3 Tips for a Robust Sales Pipeline

Prospecting and pipelines are a common challenge for B2B sales reps, with a host of strategies, techniques and best practices on how to do it well. 

I sat down with Kevin McCann of the Executive Strategy Group to discuss how to cultivate good leads, show up in an OtherCentered® way for your prospects, and ensure that you know exactly where you stand with your prospects and your sales pipeline. 

If you prefer to listen to our conversation about this topic on the go, feel free to check out sALES with ASLAN podcast episode 91:


4 Step Sales Discovery Framework

Kevin McCann outlined his company’s 4 step approach to a sales Discovery conversation for us:

1 – Understand Where Your Customer is Now

The outline for every intro sales call should essentially be the opposite of the “show up and throw up” approach to prospecting. Kevin had a great analogy for this:

Think about the first visit to a doctor’s office. If you arrived for your appointment and the doctor walked into the room and handed you a pill, without asking about your health concerns, symptoms or problems, you would be very skeptical. “What is this for? You don’t even know what the issue is yet.”

That’s the approach most sales reps use – or at least how it comes across to prospects. They start with their solution (the pill), assuming it’s a “one size fits all” that will solve their customers’ problems. 

This is not the way to approach a prospect. Just as a doctor asks about your health history and symptoms before prescribing a cure, sales reps need to understand and uncover their prospects’ needs. Where are they now?  What is their current situation?

Don’t jump to the solution so quickly. Spend time with the “pain point,” their current problems. Ask clarifying questions to better understand their current state. Ask about how their problem is impacting their day-to-day and hindering their ability to accomplish what they want. You have to understand what motivates your customer to want to change or seek a solution to their current problem. The more time they spend marinating on the problem, the more ready they will be to ultimately hear how you (your product/service) can help solve it.


2 – Where Does Your Customer Want to Be

Whatever their ideal state is, let them talk about it and really flesh it out. The more clearly you can see where they want to go, the better you can help them get there. 


3 – What Was Their Plan to Get There?

If you weren’t having this conversation with your prospect, what was their plan? How were they going to solve/ work around that pain point?

This will give you insight into competitive analysis or an opportunity to move forward and help them solve their problem. Either way, you’ll have insight into their thought process and their initial plan of attack.


4 – Your Turn

Thank them for sharing all the info and insight (where they are, where they want to be, and what their plan was to get there). Now begin to shift the conversation – share what you do, how you do it, and how you can help get them to their desired state more efficiently. 


A Discovery Exercise For Sales Reps

Sales reps – do yourself a favor… As you’re going through your next Discovery call (possibly using that helpful framework above), record the call on whichever conferencing platform you use.  

After the call, you can use otter.ai to transcribe your conversation with your prospect. Once you have a transcript that you can print out, you’re ready to go. Take 2 different colored highlighters, use one (maybe yellow) to highlight any time you reference:

  • what you do/ are
  • what you sell
  • how great you are
  • how long you’ve been in business
  • how many employees you have
  • how many countries you’re in
  • etc… (essentially anytime you’re talking about you)

Then, use the other color to highlight references to:

  • business results or business value that your customers get from your solution
  • your prospect/ customer
  • etc.

Compare how much (and where) each color appears on the page. The conversation should mostly be about them and their needs, so use this exercise to evaluate yourself and see where you can make changes to improve. 

You can also use this trick to assess your emails, company website, or marketing materials that you may send out to prospects and customers. 


Ensuring a Robust Sales Pipeline

Kevin also shared with me his “Sales Window of Opportunity” framework. It’s a way to ensure, as a sales rep or sales leader, your pipeline is accurate and robust. 

Picture a window pane with four square sections:


1. The upper left-hand quadrant is the Pain Quadrant. What is the customer’s “pain point” and the impact on them/ their business? What is their motivation to make a change (spend money)? Is their motivation strong?

Understand the issue and the impact, and find out if the intent to change really is there. 


2. The upper right-hand quadrant is the Budget Quadrant. Don’t ask close-ended questions here. You can transition with something like: “Hey Ms. Customer, sounds like this is an issue that you’re really motivated to solve and you’ve told me it needs to happen for xyz reasons, so I’m assuming you’ve allocated funds to get this issue resolved. Is that correct?

Listen closely and unpack their answer. Try to find out more. Is it CapEx or OPEX or expense? When will those funds be available?

Budget is more than just the dollar amount.


3. The lower left-hand quadrant is the Decision Makers and Decision-Making Process. It’s important to uncover each of the individuals who have a final say in the decision. Transition with something like: “Are you the sole decision-maker?” or “I assume you may have some team members who need to be on board… if so, who are they? What are they looking for? How do they rank that criteria in terms of importance?”

The key here is to uncover and understand, to the best of your ability, who is involved and how they will come to a final decision.


4. The lower right-hand quadrant is the Competition Quadrant. Competition isn’t just the “other guy” i.e. other companies with similar offerings that you’re competing with. You are also competing against the “status quo, “ the customer’s potential choice to do nothing. 

This is why it’s important to really flesh out the pain points that come with their problem in the first quadrant. Spend time helping them see the importance of making a change, so that they are ready to hear and embrace your recommendation when the time comes. 


5. The last piece of this framework is the window frame itself, which represents the timeline. This isn’t just a timeframe for the decision to be made, but also a timeframe for:

When does the pain/ problem need to be solved?

When is the budget available?

How many competitors are you vetting/ when will a decision be reached?

***Kevin recommends proceeding through these areas of the window pane in the order outlined above.


Sales reps should be able to unpack an account into these 5 areas and provide sales leaders with an accurate assessment of their prospects and pipeline. Pipelines can be very unpredictable, but that can be somewhat mitigated with the approach outlined here. 

Sales reps, be ready to answer these questions. And sales leaders, be ready to ask them. 

What Next?

As VP of Marketing at ASLAN Training & Development, Scott’s passion is to share our solution with those in need and those who seek sales transformation. Find him on: Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

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