The model of a “funnel” to represent a sales pipeline is ripe for retirement.  A gentleman named E. St. Elmo Lewis is given credit for initiating the idea of a funnel in 1898. It would be amazing if a business model like a funnel would still find relevance 120 years later.  

The best business leaders believe in continuous improvement involving process automation and deployment of more effective technology. You have an opportunity to apply operational excellence thinking and best practices to adopt a more reliable, innovative, and effective approach to your sales pipeline and go-to-market program.

There’s a way to apply operational excellence to the go-to-market side of your business. This approach is called the “Intelligent Sales Pipeline™—a new approach for proactively managing lead generation and lead qualification using prospective customer data intelligence, engagement, and metrics—none of which were around in 1898.

A Quick Review of Problems with Traditional Sales Funnels

As a process, the traditional concept and application of a sales funnel is very flawed.  Effective and efficient processes have short cycles and therefore operate at lower costs as they deliver quality results. They have high throughput and productivity. They produce known results and so are easier to forecast. They are operationally excellent in their structure and results.

 These are some of the typical problems with sales funnels related to Time (buyers are not on your schedule, Sequence (buyers follow their processes, not yours), and Control (you have a limited ability to influence decisions and cannot control what your competitors offer).

Introducing the Intelligent Sales Pipeline™

An Intelligent Sales Pipeline™ operates very differently from the traditional funnel model. Selling today is much more of a conversion process, built on a level of intelligence-gathering and engagement.  The “Intelligent” part of the new model comes from a proactive process of identifying and engaging prospects in a more effective process and dialogue. “Engagement” is prospect focused. The Intelligent Sales Pipeline has a definite foundation on improved metrics.

Intelligence: The switch from a task-focused way of processing leads to a prospect-centered, smart way using criteria that are important to both you and the prospect.

Engagement: Building rapport and a deeper understanding of pain points, needs, challenges, and goals through deeper interaction with a smaller number of prospects.

Metrics: Starting with higher quality, better fit prospects at the beginning of your interaction and placing more emphasis on quality versus quantity metrics.

The following are the key components of the new, intelligent pipeline model:

The model starts with an identification of your ideal customer and buyer. Ideal buyers are the specific individuals in those ideal customers you want to cultivate.

Ideal Customer Profiles often include factors such as Demographic Factors (size, growth, location, business cope), Strategic Fit Factors (fit with your value proposition and capabilities, long-term potential, ability to serve them profitably), and finally, Buying Factors (openness to discuss projects or needs, the buying and decision process itself), and finally the Buying Process (can you present yourself uniquely?)

Focused Lead Generation Programs start with finding appropriate contacts and companies by pre-qualifying them and starting the conversation.

There are many ways of being proactive outside of your internet marketing initiatives.  One of the best ways is to implement an account-based marketing program (ABM).  Account-based marketing programs start with your ideal customer and ideal buyer profiles and use a third party to contact and qualify leads.  

As you improve your target profiling, the quality of your lead stream will improve. 

Intelligent Lead Qualification Process

Let’s get to the core of the Intelligent Sales Pipeline approach by translating your ideal market, customer, and buyer profiles into a way of directly qualifying prospects.  

In the Intelligent Sales Pipeline model, we qualify and score prospects based on their answers to the factors we map out in the ideal customer profile, not against activities like sitting through a demo.

Closing and Forecasting

With improved qualifications using the Intelligent Sales Pipeline approach, your sales organization will be able to have deeper, more valuable interactions with your best prospects.

These types of metrics are paramount to measuring, managing, and predicting performance.   This chart compares the dynamics of the traditional funnel model and the Intelligent Sales Pipeline.


These types of results are there for you, too, if you are willing to bring operational excellence to your go-to-market programs. Here’s a free eBook to learn more.