together as opposed to sitting across the table from each other.

Paul: Yeah, they used to call it “consultative selling” or whatever. You are coming in to help them solve a problem here and in doing it together rather than trying to jam this down their throat and close the deal so you can move on and look good here.

Robert: Absolutely, absolutely. And you become part of the answer. I think that’s such an important thing and you become very credible in the overall process and it’s not like oh God, I’ve got to deal with those people again, they are coming in, that guy is going to ask me for the order. Doesn’t he understand that I have to go and this has to be looked at by so and so and this approval, I mean again, there is always this tension that exists between the timeline you want to close something on and how somebody actually is going to go through the purchasing process. You don’t want to lose momentum, you certainly… I mean the goal is, and in a perfect world is you put all this together is you tell your customer or your perspective the next step. So now we’ve done this.

Paul: You guide them to say well I think we are ready to talk about this here then.

Robert: Correct, correct and I think that again, it’s all very consultative but again I think the visual or the metaphor around getting on the same side of the table so you’re not just staring at somebody trying to get them to give you their money for your product or service is a much more up-leveled and mature way to do things.

Paul: Somebody once told me that in the line of thinking it’s like going to a wine tasting dinner or something; whoever is running the event start tells you okay it’s time for the next course here and it’s time for the next wine and here is what we are going to do – put your forks down and let’s get going here.

Robert: That’s exactly right. And I if you are dialed in around the problem is solved and the customer and you know all of these things to be true, you just continued to beat the drum that you are a trusted provider in the whole thing.

Paul: We are down to what nine or 10 here?

Robert: Well we are on number nine which is kind of why we are doing all of this. Number nine is to get a purchase commitment and this is early on in the process you want to make sure you’ve got qualified opportunities that your sales team is investing the time where it needs to be. But it’s also understanding the core end goal here right which is to have a purchase happen. I think there is no shortage of books and methodologies out there around telling if I can solve these problems and I show you I solve these problems, will you do business with me or whatever the structure may be.

Paul: Why are so many salespeople today afraid to ask for the order? It seems like they are so in love with the process and they are so proud of the fact that they’ve got all of these leads in the pipeline, I’ve got all of these things going, it looks good on the report but nothing ever closes, nothing ever happens here. So you can go almost the other way from the old school where you are trying to close them on the first time to you are never going to close them, it’s just a never ending process here.

Robert: Yeah, I am a fan of the notion of desired end states at every meeting and if I know it’s going to take five or 10 discussions I know at the end of discussion one, what am I trying to get? Am I trying to get agreement to the problem and commitment to expanding the conversation – okay great. The second conversation – what’s my desired end state? Do I want to understand this person has the authority to make this decision? Forget about what it’s going to ultimately look like and I think that mapping those things out, again this goes back to understanding how your customer buys and your responsibility from a sales standpoint is to certainly understand how each of those stages unfolds but what your selfish need is in it because again, you don’t want to waste your time.

Paul: Or theirs. So you don’t just want to be caught in an endless process here that just seems to never go anywhere. All right number 10, wrap it up.

Robert: Yeah. Number 10 is… it’s a good departure point here is that close one, which is our goal is just the end of the beginning and I think that the full lifecycle sales and marketing mindset understands you work so hard to get a conversation, you worked so hard to get the customer that you’ve got to make sure that customer is happy because that customer can become a source of referrals which matters more than any marketing program you will ever run.

Paul: Oh, that’s the truth. More business!

Robert: Yeah, testimonials, trusted, someone else stepped up and said yes this company did indeed solve this problem for me. And again, back to profitability which is if you work so hard to get all these customers in and your sales team work so hard to get them closed and they churn out within 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 120 days, you’re just not taking the full view and so don’t be afraid of calculating lifetime value.

Paul: Yeah and I don’t take a lot of today’s immediate results world we live in – this is my common complaint with banks and insurance companies or automobile manufacturers, all they are focused on is that one deal and then go on. There is very little customer service follow-up, they don’t nurture long-term relationship and that’s why people flip brands every few years or they just don’t seem to… I think the same is true in B2b. I just don’t think they are looking at this long-term relationship – got to go get another one.

Robert: Yeah, I mean you are right, back to balancing the near-term objectives with longer-term growth and stability in a business. And again, the power of a long-term, very embedded customer can’t be underestimated and so sometimes you get in organizations where what’s being marketed is not what’s being sold, what’s being sold is not what’s being delivered and then there is much frustration and weeping and gnashing of teeth all the way around. So good alignment I think is important. If you are like look, right? We don’t support companies that run this type of infrastructure…

Paul: Well we’ve got to wrap things up. I’d love to go further, I’ve probably gone too far already here. How do they find you? How do they learn more about this modern marketer’s field guide or the work you do or even this checklist to dive into it and take a look at it?

Robert: Yeah, just come visit us at just like it sounds like you said. Plenty of information there, the blog is rich with content and you can contact us there and we are happy to have a conversation.

Paul: All right, thank you so much Robert Pease from Heinz Marketing, this 10, what sounds like credibly simple checklist that each one of them we could spend an hour on to figure out why people don’t do it in better detail here. Thanks so much.

Robert: Yeah, enjoyed it, thanks.

Paul: All right, well you’ve been riding the surf, the sales surf pipeline with the folks from Heinz Marketing.