Perhaps you’ve seen this movie:
CEO: “Wow the quarterly pipeline dropped 20% this week. What’s going on sales VP?”
Sales VP: “Well, that’s because we cleaned it up this week.”
CEO: “That sounds great, but you said that last week.”
VP of Sales: “Well, that’s because we scrubbed it then, too.”
CEO: “So shouldn’t it have been clean after last week’s cleaning? Why did it require so much more cleaning that it dropped another 20% this week.”
VP of Sales: “Well, you know it’s a big job and you can’t clean up the whole pipeline in a week.”
CEO: “Should I expect it to drop another 20% next week?”
VP of Sales: “Uh.”
CEO: “Soon you’re going to say that we don’t have enough to make our numbers.”
VP of Sales: “Well, I did mean to mention that I’ve been thinking of cutting the forecast because we just don’t have enough opportunities to work on.”
CEO: “But we started the quarter with 3.2x pipeline coverage, shouldn’t that be enough?”
VP of Sales: “Normally, yes. But the pipeline wasn’t really clean. Some of those opportunities weren’t real opportunities.” 
CEO: “What does ‘clean’ mean? When does it get clean? Once clean, how long does it stay clean.”
VP of Sales: “Well, look our view here is that we should always be scrubbing, so we’re constantly scrubbing the pipeline, always finding new things.”
What’s wrong with this conversation? A lot. This Sales VP:
- Has no clear definition of a scrubbed pipeline.
- Has no process for scrubbing the pipeline.
- Takes no accountability for the pipeline and its quality.
In my experience, the statement “we always scrub the pipeline” means precisely one thing: “we never scrub the pipeline.”
Should that matter? Well, using some quick assumptions , the average first-line enterprise sales manager is managing pipeline that cost $50,000 to generate per rep, so if they’re managing 6-8 reps they are managing pipeline that cost the company $300,000 – $400,000. Sales managers need to manage that pipeline. The way to manage it is through periodic, disciplined scrubs .
Now some managers don’t play the “always scrubbing” card. Instead, they say “we scrub the pipeline every week on my sales forecast call.” But once understand what a pipeline scrub looks like and remember the purpose of a forecast call , you realize that it’s impossible to do both at once.
How to Properly Scrub the Pipeline
While everyone will want to take their own unique angle on how to approach this, the core of a pipeline scrub is to review all the opportunities (this quarter and out quarters) in every sales rep’s pipeline to ensure that they are classified correctly with respect to:
- Close date (which determines what quarter pipeline it’s in)
- Stage (along a series of well defined and verifiable stages)
- Forecast category (e.g., forecast, commit, upside)
- Value (following specific rules about how and when to value opportunities)
These rules should be documented in a living document called something like Pipeline Management Rules (PMR) to which managers should refer during the pipeline scrub (e.g., “Jimmy, tell me what’s the rule for picking a close date in the PMR document”).
The other important thing about pipeline scrubs is timing, because pipeline scrubs will affect your sales analytics (e.g., pipeline coverage ratios, pipeline conversion rates, stage- and forecast-category weighted expected values). Ergo, I picked a few fixed weeks per quarter (weeks 3, 6, and 9) to present scrubbed pipeline and then we typically use the week 3 snapshot for most of our early-quarter pipeline analytics .
The goal of the pipeline scrub is to ensure that the entire pipeline is fairly represented with respect to those rules. By following this disciplined procedure you can ensure that your sales forecasting and analytics are not a castle built on a sand foundation, but an edifice built on bedrock.
 If you haven’t gone insane yet, this one should push you over. Wait, whose job it is to accept opportunities into the pipeline? Sales! Once an opportunity gets into what’s known as either “stage 2” or “sales accepted lead” status, sales doesn’t get to play that card. This represents a total failure to accept accountability.
 10 this-quarter and 10 out-quarter opportunities per rep * $2,500 mean cost per opportunity = $50,000.
 I am not arguing that you can’t also clean up opportunities along the way, but that needs to be a supplement to, not a substitute for, a proper pipeline scrubbing process.
 A forecast call is usually focused on the current quarter and on the opportunities that are expected to close in order to make the forecast. Thus, low-probability and out-quarter opportunities are easily overlooked.
 Implying of course that sales perform the scrubs during weeks 2, 5, and 8 so the resulted can be presented on Monday morning of weeks 3, 6, and 9.
Thanks for the great article. It would be great to hear your thoughts about when a lead makes sense to convert to an opportunity.
Pretty standard, imho — when after an initial call the salesperson finds it to be a sales opportunity (i.e., they are probably going to buy something) with a close date within some timeframe specific to your company (e.g., 9 months, 12 months).
I love Note #1. I was thinking to myself – please let this end!
Very helpful article! Why not scrub the pipeline every week before the data download for analytics? Why only every 3 weeks?
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