The Top of the Funnel

Instead of only teaching reps how to close, sports sales managers must also instill in reps the importance of opening sales conversations with new prospects. Opening sales isn’t glamourous, but the more reps open, the more reps close.

Top of the Funnel. I heard that phrase repeatedly from many smart, progressive sales organizations as I travelled across the country the last few years. Conceptually, I think we all get it. The more conversations you’re in, the more progress through the sales process, the more sales you get out the back end. Pretty straightforward, right? As I was to learn…it’s not.

Do the Math

Top of the Funnel is an equation, not a statement. When done correctly, it starts by focusing strongly on understanding a rep’s pipeline. This considers your organization’s average sale size, your individual rep’s average sale size, his or her goal, and your team’s historical sales by month, all to understand the expectations each rep should have each week or month they are in the office. 

It also looks at your rep’s current pipeline and historical close rates to understand what it’s going to take for that rep to reach the target goal. It means working with your reps to understand what a “good lead” and a “bad lead” truly are, and making sure their pipelines are as scrubbed and accurate as possible. Only accurate goals and pipelines take the Top of the Funnel mentality from a concept to an actual target.

Once you’re able to do that, you can work back to the Top of the Funnel mentality. To accurately embrace that mentality, a manager cannot look at calls and talk time and meetings as markers of success or failure. You look at them as symptoms of success or failure. If a rep has what you determine to be success making only 20 calls a day, the manager needs to be ok with that. And that can be hard to wrap one’s head around. Professional sports teams tend to get caught up in a specific amount of calls per day because they believe that amount of calls will yield success. 

Embracing the Top of the Funnel mentality, I made about 200 phone calls a day at my first job at CEB because I knew I needed to hit my goals. If I was told to make 80 calls, I wouldn’t have done my job well at all.

To close one suite deal, we can’t just work one opportunity well, we need to have 15 to 20 opportunities actively open at all times.

Fill Your Premium Pipeline

A manager also needs to embrace the idea that the process is more important than the individual sales. When you’re doing your one-on-one’s, are you focused on talking about what a rep has done? Or are you focusing on the analytics of what they need to do to generate success? The manager needs to embrace that it doesn’t matter how the opportunity entered the pipeline, rather focus on that it has entered the pipeline.

This is especially true in the premium space. Because the price points are so big, we tend to believe that it’s just fine to have a small pipeline of opportunities so long as we work those leads well. To close one suite deal, we can’t just work one opportunity well, we need to have 15 to 20 opportunities actively open at all times. Having those 15 to 20 opportunities clearly increases our chances that one will say yes, but it also makes us less desperate in our negotiations.

Flip Your Mentality

That’s a lot to think about and take in, and we haven’t even talked about instilling the Top of the Funnel mentality into our reps. This is by far the most important and most difficult part. Reps become so focused on where their next sale is coming from that they tend to focus on their current universe of prospects first and, if they have time, engage new prospects. This leads to a vicious roller coaster of a sales ride.

Once that pipeline dwindles, the rep becomes so desperate to close the leads in the narrowing pipeline that desperation seeps into the sales process, and the rep struggles to close anything. Only once that pipeline evaporates completely do they focus on re-engaging new prospects. As an industry, we need to flip this mentality completely on its head.

As mentioned, it’s important that managers embrace the process because it will be impossible to drive this home with reps if we’re always asking where the next sale is coming from. Instead of focusing on asking reps about closing, we need to ask the reps what they’ve opened each day. Wait, what? 

Open More, Close More

As crazy as that sounds, there’s a method to the madness. If we all agree that one of the biggest challenges reps have is evaporating pipelines and desperate sales calls, the easy way to get rid of that mentality is to flip their focus from closing to opening. One of my favorite expressions to use towards this end is, “There’s no such thing as a great closer. There are great openers who can close.”

One of my favorite expressions to use towards this end is, “There’s no such thing as a great closer. There are great openers who can close.”

Sales as one big math equation needs to be a consistent refrain from managers. The more you open, the more you close. Then, the more you open, the better you get at sales, the more consistent you get big sales, the more butt you kick in your office and around your league.

Opening sales is like hitting a bucket of golf balls. It’s not always a ton of fun, but it helps improve your abilities, which helps improve your score. There certainly is glamour and excitement in closing sales. This is something our reps (and managers) get caught up in all the time. It’s impossible not to, but we do have to fight that urge.

Manage Individuals

Hopefully now that I’ve sold you on the importance of opening, we can talk about how to open. Opening, when managed correctly, is an intensely personal thing for each individual salesperson. Some premium salespeople are terrific face-to-face. Some premium salespeople are incredibly efficient over the phone. Some premium salespeople crush networking events. Some premium salespeople are remarkable gameday sellers. Some premium salespeople have become outstanding at utilizing LinkedIn as their main sales tool. Some premium salespeople are good at a few of those. Some premium salespeople are some crazy amalgamation of all of those.

Saying a rep needs to make 80 calls a day is not managing. It’s dictating. Understanding and developing the OPENING skill set of each of your reps, individually, across the platforms above, is managing. Also, understanding where their strengths lie in the communication types above and encouraging their efforts (even if it’s not on the phone or in meetings) is managing.

Instead of focusing on asking reps about closing, ask reps what they’ve opened each day. 

So how do you practice or coach opening? The first part of teaching this mentality is to focus on engagement. Selling premium spaces to corporate clients starts with the opportunity to get excited to meet with you from the first contact. You must think about each touchpoint you place to a business, and ask yourself if it’s straightforward, informative, and engaging. Game respects game. If the business knows exactly why you’re reaching out, and still wants to talk to you, that’s a good lead. If you are informing and educating the business along the way, they will look at you as the expert and want to engage with you. Finally, one of the most effective questions you can ask yourself when it comes to opening is, “Would I return that call (email, LinkedIn note, etc.)?” If your answer is “no”, then a business won’t either. Staying consistent in being straightforward, informative, and engaging across all communications channels will yield consistent opening success.

Know Your Equation

The premium sales space is competitive. We should be losing business far more frequently than we are winning business. If we embrace the Top of the Funnel mentality though, that losing will be ok. We know that the equation will work in our favor sooner rather than later.

Do you know what your equation is?
Write to Brett at


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