AAM Minute - Business Development News

Pipeline Management is a Business Development Function

By: Katie Tolin, CPA Growth Guides


Businesses developers live and breathe by their pipelines – it is how they track the leads they are pursuing and prove the results they produce. However, partners in a firm may not be as detailed when tracking their lead progress, making it difficult for business development executives to determine how, when, and where their pursuit skills are needed to support partner efforts. If that sounds like your firm, then it is time for you to step up and help turn a pipeline document into a firmwide process. Below are ideas you may implement to help you take charge and drive success.

Take a Lead in Pipeline Review Meetings

Whether in person or via conference call, schedule pipeline review meetings at a set time every other week. Consistency is key – these meetings should happen at the same time and place regardless of vacation schedules or deadlines. Depending on your firm size and the number of leads in your pipeline, they should last 20-30 minutes and end precisely. Meetings are mandatory and partners should be directed to schedule other meetings around these pipeline meetings.

The meeting can be led by the managing partner or the business development professional. The managing partner is often the better choice since partners ultimately report to them. Even in that instance, business development professionals are instrumental in prepping the managing partner for the calls and stepping in when they are unavailable.

As you lead the conversation or coach your managing partner on how to lead the discussion, your primary focus should be to encourage information sharing amongst those in attendance. Do we have a connection with the prospect? What might anyone know about the company, its leaders, or the centers of influence involved? Have we been in a similar situation with another prospect that we can learn from?

You will want to discuss each individual lead or as many as you can in the set time. Ask about new leads in the pipeline, those with recent activity, and even those that have not had activity for an extended period of time. Eventually, you want to mix up the format or the meetings will feel stale. Start at the bottom of the pipeline (instead of the top) and focus on different categories like all leads in a specific industry or service area, those within a particular geography, or leads belonging to a certain group of partners.

These meetings encourage action. Do not be surprised when you hear that people reached out to the lead the day before. Pipeline reviews are a great way to hold people accountable for managing a lead – a valuable firm asset.

Establish & Measure Key Performance Indicators

Your current pipeline provides insight into future growth. Determine what metrics are key performance indicators (KPIs), share your goals with the firm, and measure your progress toward achieving goals. A few KPIs that you will want to start with include:

  • Percentage of firm revenue on the pipeline – to grow year-over-year, you have to add enough revenue to make up for lost clients and project work. While the exact percent will differ, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 10 percent of your current revenue in your pipeline at any given time. Firms with higher growth goals will need higher percentages.
  • Average transaction size – if you know how much revenue your average client generates, hopefully, your prospects are at or above that amount. Make sure you share what your ideal target amount is.
  • Win rate/dollars – calculate your win percentage based on the total dollars you bid on. This should be between 60 and 70 percent. Firms that are more strategic about what they bid on in the first place will see a higher number, while firms that have large non-profit or governmental practices may have a slightly lower rate.
  • Win rate/number of opportunities – similar to above, this looks at the win rate in terms of the number of opportunities you bid on. Goals will be in the same range and typically a few percentage points higher.

Be sure to mention when you have fallen below the mark (during pipeline meetings) so everybody can increase their efforts and celebrate successes.

When you become really good at tracking these metrics, you can use advanced analysis to forecast future revenue. You will need to understand how long something stays on the pipeline, how long a lead remains in each stage, and what percentage of leads become inactive in addition to related data to write formulas that make proper assumptions. The pipeline is the lifeblood of your firm and is incredibly telling when it comes to future success.

Conduct Win/Loss Reviews

Why do you win or lose an opportunity? In the spirit of continuous improvement, you want to understand what you did well and what you did not. Helping the firm figure this out is a great role for anyone spearheading business development.

There are two sides to the review: internal and external. Both sides are needed for a holistic look at your process.

Internally, you want to gather those involved and talk about what worked. Discuss what you could have done better or what you would have done differently knowing what you know now. Look for any trends in the discussion. You then need to compare this information to what you hear directly from the lost prospect.

External reviews can be done in-house or outsourced to a third party. Typically, the partner leading the pursuit calls and asks the prospect why they made the decisions they did. If you want to increase the quality of information received, consider doing the review yourself or using another member of the firm who was not involved in the pursuit. If you use a third party, you will find that these are deeper reviews, as the caller is not invested in the opportunity. Responses are not accepted at face value, and the caller tries to get to the true weaknesses of the pursuit or factors that led to their decision. Many firms find outsourcing uncomfortable, but those that do it embrace the feedback and use it to increase their overall win rates.

Drive the Behavior the Firm Needs

When your firm is focused on business development, you will have more leads in your pipeline, more team selling, and a higher win rate. A pipeline is the starting point, but a formalized process that lets you drive action, hold people accountable, and continually improve is what will set you apart.

If your firm does not have a formal pipeline management process, then take ownership of the idea and ensure it becomes part of normal operating procedures. It will help the firm win more opportunities, and enable you to share your expertise and help partners become better sales people. You will be more successful in your role when helping partners become more successful in theirs.