All of us in sales need a pipeline. It is our lifeline, our oxygen supply, if you will. Weak pipelines are the first warning signs that business is going badly, and that things need to change. Quickly.  

So, how can we identify a weak pipeline? Do warning signs exist? The short answer is: yes, they can be identified; and once identified, they can be turned into strengths. But we need to know what to look for.First off, most people are pretty bad at predicting. So, the odds are that you and I are also not great at that...Fair enough. I can live with knowing that about myself. I imagine you can, too.  

Therefore, when we are asked to predict our sales forecast, it is difficult, because we are not naturally talented at predicting what other people around us are going to do. Naturally, this also applies to our prospective customers & to the members of our sales team (if you’re a Sales Manager).

Regardless of what the seller, or the prospect says, there is a degree of weakness – red flags – in the deal. The more red flags there is, the greater the chances are that the deal will be lost.  

Identifying weakness in your pipeline

In this article, we'll explore seven common factors that indicate that weakness is present in the sales opportunity, and hence, in the pipeline.

Note, this is not an exhaustive list, simply a summary of what I have experience of over the years in both my own international sales career and when working with my clients.  

  1. No compelling reason to change
  2. Unknown - or unengaged - stakeholders
  3. Willingness to engage
  4. Lack of commitment
  5. The Buying Process
  6. Deal closing dates
  7. Competitive landscape

At the end of the article, I'll share an easy-to-use strategy to evaluate your existing sales opportunities and to help you strengthen your pipeline, based on these red flags. 

No compelling reason to change

We sell change. Buyers will not change from their current way of doing something, unless they see a compelling need to do so. Typically, these drivers for change can be summarised as the desire (or need) to...  

  • Fix something that is not working as well as it is supposed to,  
  • Accomplish something (usually new, or significantly different to the current situation), &/or  
  • To avoid something (often unpleasant) 

As sales professionals, if we do not know each prospect’s individual reasons for change – i.e. their individual motivation to change – then our chances of helping them change are reduced. This weakens your deal, and it is unlikely to closed in your favour.

If you recognise this in any of your deals, I recommend having another meeting with the prospect to uncover what the real reasons for change are. In other words, carry out a more detailed and thorough qualification and discovery process. 

Unknown, or unengaged, stakeholders

Generally, the more complex the sale, the more stakeholders will be involved. Each of them will have their own interests and agendas. Just because your prospect's Department will benefit – and loves – your solution, that doesn't mean the other stakeholders will support the investment decision. After all, these leaders want access to available budgets for their departments, or projects. 

Therefore, when we don't have a clear overview of all stakeholders involved in the decision to approve or reject you as a vendor, our deal is weakened.

Even worse, our position is further weakened with each competitor that has access to these stakeholders. Lack of access to influential stakeholders is a major contributor to lost deals.  

Review the stakeholders in each of your deals and consider if the number of them and their positions in the company accurately reflects that organisation’s buying process. If you are uncertain, review this with your key contact(s) at the organisation, and get to know more of those vital stakeholders.  

Willingness to engage vertically & horizontally

Vertical and horizontal engagement is particularly important in more complex, &/or enterprise-level deals. Vertical engagement refers to the different levels within the department(s) that will benefit from your help. Horizontal engagement describes other departments that will be part of the sales conversation, such as Finance, Procurement, IT, HR, and so on.

The larger the deal size, the more important both horizontal and vertical engagement become.  

If some of the deals in your pipeline are like this, I recommend connecting with your key contacts at the buyer organisation and enlisting their help in developing your engagement.  

Lack of client commitment

Many sales people carry out all the work, without asking anything more of their prospect than a simple follow-on meeting.

Asking our prospects to do, or to complete something reasonable for us, however, can be a powerful, yet simple, way of evaluating their commitment to the deal. This – in turn – helps us forecast the overall likelihood of the deal closing in our favour.  

Put simply, the more often the Prospect says “yes” to doing something for us, the less likely she will say “no” when we finally ask for the deal.  

On the other hand, if a prospect has done nothing for us during the sales process, there is little to suggest that our product, service or solution will be selected over that of one of our competitors.  

This step is highly under-rated and very underused.  

The Buying Process 

Do we – as sellers – understand how the prospect / their company will make a decision on our proposed deal? If the answer is yes, then we are in a good position to win.

More commonly, the answer is no. Which means we are actually on a hike in unfamiliar territory without a map, or a guide. As you can probably imagine, this is not good. 

So, how do we learn about their buying process? Well, the simplest way to learn something we don’t yet know is – of course- to ask questions.  

Try this question when you next find yourself in this situation:

“Can you tell me what we will need to help you through your buying process, and what your colleagues might require?”  

Notice that this question is not about you. By positioning it to the buyer’s perspective, we make it about their needs and interests.  

When a seller has no idea what the buyer needs to be able to buy, the deal is almost certainly not going to close.  

Deal close dates

If your Close Dates are all the last day of the month, or the quarter, then they are likely your best guess. 

you are probably not accurately reflecting when (or even if?) they will actually close. In fact, . In other words, the seller doesn’t know this – yet.  

Once again, the best way of finding out is to ask. By doing this you’ll probably learn more about their buying process. As a bonus, you’ll possibly get a feel for their sense of urgency.  

You may even learn that, due to the size, or complexity of the deal, that the final decision will be made by the board or a special committee. This can be a great opportunity to expand your horizontal and vertical engagement and getting to know more about (meet with) those stakeholders.  

Competitive Landscape 

Which other organisations are competing for the buyer’s business? Do you know who they are and how to position against them? Do you have a SWOT analysis or a Sales Battlecard for these competitors?  

If you answered yes to all of the above questions, well done!

If not, you could be in trouble. Perhaps it’s time to ask some questions about this... 

In addition to the above competitors, there are 3 additional deal outcomes that routinely disrupt sales pipelines and forecasting. Make sure you are secured against each of them.

  1. Using the budget for something else
  2. Doing it themselves
  3. Doing nothing

When we really understand what the ambitions of the buyer are, in addition to having a clear picture of the implications of inaction, then we can help to reduce the possibility of any of these three outcomes happening. 

Strategy to strengthen your pipeline

In the sections above, we looked at different ways that individual deals can be weakened. Each of these should be considered a stand-alone action point, i.e. something that will benefit the overall health of the deal. In other words, an opportunity to ask questions, and learn more. 

Take some time to review your currently open deals, and make a note of the number of red flags you find. The more red flags in a deal, then the weaker it is likely to be.

Deals that are closer to closing are probably at greater risk than earlier stage deals with the same number of flags.  

This knowledge should inform your “repair” strategy:  

  • Which deals to approach first, based on number of red flags, and their position in the pipeline, &  
  • What questions to ask, and of whom 

Download the Meeting Call Planner (if you haven't already) to help you plan through the points you need to discuss with your prospect in advance. That way, you'll have a more effective and enjoyable meeting, or call. 

Once you have gone through all your open deals, you will have a much healthier pipeline. In addition, you will have learned and implemented some powerful new sales skills.  

If you want to improve your sales results this list will help you plan and forecast your future sales.  


Meeting Call Planner 

Planning for sales calls &/or meetings is a key element in any sales strategy, regardless of what our sales process looks like, or what sales methodology we use.

This Meeting Call Planner helps us understand more clearly what stakeholders expect from us in each and every sales conversation.

The Planner helps us consider which strategy should be used, and what tactics we might employ to help the Blocker see how they will win by working with us.

Don’t have a Meeting Call Planner? We’ve got you covered. Download your free copy of the WhiteBridge Meeting Call Planner. Feel free to share it with colleagues, too. 

Good luck, and happy selling! 

Download your Planner


About WhiteBridge

WhiteBridge is an Oslo-based HubSpot Authorised Partner growth agency that works with ambitious business owners, & sales and marketing teams to scale quick, effective and sustainable growth.

Many of our clients develop and sell their own innovative SaaS &/or software solutions, or technologies. However, we also have some great clients that describe themselves as creatives &/or professional business service companies.

Want to discuss how your business can sell more effectively, win more clients, and increase your competitive advantage?

Find a date and time that suits you best, and let’s see what we might achieve together…



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