This is the transcript of the Q&A Session I had with Michael Humblet.  Michael has many years of sales leadership experience and currently works as a sales strategist.  He is the owner of Chaomatic, an advisory to scale content and build thought leadership strategies.

If you prefer seeing the video, then go check out the episode on YouTube through this link.

C: Hello Michael, and welcome to this Q&aA section around forecasting and pipelining.

M: Thanks Cedric, I understood you plan to grill me here and to really dig deep into knowledge around forecasting and pipelining and how to get those sales moving properly. 

C: Well I will not only grill you I will also pull all the experience you have from that forecasting and pipelining so the listeners can really learn from you

M: I am an open book today so ask me the questions

C: Great, before we start, what about you introduce yourself a bit, who is Michael?M: So my name is Michael Humblet, sounds French, it’s like humble with a T and I’ve been in business for 25 years doing sales, large sales teams, had 150 sales people reporting into me. In the last 4 years I have a business as a sales strategist helping companies to scale and to grow, so I think you’re with the right person to talk about forecasting and pipeline.

C: I hope so, I hope so. Alright so let me find you the first question and am really curious about how do you make a team successful in working with a pipeline? 

M: That’s a good question, so the first thing that needs to happen is you have the famous weekly sales meeting, right. And I think too many companies try to do a forecast every week which is a bad idea right, so I would do a real forecast probably once a month but the real deep down everybody needs to fill in CRM all of that, and everybody knows: “Guys this is going to be tough you have to get your numbers, this is going to be tough questions and you ask the questions.” Then the weekly sales meeting you basically have a quick look at the numbers but you don’t do a real forecast, the third thing is it needs to be very clear what the numbers need to be. So if one of the things I would do is when I arrive in a sales team I randomly ask people: “So what’s your target?” and you know what? Most of them don’t even know what’s their target, or they start like yeah hang on… well we have real problem here so they clearly need to know their target. One of the things you could do is put a sign up, and you just put targets there, I mean I used to do some of this stuff.  Sometimes it’s too aggressive depends on the culture you are, but what I would then do is sometimes I would go one level down and I would talk about activity. I would say: “Okay guys this week we’re going to try and get, you know I always took something else, this week we’re going to do a hundred cold calls”, just saying something, and you know very visual there is no escape. The problem with sales is, very good sales tend to be very manipulative and they’ll always have an excuse to not do things because they’re busy and they’re focused and yeah yeah yeah yeah. So I like to sometimes pull them back to earth and say listen: “We still need to do the reps if you want to build muscle, you got to do the reps, I want you to do the reps and I want to see if you do the reps, because otherwise nothing’s going to work.” So when sales team fail, and I’m kind of getting outside of it… when sales team start failing and I get pulled in to get the numbers fixed, the first things I do is I get back to the basics which is we have to get the reps, we have to get the drumbeat back every week, X amount of calls, every week X amount of emails and if you just start fixing that as first, and then you fix the sale’s storyline, you will get quick success, but that’s the base line, that’s the…

C: And what is the most challenging in this?

M: It’s to align all of them, there’s always one that tries to hide, there’s always one that when we’re speaking about larger teams, there’s always one that can do more than the rest, right? And they all have to do the work. And that’s a very challenging one, I always heard a lot of excuses, one of the things I always hate is yeah I’m working on a really big deal I don’t have time now, yeah, and it’s probably that deal, that’s going to skip in the forecast.  Right, so you have to look for, it’s a bit of intuition, I learned it over the years that you got to learn and listen and say hang on, hang on, so what have you done… on the other hand, if you’re too restrictive, sales people will die slowly but surely. So you’ve got to find this weird balance between giving freedom but yet having targets and it’s a bit of a pull and a push. For instance, I used to work with these big shots from Oracle and Amazon and we would hire really expensive sales people and they would report to me, I was much younger which was always a bit weird, and they always were like yeah I don’t have time I need to do this and I really had to pull them back and say stop, so what are you doing exactly, it’s not an easy one, but it’s like in any business, the strategy and operational mix is always a difficult one. 

C: Yeah exactly and by the way I do have a weekly forecast and we do a pretty good job about it, so I can invite it to you as well once.

M: Yeah so I, it would depend on the business. If you have very large enterprise business, you have very long sales sights, 9 to 18 months, weekly forecasts just make no sense for me. Unless you run like a sales business which has like 3 months sales cycles, data, blah blah blah…weekly forecasts might make sense but I wouldn’t do it with the whole team. I would probably do a deep dive forecast with individuals and then have a bigger view on the numbers with the whole team. I think Sales meetings by the way, completely on the side not forecasting, sales meetings most the time are not well done, they’re too, I think they should learn something and they should challenge each other in a group I think that would be the most efficient instead of the manager talking and everyone kind of nodding thinking: “I am dying here every Monday.”

C: That’s true, and then we keep this for the Q&A about organising sales team meetings.

M: Sorry, I’m off, I’m off right.

C: No worries then and in this whole change, how do you increase your forecasting accuracy then?

M: Yeah well one of the things I started noticing and especially when I, 4 years ago I started helping local start up’s and then scale up’s, one of the things that investors asked me, they would pull me in and they would spend some money with these guys and they would say: “come on Michael come and help with this forecasting.”  One of the most amazing things they always had massive pipelines, so they would open CRM and it would be massive. And when I would ask them the questions that I get it: “I understand you’re busy but what will you close this month or this week,” the whole thing started like crumbling together so for me I like to look at few things, number one I like to look at pipeline which is the overall growth, what is in which category, how is it moving? The moment we talk about forecast I say: “stop, you can only put a deal in forecast when it is at 50% meaning when you have sent the offer.”  You cannot forecast something where you have not given a price, right? it’s going to come, it’s going to come sure. So as a 50% for me, which is, I have sent them a quote and then I ask them to very simplistically only put a deals in that you think that you can close this month or this week or this quarter right, and then I say and then you say it is a commit, oh it’s an upside, and commit means the deal’s going to come for sure. Typically these are the deals where the people have said yes, it’s stuck with procurement that kind of stuff and the upside means you’re not entirely sure it looks good but it could slip and you know what’s funny these 100 pipeline deals stuff, they suddenly get reduced to like 2-3 lines and it’s so painful and it hurts. But funnily enough these investors they like that because they said this is the truth this is what’s going to happen, the problem you then have is in a real forecast with not too many lines you get these skews, one big deal and it skews the whole thing which Is always a problem so if you have many deals sophistically, it’s easier than when you have five deals in there.

C: Yeah correct, yeah true true true, when you… 

M: To finish up, to finish up I would commit an upside and I would say stuff like: “do you swear on the soul of your mother, do you put your hand in the fire right,” you got to like make it really serious and then I ask them the second thing which is less for forecasting pipe numbers I would always like, in that little excel sheet or google sheet or whatever they use, I would have a category like you have the deal, also new or acquisition or upsell which is important to know, commit, upside and then I would have another category and that’s next steps, that you control. Because most of the time the answer is going to be we’re waiting for a phone call, we’re waiting for an email, and you don’t control that part, what’s the thing you could do that you control and that’s very intriguing because you get completely different discussions.

C: Yeah exactly and what do you then during a pipeline reviews, you spoke a little bit about the forecasting accuracy, how do you handle the pipeline reviews when you go into a deal?

M: So pipeline reviews, the real, so not the forecast, the pipeline, that’s really when I’m looking into the overall numbers. And one of the things, there are two things, one is quantity, how many deals are in there, and you and I know a good account manager or whatever you want to call, can manage somewhere between 18 to 22 deals 

C: Yes

M: 40, is not going to work, he needs to give, he or she needs to give the deals away, that’s one. So very basic stuff. How many deals are in there, where are the deals and especially then the qualification part, I would ask are you sure, is this a wish list, have you really talked to them, what’s the next step. So I would really go down to quantity first, how many in every single category, and then the quality aspect of the deals you have, how long are they in there and how are they moving through the pipeline right, so how many percentage can you actually move from one part to the other part, is there a way to speed it up, and the question I would constantly ask is what’s the way to speed it up, What’s the why now, why do they need it now, and when you don’t know, sorry. 

Pop. I put it in nurture, The other thing that I notice a lot in these pipelines is that sometimes deals get stuck for like 6, you know you speak for 6 months in a row about the same deal and it never happens, I take it out and I put it in a category called nurture, I put it at 0%, nurture, and then marketing needs to take over. And I let them… I say, it’s too long in there and it needs to move, let’s get it out there and then you can do all the nurture technologies, techniques to get it there and again the pipeline gets smaller and smaller and I kind of like it in a weird way because it makes you think I need to do more.

C: And when you do this, when you nurture a customer, it’s not because the deal is closed for now that you lost for customer so you can rebuild the relationship

M: So I give you a real case, I worked with a company, can’t tell you the name, they’re into the video player type of business and when I walked in they showed me this massive pipeline, so first thing I did was the forecasting so it was already like whoop, almost empty. And then the second thing is I started looking into this pipeline and starting asking the question will it come now or later, how long is it in there, way too long in there and I started putting it in nurture queue. And then I said to them I said: “you have to realise that the nurture part there is a 15% closing chance of puling them back in because you were probably too early in the process, right, so you have a 15%” and then we looked into the numbers and they had 2 million monthly recurring stuck in nurture so if you go back and you do 15% of that in a monthly recurring, that’s 300K, and they actually closed about 220, 230 of that. So don’t ditch the nurture right, you got to go back every month and see, and you can pull it back into, that for me is pure sales technique, marketing technique how you do that.

C: Yeah yeah perfect, perfect and then when you look at, we spoke on a high level how you look at it from a management point of view what as an AE, what are some good tips from them to build a good pipeline?

M: That really depends on the business, the one thing that I realised was that when I was an account executive, I never had enough in it, I always needed more, that was once. So I had to learn the power of marketing and I had to find the ways to manipulate the marketing team to get me more leads right, so you have your own network which always needs to scale and then I had them and I started like layering the ways, I would do my sales, oh the other thing that’s now really becoming a trend, we don’t have time to talk about that it’s like personal brands for sales so that you can really scale yourself on LinkedIn or on other platforms with your expertise. That’s something coming, it’s really big I think. 2022 will be really big on that one, but that’s something they need to master and then I hated CRM, I hated all the structures but I think most sales guys do, right.

C: Sales and administration don’t go well together right?

M: But yet I had a boss and he was pretty, … he said to me, I don’t need you to fill it in every second of the day right but he said once we do every 2, 3 weeks we had this like quarterly, monthly I don’t know how they call it, review and he said the moment you walk into that, don’t make me find a mistake and if he would find a mistake he would just say: “time to go, you didn’t fill it in, get out.” And he did it twice, and the third time, I always had it filled in. He was very painful, it’s a bit aggressive but well… he was like, two forces of nature fighting right. Filling in this, never bite the hand that feeds you.

C: Exactly, exactly, so filling in CRM was a step number 1?

M: CRM, you need some type of system because how smart they are, they will forget.

C: And are there other tips to build a pipeline?

M: Specially, hang on, so you have the hold of the sales techniques, the marketing techniques, the reception, the micro, I mean this is really really not pipeline this is more sales, one of the techniques that works pretty well is I could reach out to people and say why don’t we grab a digital coffee in 10-15 minutes time. We did that a lot during Corona all over the place, worked like a charm. Especially the fact that you said it’s short, its 10-15 minutes because most sales what they don’t realise is that they need to do between 8-15 meetings to close a deal, 8% of the deals get closed. So your goal of the first meeting, the first time you chat is not to close but it’s to close the second meeting, so don’t give everything like here is everything like keep talking about your love, baby…, no you got to hold pieces back for the second meeting. And then in the second meeting you got to start thinking I need to get it to the third, and by then, and only then, closing techniques all that stuff starts flowing. And that’s one of the basic flaws that people do, same on social, they try to shortcut the process: “hey Cedric, my name is Michael here’s 500 euro discount if you buy from us.” “I don’t know you, why are you doing this” right, so first get connection, then do everything else, try to close, let’s grab a coffee, let’s do this, I don’t know but not, don’t go for the kill, it just in b2b, it just does not, does not work.

C: Yeah, yeah, yeah, great. And when you look at the pipeline review and you see that there’s a gap, how do you manage, or how do you set up a good gap plan?

M: Then I would go really individually, then I would actually take the Sales apart and I would say okay we see we have a gap and I would do the reverse calculation, in order to fill the gap we need to do blah blah blah and I start doing the backwards calculation, and by the way, just on a side note, most companies, when I come in, they’re pretty good at the top down calculation, we need to get to 5 millions and so yeah.  One of the things that I do sometimes is the bottom up calculation. Is there enough time to physically do what you’re asking and in many cases I have to say you don’t have enough people to do this or you just don’t have enough marketing… you’re missing an element for this volume. Right, most pipelines miss volume. So getting in the volume is a very, I call it sales fuel Cedric, Talk leaders, you mention new stuff so I call it sales fuel, I think it’s important to always look at that but that’s more of a management point of view that you need to look.  Back to the individual. I would really ask them, so you have a gap, so what you’re really missing is tak tak tak tak.. what’s the plan? And then, I had the boss that used to do this, what’s the plan, and I would make the most insane plans, spend 2 weeks thinking about a plan but not doing anything right?

C: Yeah, yeah

M: I think miraculously stuff happens, so I would do something else I would say okay we have 6 weeks, I mean not to get fired but I mean let’s look at your quarter in 2 blocks of 6 weeks, how can we in 6 weeks reach a market, what can we do, can we build like something like all the sales can like for instance we would do reach outs from LinkedIn or then if that doesn’t work we do reach outs from call team and if that doesn’t work we would do reach outs from cold calling. I would always put cold calling really at the last because it’s just really hard, not scaleable and nobody likes it anyway. So I would start building in this cadence I would go back to like we said to the reps, got to put, got to lift the weights to get there and I would start measuring purely on have you done that today, have you done that this week and it will fix the pipeline.

C: Okay

M: Of course, they need to have the skillset? Sometimes they don’t have the skills I mean there is some stuff, some other stuff that always come in to play.

C: Yeah correct, very interesting point you say people don’t like to call, I mean for me it all starts with a conversation and starting off the conversation could be through LinkedIn or maybe a mail but in the end you need a call so sales people that are afraid of the phone…

M: or physically go show yourself, right? Yeah but there is a big difference, I think there is 2 types of sales you have the classic hunter and the classic farmer which is like they like it when somebody opens the door for them and they’re really good in the relationship so they don’t like the phone I get it, but once it’s done they’re really good, so there I will facilitate with inside sales teams and I will other people opening that door because they can be really good. The classic hunter is not always good in these long term relations, they like, get in, get out. Those are the guys, guys or girls that I would really push into the more crazy, let’s try and reach x amount of people, let’s push, but you got to balance it right, you got to balance it. And calling is of course, you got to call at a certain stage what I don’t want you to do Cedric, is get the list, get the names, you do 100 tak tak tak get one meeting, it’s just not efficient then you can let somebody else, an agency call, unless when you’re talking to very high, I mean if you have a simple product it’s easier, if you have like a big data AI product, you just, cold calling’s going to be tough.

C: Yeah sure, yeah exactly, yeah. Great and then the final question, you spoke already about your career and the things that you learnt, the things that you had to do. What for you was the biggest learning into really getting pipeline management or forecasting accuracy really right?

M: The day I became a manager, I had to run 4, 5 people, I suddenly realised that the way I was doing my forecasting was not the right way. Because I suddenly got a different view, I got like a bit more of a helicopter view and I started looking into that and I think now if I have junior sales, I actually make them sometimes part of my thinking, I show them look, this is a forecast, this is how, this is what I’m seeing, you are telling me that I am seeing this, when I report to the big chief, this is what I’m going to say so they learn the language, the way to think and what doesn’t work. And also what I did was I started implementing and I still do that and I can share it with you if you want, actually I have 2-3 slides that I want them to fill in, every week, google slide and it’s a little bit of work, it’s not..because I don’t want them to spend 2 much time on it. And it’s basically the stuff that I sent directly to C-level, so C-level every week can look into what I’m doing, just see, tak tak tak tak, and they know exactly what’s going on. And because I, it’s a one on one connection, they better be careful what they fill in so I teach them for that and I think that’s a very powerful thing. Also what I used to do is I would bring in the executive, guys this week it’s special forecast, and I just put the executive, the angry man most of the time, put him there and they would just shoot and funnily enough in the beginning I would do this and the guy, the guy he would shoot.. he was actually nice to the sales, and then he would turn to me and he was like you’re not doing a good job here and he would shout at me which I kind of like that he did so I would… I would do, the other thing that I learnt as a manager is that, I give a lot of freedom these days, but I do random control. Out of nowhere I would show up in a call and I would go along and I wouldn’t say anything and I would let them do their thing because most managers they tend to completely take over right, I don’t do that I’m just there to support. If they look at me and they really say this guy can decide right, I would answer but this random control thing works really really really well but people kind of forget that. That’s, that would be my biggest advice. Freedom, random control, Time to time you go in and sometimes go really deep into the account, really really really deep and then, the rhythm, the rhythm, do the reps, that’s the major things if things go wrong, do the reps.

C: I love it, alright great, thank you so much Michael for your input, for your answers, and apparently we will have a next meeting soon about setting up a meetings for teams.

M: Perfect, catch you later.

C: Catch you later, bye bye Michael.