5 actionable strategies for managing your sales pipeline
If your sales are stagnating and you’re looking for ways to scale your company by boosting sales performance, it could be sales pipeline problems holding you back. Managing your sales pipeline effectively is crucial to your success, so it will definitely pay you to take the time to review the entire sales process.
From administration issues to failures following up, your sales pipeline can help you identify what’s causing bottlenecks and preventing you from achieving your goals.
In this post we address ways to help you better manage your pipeline to increase sales and boost your customer retention rate.
What is a sales pipeline?
Before we get started with some actionable strategies, let’s define what we mean by a sales pipeline. Basically a sales pipeline is a:
“visual snapshot of where prospects are in the sales process”. (SuperOffice)
As opposed to a sales funnel, a sales pipeline illustrates the steps a sales team should take in order to qualify leads and close deals.
The diagram, above right, shows some common stages in a sales pipeline. The first contact stage could be an initial call routed by an IVR system to your call center. The next step, qualifying that caller as a lead. Eventually the pipeline may lead to turning them into a brand advocate. However, there are no hard and fast rules.
Pipeline stages differ from company to company and even by product.
Now, as promised, here are five best practices when it comes to improving your sales pipeline management process.
1. Follow up
Elite sales professionals are persistent. They make sure they keep following up with leads in order to land sales. Others give up after only one or two attempts. While following up isn’t easy (in fact it’s generally seen as one of the sales teams’ biggest challenges), it’s a key element in the sales process.
To make sure you keep on top of following up, set reminders. The best way to do this is to automate the process within your CRM so reps receive timely alerts.
You could also use sales email templates that can be sent out on specific dates, such as a week after the initial sales call. Creating personalized letters and proposals is an essential part of the follow up process, too, in order to give prospects a tailored, professional impression of your company.
2. Focus on the ‘warmest’ leads
Identify your high value leads by viewing the sales activities for each one to see which are the most engaged. Then you can focus on the best opportunities. Drop those that are taking up too much of your time without offering any success.
Dropping leads that have been in the pipeline for a while can be hard to do. However, If they don’t seem interested after months’ of nurturing, or if they can’t be contacted, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to push them to the next stage of the pipeline.
Learn how to identify worthless leads early on, so you can use your time more productively. Here are some clues that a lead might not be worth your effort:
- If the company or individual you’re dealing with doesn’t fit your buyer persona.
- If they’re in a geographic location you’ll struggle to serve.
- If they keep responding to messages, but take no other actions to suggest interest (I.e. downloading eBooks, subscribing to newsletters, etc.)
3. Keep on top of your pipeline metrics
Just as your customer review examples indicate the effectiveness of your customer service team, your sales pipeline metrics allow you to see how well your sales team is performing. Your sales pipeline will change over time, so you need to keep on top of key sales metrics including:
- Number of deals in the pipeline
- Average % of deals in the pipeline
- Average % deals won
- Average time to close deals (sales velocity)
Have regular meetings to review these metrics. They’ll give you an overview of the health of your sales pipeline. Over time, your tracked results will give you clues as to whether any changes or improvements you’ve made are working and if they’re contributing towards growth.
4. Keep updating your pipeline
As you gather new leads, they need to be added then moved from one stage in the pipeline to the next, in a bid to close deals. However, it’s all too easy to let the pipeline become disorganized by neglecting to add information or adding incorrect information to the system. And this could lead to lost sales.
Avoid this by keeping up to date with accurate details on every lead, and adding regular notes for each lead at every step of the pipeline.
This means you may have to spend a little extra time on admin – but it will pay you dividends. By removing ‘dead’ leads and updating information, you have the best data to work with going forward.
5. Keep the sales cycle short
A typical B2B sales cycle can be lengthy. Even if you’re selling the best video conferencing for small business, it will still take you time to make prospects see your unique value. Unlike with a B2C cycle, you’re dealing with high ticket items and the sales team have to deal with numerous decision makers.
And the longer a sales cycle, the longer your target account has to change their mind or find an alternative solution.
So, it’s essential to find ways to shorten the sales cycle. This doesn’t mean you should start bombarding prospects with endless follow-ups – this isn’t offering prospects the world class services experience they’re looking for in order to convert.
You can, however, take a more strategic approach. This could involve reducing the number of days between follow-ups or giving prospects more relevant information to help shorten their decision time.
Try testing out shorter sales processes and monitor the results to see which are helping you improve.
You could also move towards a more account-based management approach (ABM). This allows you to focus on key accounts and establish closer relationships with stakeholders in that account.
Paying attention to your sales pipeline is critical to growing your business.
To increase sales quotas and reduce sales cycles, focus on your sales pipeline. Just as the marketing department uses SaaS SEO consulting to help them understand best practices when it comes to search, your sales team needs to learn the best ways to manage the sales pipeline.
John Allen, Director, Global SEO at RingCentral, a global UCaaS, VoIP and auto dialler software provider. He has over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs. He has written for websites such as Silver-peak and 3dcart.
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