Smart Sales Operations – Pipeline vs. Estimated Revenue

When I began speaking about Sales Operations, I mentioned there is some bleed between selling and sales ops. One of the critical pieces which companies focus on is pipeline. Where sales and Sales Operations depart, is how pipeline is used to estimate revenue and revenue is used to determine pipeline.

What do I mean? With a few employers, when I entered in an opportunity and my estimation of percent completion, the company then provided a calculated revenue equivalent for the opportunity.

For instance, if I identified a $100,000 opportunity, and was in the initial stages, having maybe had an introductory meeting, I would set the probability at 10%. My employer shows revenue of $10,000. As I progressed through the sales stages, the probability would increase, and so would the estimated revenue, for instance at 40% equaled $40,000.

There is a problem here though, because this IS NOT revenue. It is pipeline. By forecasting revenue dollars inevitably the company would begin looking at this number as real dollars–essentially “counting chickens before they’re hatched”. This, in turn, would lead to greater pressure on the rep to close the deal. And if the deal fell through, which does happen to deals, the company would go into a tizzy. No wonder reps sandbag their deals…

When I’ve asked different companies why they do it this way, they explain it is for budgeting purposes, resource planning, etc. Okay, I can understand the need for planning for resources and budgeting, but it shouldn’t be done off of imaginary numbers. If anything, it should be planned using pipeline probability. A $100,000 opportunity with a 10% chance of closing doesn’t represent $10,000, it represents ZERO dollars and a chance at $100,000 dollars! If the deal proceeds down the pike and gets to 70%, 80%, even 90%, it still represents ZERO DOLLARS.

As a tangent, this mentality is seen in the statistical situations. If you ask anyone what the likely outcome would be if they flipped a coin 10 times, they would say five heads and five tails. But if they are flipping the coin themselves and run into a streak, say, heads four times in a row, then instead of using statistics to predict the next toss, they use their human math and predict what the next toss will be. The problem is, statistically, each toss is 50/50. It doesn’t matter if there has been a streak of heads or tails, as each toss isn’t dependent upon the previous toss or the coming toss, only the current toss. Prediction doesn’t cut it.

Why am I so emphatic about this? Because if pipeline is set up this way, it creates a situation for management to scrutinize deals farther along the pipeline as needed revenue, without considering–among so many other things which can sink a deal–competition or buyer indecision. If you’ve sold before, then I bet you’ve had a customer sit on a deal decision for many months longer than expected or you’ve lost in the eleventh hour to your competition. These things happen to even the best sales people. But to be on the hook to management for a deal which doesn’t close because management is forecasting revenue, well, that’s just bad accounting. Not bad selling.

In Smart Sales Operations, Pipeline Percents represent confidence–how much confidence does the sales person have that a deal will close. Based upon that, estimates of potential revenue are either shown at 100% or nothing. If a company is trying to use some sort of percentage to allocate resources, then it should take the quote which is in consideration by the customer coupled with where it stands in the pipeline, and forecast resource availability. This is a topic within itself, but suffice it to say, resource availability is significantly different from estimated revenue–and I can’t bill my resources against estimated revenue. Only real revenue.

And if it hasn’t been sold, then potential revenue equals nothing. Once it’s been sold, it becomes real revenue.

Last, remember once you have real revenue, then the deal is truly done when the business gets paid real dollars–and the rep gets paid commission.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.