Welcome to the 21st century, where the sales pipeline is no longer a concept taught in b-school textbooks, but a living, breathing visualization of leads and opportunities moving through your sales cycle.
If you’re reading this post, you probably already know that using technology, like a CRM, to streamline your sales process comes with its own baggage of workplace roadbumps. The issues that sales teams have today can really run the gamut: outdated and dead opportunities still in the pipeline, inaccurate data, high drop offs, and lack of prioritization, to name a few.
In this post we will break down:
- What sales pipeline management is
- Ways to keep your pipeline healthy and moving
- How to run a pipeline review
A Brief Description of Sales Pipeline Management
Sales Pipeline Management is the consistent and ever-thoughtful process of maintaining the progress of all your opportunities in a healthy and helpful sales cycle. Those who have a successful pipeline management process down confidently track every sales interaction and every valuable detail as qualified leads are guided from the awareness stage to a final decision.
When a sales pipeline is properly maintained, it opens the door to deeper analysis and optimization of the sales process and the types of deals closed.
3 Ways To Keep the Pipeline Healthy and Flowing
1. Customize your deal stages (or steps in your sales cycle) to fit your team’s specific needs
This is fairly fundamental, and if you’ve already taken care of this, skip ahead. When you first set up your pipeline, it will likely come with some out-of-the-box deal stages. These are what your sales qualified leads move through as they are worked by your sales team. Deal stages should be set up to directly and accurately address the interactions and milestones in your sales process that need to happen to secure a dea
For example, if you know that every lead you close has needed a few days to get buy-in from the decision maker, include this as a deal stage. Or if every opportunity needs a proposal built and sent to them, make that a deal stage too. Or even if there’s a legal review phase - include that too! You probably get the point now.
Make the stages work for your process, and make your process work for your stages. It lets you and your sales team know where leads are at any given moment and it serves up the optimal actions that are needed to move opportunities to the next stage.
2. Keep your pipeline clean and current
Update your opportunities. Drop stagnant leads.
This might sound obvious because it’s honestly the whole point of using a CRM to run your sales pipeline. However, you would be surprised by the number of clients we see set up a pipeline, let it sit there, and then become obsolete.
This means attaching meeting notes to contacts’ records, updating deal amounts as they happen, and linking to relevant documents and proposals in the contact record. It’s an un-vicious cycle. The more helpful information your team puts in the sales pipeline, the more often they’ll need to use it. The more often your team uses it, the more accurate information goes in the pipeline.
Dropping Stagnant Leads
It can be hard to say goodbye. Getting rid of those potentially-high value deals that have been in your “Nurture Interest” stage for six weeks can feel like you’re kissing revenue goodbye but it’s actually the opposite. It allows your team to see the voids in your pipeline that need to be filled by your marketing or prospecting efforts, which is a huge benefit in your resource allocation.
Keep your team updated on how to identify a dead lead. The signals can vary from company to company, but if a lead directly says they aren’t interested or doesn’t return communication after multiple tries, then it’s time to let them go.
A great way to salvage those relationships is to send a personalized note that basically says “Maybe this isn’t the right time, but keep my number handy. Thanks for your interest.” If you have the resources (and if they haven’t opted out), move them into a light-nurture, low-touch marketing cycle so that your brand stays top of mind without pissing them off.
3. Look for areas to improve at the conversion points between every deal stage
Once you get comfortable analyzing your sales pipeline, the ROI on your CRM becomes more and more apparent. Take a hard look at the drop off rate between your deal stages and ask your team and the clients why those leads didn’t convert. Track those reasons and actively work to find ways to solve for those pain points, ultimately improving your sales conversion rates between each stage.
Pro tip: focus on optimizing the first few stages of your sales pipeline.
First, let me say that if your data shows a truly glaring need to improve the end of your pipeline, get to that first. All else equal, logic says that your efforts will pay off quicker if you optimize the conversion points that are earliest on in your process.
This is because you can only lose contacts as they progress forward through the buyer’s journey. So, if you increase the conversion rate between the first two stages, even marginally, you will see the number of potential deals in your later stages increase by an order of magnitude. Even a small improvement at the top of the funnel causes that many more potential leads heading through your pipeline.
Running a Sales Pipeline Review
It’s best practice to regularly grab your sales team, review the current opportunities and leads in the pipeline, and get everyone on the same page. Every week is a great cadence.
The keys to a great sales pipeline review are:
- Effective and brief updates on the movement of current deals
- Letting metrics guide the meeting where appropriate.
- Read more: The Sales Pipeline Metrics You Should Be Tracking
- Read more: Sales Pipeline Analysis Made Simple
- Prioritizing your team around the deals that can potentially have the highest revenue using the weighted deals forecasting method.
- Identifying deals that have been stuck in one stage for too long (bonus points if you can automate this report), and solve for ways to move those deals forward.
Our Final Tip: Remember the Big Picture.
Revenue growth. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds, especially when doing the detail-intensive work of sales pipeline management. Don’t forget that your efforts in maintaining and optimizing the end of the buyer’s journey all add up to growing your organization’s revenue in less time than before.
Read more on the big picture in our mega-helpful long-form guide to Understanding and Achieving Revenue Growth. It’s free, right here on the world-wide web, no email or download necessary. If you like it, just do us a favor and send it to your team.