Like motherhood and apple pie, a pipeline process that helps you organize and realize your opportunities is easy to label "a good thing."But there's a considerable gap between knowing this and making it happen in your own firm. My goal in this article is to help you bridge that gap.

GATHERING THE FRUITS

A pipeline is an inventory of current opportunities and activity. Opportunity development that employs the pipeline process is Step Three in my four-step rainmaking model, which also includes marketing (Step One), lead generation (Step Two) and service delivery (Step Four).

A regular pipeline review helps firm principals remain aware of what everyone else is doing, and brings a sense of urgency to their own assigned duties. Imagine a field with the harvest ready to be gleaned - gathering the fruits of previous labor is what the pipeline process is all about.

There's something highly energizing about giving partners access to the same information. By focusing everyone on the same end result, the pipeline changes the environment from one in which disconnected individuals are pursuing solo pursuits to one in which a cohesive team aspires to a shared purpose.

An inventory of opportunities sequenced on an Excel spreadsheet-type report is a roadmap that helps managing partners clearly see their destination and what's required to get their team there.

I've seen partner groups go from scribbling out a pipeline on a Starbucks napkin to tackling growth as an orderly and predictable process. They know who does what, how resources will be allocated and what happens when anticipated results don't materialize.

CASE IN POINT

Bethesda, Md.-based Reznick Group has embraced the pipeline process, with most of the firm's eight offices now implemented. At those locations, a review takes place every two weeks for about 30 to 45 minutes. The process has had distinctive benefits for key members of the leadership team.

Kenneth E. Baggett, managing principal of the 90-partner firm, said that the process has helped move partners in a cohesive direction. In the past, it was not unusual for two offices to pursue the same piece of business. "The pipeline helps ensure that we are assembling the best possible engagement team," he said.

The most valuable benefit for this CEO has been getting people excited and motivated: "Even some partners who have not been too focused on business development bring more focus to it in this way."

Bill Riley, managing partner of Reznick Group's Baltimore office, said, "For us, the pipeline provided a very orderly process for controlling and analyzing sales leads." It also creates accountability, positive peer pressure and genuine enthusiasm for the sales process. "With all the information collected in one place, people can see that sales is not an abstract process. And they can see exactly who's doing what."

Reznick Group's national director of business development, Stacie Benes, agreed: "The pipeline has facilitated and enhanced our business-development efforts. The process gives you insight into whom you're approaching, what you're working on, what services are being sold and the staff you'll need if you get the deal."

The jury is in - an opportunity pipeline process brings order, enthusiasm, insight and bottom-line sales success. I'd call that a win-win! AT

Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

(c) 2007 by Crosley + Co.

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