Customer Centric CRM: Mike Bosworth on Why Your Pipeline Milestones Shouldn’t Be About You

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If your sales team is struggling with CRM compliance the problem may be with your pipeline milestones, not your reps.

Many companies struggle with implementing CRM systems correctly. Often it can actually be viewed as a burden rather than a benefit. Sales training authority Mike Bosworth, founder of Solution Selling and co-founder of StoryLeaders, believes the key to improving sales teams’ mileage with CRM is establishing the right milestones. In a Labcast recorded with OpenView, Bosworth, author of Solution Selling, Customer Centric Selling, and What Great Salespeople Do, explains that the trick is making it more about your buyers’ journey rather than company-centric milestones.

Not only can a shift toward customer-centric milestones help rectify a flawed CRM system, it can also lead to improvements in your entire sales process.

What are some of the biggest hurdles a sales department can face when implementing a CRM system?

Well, from management’s point of view, they complain that there’s low compliance, and the salespeople complain that it’s really a waste of their time when they compare the amount of time and effort they have to put into it to be in compliance versus the benefit they get out of it. So neither side is happy.

Every CRM system is built to allow the company to put whatever pipeline milestones they want in that system. Typically, there certainly were no salespeople that ever raised their hand and said to management, “I think we need a CRM system around here.” With today’s technology, most salespeople can easily manage a contact database of their own or even the company can have a contact database. I think the number one reason management has wanted CRM is visibility into their revenue and into their forecasting accuracy. If you go around most companies, even today, a VP of sales will do a forecast, and when the CFO gets it, the CFO kind of glances it over and then goes into his drawer and pulls out his own trend analysis and his own numbers.

How should sales leaders overcoming this lack of buy-in for new CRM implementations?

The people who funded these systems are not happy with what they are getting out of it. I think, if we really get down to it, the pipeline milestones are really the key to making it or breaking it with CRM. … The vast majority of pipeline milestones that we see companies using are milestones that reflect what the company did, which means that it is inputted by a salesperson and so it’s a salesperson’s opinion. A typical company-centric milestone would be, we engaged, we had a first appointment, we investigated their needs, we presented our offering, we did a demonstration, we presented our value proposition, we did a proposal, we’re in negotiations. We’re negotiating with purchasing.

These are all steps that you would find in a lot of CRM systems pipeline. Then what they do is, they have a linear, almost automated way of forecasting based on the percent of those steps completed. Engage, they give it a 20 percent, investigate needs 20 percent, present offering 30 percent, and they just have these forecasting systems that based on the number of vendor centric milestones that the salesperson says we have accomplished. They’re doing forecasts. It’s no wonder that the CFOs aren’t getting a forecast that means anything.

How can the forecasting focus be shifted toward customers?

What are the steps that your customer goes through when they buy? Ask yourself, “Is there some way that these could be our pipeline milestones rather than the typical ones?” of investigating needs, presenting offerings, demonstrating value propositions and proposals, and things like?”

  • The first step in most buy cycles is [customers] coming from not being a buyer, so we start with the step of not looking. One of the biggest challenges for marketing departments these days is to get people who are in the targeted market to go from not looking to looking.
  • The next step is the buyer is willing to open up and share with the salesperson a goal or even admit a problem.
  • Is the buyer willing to converse about both constraints and solutions? Can we get into a solutions discussion that we can document back with the buyer? You could call that step a solution discussion.
  • Can the buyer visualize using your offering in his or her world to achieve a goal or solve a problem?
  • Will this buyer give you, the seller, access to all the key players necessary to get the decision made? Will they give you access to purchasing or procurement? Will they give you access to the CFO? Will they give you access to the IT department if they have to bless it, or the HR department?” That is a pretty easy step to audit, wouldn’t you say?
  • The buyer has had satisfactory proof that your offering will meet their vision. That’s pretty binary.
  • The buyer now understands the value of buying your product. They know that they are going to spend X and they’re going to save Y, and they see the value. That’s pretty easy to document back in writing.
  • The buyer understands implementation responsibilities.
  • Next, verbal approval.
  • Last step, they signed a contract.

It’s basically just breaking down these steps and confirming them all in some kind of correspondence. Most clients these days are using email. The sales executives can go in there and see, what’s the customer’s goal? What their vision of a solution? What’s the payback that they are signing up for? Oh yes, they’ve had proof. So it’s built around what the customer needs to do to buy versus what the salesperson said he did, like investigating needs, presenting offerings, doing demonstrations, and stuff like that.

Any other tips to help salespeople hit their milestones?

The best salespeople write good letters, and they are basically reflections of the calls of the discussions that they have had with their buyers. If those letters are built around the buyer’s buying process, then anytime senior management wants to audit a particular deal at forecast time, all they really have to do is go in and audit the actual correspondence between their salespersons and the prospect.


Mike_BosworthMike Bosworth, founder of Solution Selling and co-founder of StoryLeaders, is a sales training authority, business speaker, and author of three books: Solution Selling, Customer Centric Selling, and What Great Salespeople Do. For more information, visit his website at



Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from an OpenView Labcast, “Are Your CRM Milestones Customer-Centric?” recorded with business author and speaker Mike Bosworth.