Have you checked your sales pipeline lately?
If you read that sentence and think to yourself “I’m not even sure we have a sales pipeline…” then this article is going to be vitally important to you.
If your business sells things and actively goes out to find customers, you technically already have a sales pipeline – but if you’re not monitoring it, refining it, and looking at where it clogs or bogs down, then you’re not making all the sales you could be.
And at the end of the day, we all want to make more sales, right? Well, your pipeline is the key.
What is a Sales Pipeline?
Let’s start with a sales pipeline definition.
Without getting overly complicated, a sales pipeline is a visual representation of where all your various customers are in the purchasing process. It provides information on what deals are happening, where the customer is on the buyer’s journey, how your salespeople are doing in terms of hitting their quotas, and can give you a good estimate of revenue.
For a sales manager, a sales pipeline can feel a lot like a lifeline – it’s filled with valuable information that can give you an intimate look at where your numbers are headed.
If you’re not managing your sales pipeline, your sales department isn’t running as efficiently as it could be.
What is Sales Pipeline Management?
Now that we know what a sales pipeline is, let’s talk a bit about how to manage it.
Pipeline management is vitally important to ensuring that you’re nurturing your leads through the buyer’s journey in order to help them complete their transactions with your company.
When you have a small number of potential customers in your pipeline, managing how they move through the process is relatively simple – but as your sales pipeline grows, it’s vital to stay on top of it to prevent potential clogs.
Managing the pipeline isn’t just knowing who’s in the sales funnel and where they’re located, though – it’s also understanding what’s keeping them stuck at a specific point of the process, how to move them to the next stage more effectively, and gain insight into how to improve the entire process.
At this point, you might be thinking “great, just what I needed – another project to monitor…”
The good news is keeping track of your pipeline doesn’t have to be a headache or a full time job. Modern sales enablement software leveraging AI can not only keep track of all your customers, but show you what might move them to the next stage, give you probability stats on completing the sale, and even tell you if you need to include additional stakeholders to increase your chances of success!
Why is a Sales Pipeline Important?
At this point, you might be thinking “yeah, this sales pipeline thing sounds useful, but why is this so vitally important for me and my company?”
The simplest answer is that the pipeline is important because it can help your sales team better serve your customers and potential customers.
The more interesting answer is because it can dramatically increase your bottom line.
This Harvard Business Review article shows that companies with a well-managed pipeline increased growth by 15% over their less interested competition. It goes on to note that companies that mastered the three best practices of sales pipeline management had a whopping 28% increase in revenue.
What were those three best practices?
- They clearly define their sales process
- They spend time developing the process
- They train sales managers in pipeline management techniques
These are some of the reasons why having a fully functional sales pipeline is important – but they’re not the only reasons. Here are some others to consider:
- Better Sales Forecasting
- Better Allocation of Resources
- Better Sales Team Management
- Close Deals Faster
- Increase Deal Revenue
An efficient, well-organized sales pipeline can have a dramatic impact on your revenue. Setting one up takes some time and evaluation, but the rewards are worth the effort.
Once the pipeline is in place, it all becomes a simple matter of continually evaluating performance to ensure that customers are moving from one phase to the next as quickly and efficiently as possible.
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Sales Pipeline Best Practices
Now that we know what a sales pipeline is, and why having one is so important, let’s dive into some of the best practices you’ll want to employ to get your pipeline up and running and keep it working at max efficiency.
• Focus on Your Best Leads
When you start to analyze your pipeline in detail, you’ll probably discover that most deals follow similar patterns. You experience resistance at the same places in the buyer’s journey, deals take roughly the same amount of time investment to complete, and so on.
Realizing this and capitalizing on it should be one of your main focuses as you work to refine your sales pipeline.
When you have multiple leads in the funnel, it makes sense to focus on the highest value ones and the ones closest to closing a deal first.
This doesn’t mean you neglect your other potential customers – but that you should be devoting the bulk of your resources and focus to the best prospects at any given moment. When those deals close, you can reallocate your salespeople to helping the next wave.
By focusing on your best leads, you finish sales more quickly and keep your pipeline running smoothly. By not focusing on these customers you run the risk of turning surefire sales into missed opportunities – with no guarantee that your further back in the pipeline leads will cross the finish line either.
If you don’t want to spend the bulk of your days sifting through CRM Data (or lack of data) to get a handle on pipeline, investing in sales AI software can help. These programs can help you capture your opportunity data automatically and then calculate which leads are the highest value and should be prioritized. A great sales AI platform can even provide you with insight into how to keep them moving toward the finished sale.
• Eliminate your dead leads
No matter how much time you spend qualifying and nurturing leads, the reality is that some potential customers will remain just that: potential customers.
For whatever reason, there will be leads who simply won’t move to the next stage of your pipeline regardless of what you do. These leads, for our purposes, are essentially dead – and like your lawn, sometimes you have to clear out the dead stuff so that new growth can occur.
No one likes dropping a lead, but if you can’t move them forward through your funnel, can’t reach them, or can’t get them to commit after using your best tools and strategies, it’s probably time to cut them loose.
Think of it this way – is it better to spend time, money, and resources on someone who isn’t likely to complete a deal with you or is it better to use your efforts on a newer or more qualified lead instead?
Cutting a lead is never easy – and its not a decision you should make lightly – but if it’s clear there’s no deal to be made without some sort of Herculean effort or divine intervention, you’re better off cutting your losses and focusing on deals with a better chance of success.
• Remember that Metrics Matter
You knew sooner or later we were going to get to the data analysis, right? Well, here we are.
As your pipeline is constantly changing and evolving as people enter it, move through it, and exit (hopefully after completing a purchase…), you must monitor it regularly to make sure it’s operating at maximum efficiency.
So, what metrics should you be looking at? It can vary based on your industry and specific needs. That being said, these four are basically essential.
- Number of currently in progress deals
- Money value of currently in progress deals
- Your close ratio on deals
- Time it takes to close
Let’s take a slightly more detailed look at why these metrics matter.
Knowing the number of deals currently in progress is important because it allows you to see at a glance how your current sales period is shaping up, and it gives you and idea as to whether or not your team is on track for quotas. If numbers are low, it’s time to figure out why (and chart a new course) before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, having a concrete idea of the value of the potential sales in your pipeline allows you to forecast revenue. This is every bit as valuable as knowing how many sales you have in progress.
Next up, we have the close ratio – which when coupled with the value of the potential sales we just discussed, helps you dial in your revenue forecasts even more. No need to guess about how much money might come in – you can actually forecast it with a fair degree of accuracy with these numbers.
SEE ALSO: Sales Forecasting Examples
And finally, we have the time it takes to close a deal. Knowing the average timeframe for a deal adds one more layer to your sales forecasting, by allowing you to predict when revenue will actually be coming in.
Beyond that, each of these bits of data provides diagnostic insights into your sales process as well. If things aren’t performing to standard, there’s an issue in your pipeline. By utilizing this data, you can find the problems and fix them – which is a win for you and your team.
Ideally, you should be looking at your metrics on a regular basis. There’s no need for a daily deep dive into the data, but once a week is recommended. This way, you can spot trends and respond accordingly.
This should go without saying, but if data capture is a challenge for you, then metric following will also be a challenge. Be sure you’re equipped with a sales enablement platform using AI technology to help you gather and analyze your critical data.
• Refine the Pipeline
Your sales pipeline is constantly changing as new customers flow in and out – therefore it’s important that you’re taking all of your data and feedback from your sales team and constantly adjusting the funnel to make it work more efficiently.
Things that worked in the past may not be practical or effective today. Realizing this, and adjusting your pipeline accordingly, can help increase your chances of successfully closing deals.
When you do refine your pipeline, remember that everything should be on the table. Evaluate everything – from your first contact to your post sales follow up – and look for any places where things bottleneck or processes can be improved.
Evaluating and improving your pipeline regularly benefits both you and your customers – so make sure you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to improve!
• Keep it Organized
In a perfect world, your company will have a steady stream of people entering your pipeline and flowing through to the end of sale process.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world – and many people will enter your pipeline and eventually get stuck somewhere inside of it no matter how much you refine it.
We talked about culling dead leads earlier – and it’s important not just because you don’t want to spend time trying to convert people who aren’t going to buy, but because keeping them in your pipeline takes up space.
Keeping your funnel organized and orderly can allow you to get better data – but beyond that, keeping detailed notes on where each customer is in the process can help you stay focused and not lose deals.
If you work with sales people, you know they hate creating notes of every contact, call, and email. They’d rather be selling – and frankly, that’s what you should want them to be doing.
That being said, sales enablement software now has AI features that can track, transcribe, and file every interaction a salesperson makes – from emails, to calls, and beyond. Keep your pipeline clean and organized – it will help you make more sales in the long run.
• Create a Uniform Sales Process
Every sale is different – but that doesn’t mean your sales process should be.
Utilizing a uniform sales process (with room for improvisation as needed, of course) can actually help ensure your team and pipeline are working more effectively.
Think of it this way – while each sale is its own unique thing, your customers are probably more alike than different (after all, that’s why they’ve come to you). Recognizing the common things that unite your customers and crafting your sales process to match can really streamline the sales process.
A uniform sales process can help save time, money, and resources – while also guaranteeing that your sales team will be providing the same services regardless of which member is working with a lead, while also making everything in the pipeline more easily categorized and manageable.
• Utilize Your Content Marketing
One of the big advantages of having a well-crafted pipeline is that you always know where your prospects are in the buyer’s journey. Knowing this provides a lot of valuable insight, and if you’re following earlier steps in this post, then you’re evaluating what it all means and how to make it better.
One of the other advantages of knowing where your potential customers are in the pipeline is that it allows you the opportunity to figure out ways to move them to the next stage.
If you’re using content marketing as part of your sales and marketing approach (and if you’re not, why aren’t you?), then this provides the perfect opportunity to use your content to increase the likelihood of advancing the sale.
Customers love fact sheets, white papers, blog posts, videos, and other assorted content marketing materials when it comes to making buying decisions. Knowing what to serve them and when to serve it can be the difference between a sale and a dead lead.
By studying your pipeline, you can determine what content works best at each step of the journey – and make sure your customers get it when it’s likely to have the greatest effect.
You can take the guesswork out of this process with sales enablement software using marketing AI that utilizes prescriptive analytics – with enough data, this type of software can suggest the perfect piece of content for every buyer, every step of the way.
• Use Software to Make Things Easier
If all of these steps sound like a lot of work, know that there’s an easy button you can press to make everything more manageable.
As we’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this article, there are software solutions available that can help you get the most out of your sales pipeline. In fact, there are so many options currently available that there’s no need to settle for one that’s anything less than perfect for your company.
And while sales enablement and CRM software comes in all different shapes and sizes, there are some things you should consider before making a decision.
Depending on the size of your pipeline and specific needs, you’ll want a program that offers up robust analytics reporting that can be catered to your requirements at the bare minimum.
Beyond that, it’s great to have features like auto-transcribing technology that will capture full records of all your sales team’s calls and emails. Salespeople waste a lot of time inputting data of this nature, but with the right software this issue is eliminated as the program will do it for you. Free your sales people to sell – let technology handle the administrative work.
If you’re doing a lot of content marketing, look for a platform that will help organize your marketing materials so they’re all easily located in one centralized hub. Over 66% of content marketing materials are never used – a good sales enablement system can eliminate that problem.
And finally, if you need help making decisions or just want a second opinion, consider software that offers complex algorithms and AI to provide prescriptive and predictive analytics.
These features can help you decide which leads to focus on (and which have the best chance of success) while also giving you insight on things you can do to increase the odds of closing a deal.
SEE ALSO: How Sales AI Improves Pipeline Management
As mentioned, there are a lot of options available to you – so take the time to analyze what’s available and schedule demos with providers who you feel might be a good fit. Don’t settle for a less than perfect solution.
As you can see, the sales pipeline is a vital part of any company’s success. Setting it up, refining it for optimal performance, and continually tracking results can make a huge difference to your company’s bottom line.
Odds are, you’ve already got a pipeline or funnel in place, but if you’re not following best practices, you’re not taking full advantage of everything a pipeline can provide.
Knowing what deals are in the pipeline, where customers are on their journey, and the potential value of each deal can be invaluable for forecasting both in the immediate future and beyond.
But even more importantly, it can help you close deals – and close them more quickly, more effectively, and with fewer headaches.
That’s an across the board win as far as we’re concerned – and justifies taking the time to make sure your pipeline is in top shape moving forward.
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Accent Technologies is the first and only SaaS company to bring together Sales AI and Content Management in a true Revenue Enablement Platform. We provide both sales and marketing with better visibility into the performance of their teams. This drives revenue through intelligent recommendations for complex sales scenarios and provides the data for rich analytics that power better coaching, forecasting, and long-term customer support. Learn more about our solutions or request a live demo to see it in action.