Pipeline Management Best Practices
If the sales pipeline truly is the heart of your sales efforts (and we firmly believe it is), how come so many companies are terrible at managing it?
This VantagePoint survey found that 63% of respondents felt their companies did a lousy job when it came to pipeline management. That’s nearly 2/3rds of respondents!
Let’s get started!
1 Learn to Love the Metrics
There are two kinds of people in this world – those who love analytics, and those whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of data analysis.
Unfortunately, there’s no magical spell we can cast that will make you love analytics, but if you can at least tolerate a little bit of number crunching you can gain some truly valuable insight into how your sales efforts are working.
For starters, consider these metrics:
- New Leads Generated
- Conversion Rate of New Leads to Opportunities
- Conversions of Opportunities to Closings
- Average Won Deal Size
- Overall Win Rate
- Average Sales Cycle
- Number of Open Opportunities
This is more than enough to get you started and give you a real detailed look at your sales performance – and it’ll allow you to do some forecasting too.
The good news here is you don’t have to do all of this manually. In fact, a good sales enablement platform with a full analytics suite can give you all of this information and more. Modern software can crunch huge amounts of data and provide actionable insights into how to best fix issues that might be holding your pipeline back.
No matter which approach you choose – doing it manually or utilizing software – it’s no understatement to say that skipping over your analytics is a recipe for failure. You don’t have to delve into every report out there (analysis paralysis is definitely a real thing…), but you do need to be aware of the high level metrics and Key Performance Indicators your pipeline provides.
2 Schedule Regular Reviews
In a perfect world, we’d all have a sales pipeline that operates at peak efficiency on autopilot, but that’s probably more of a dream than reality.
While sales enablement software can oversee your pipeline and offer lots of detailed analysis of things you could be doing better, you will still need that human touch to make sure everything’s on track and implement the suggestions the program provides.
As such, regular reviews of your pipeline are necessary.
The good news here is if you’re following best practices, odds are your pipeline review will be short and sweet.
When you do review your pipeline, remember that nothing should be off 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 streamlining your pipeline regularly benefits both you and your customers – so make sure you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to improve! If you’re not reviewing your pipeline at least once per quarter, you are almost assuredly missing out on opportunities to grow. Once a month or even weekly is guaranteed to help you get better results and spot trends early.
3 Focus on Your Best Leads
When you 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.
Over time, you’ll learn to spot the leads who’re most likely to become opportunities, and the opportunities who have the best chance of closing.
At that point, it’s a simple case of focusing on the best leads first.
Think of the Pareto principle (or as it’s more commonly known, the old 80/20 rule). You want to focus 80% of your efforts on the 20% of leads who are likely to provide the best results. Your pipeline can help you not only identify these customers, but better understand how to get them to the finish line.
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. Take the easy wins whenever you can.
But don’t neglect your other customers – simply prioritize all of your leads. This way, you can clear out customers in your pipeline and achieve better sales velocity, and then you can reassign your team to the next prospects. It’s efficient and effective.
If you’re using sales enablement software, the Artificial Intelligence will make this task even easier.
Modern software can break down success probabilities from anywhere in the funnel so you can focus on the best leads with the highest probability of becoming a win. Sales enablement software can also offer insight into how move leads on the fence along through the pipeline by suggesting additional stakeholders to involve, content solutions to offer, or other strategies.
At any rate, not focusing on your strongest prospects can lead to missed opportunities as sales team members focus on the wrong customers. No one wants to miss opportunities – so get to prioritizing your leads and focusing on the ones who are most likely to become sales victories.
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4 Drop Dead Leads
On the other side of the coin, it makes sense to drop dead leads who are languishing in your pipeline.
Look, we get it – it’s never easy to say goodbye, especially not after you’ve spent time and energy trying nurture a relationship. But whether it’s you or it’s them, sometimes you’ve just got to let go.
So, when is it time to consider a lead dead? For starters, if they flat out tell you they’re not interested, that’s the end of the relationship.
But in the technological age, not everyone’s so straightforward. You can get ghosted in a relationship and you can experience the same thing in a business deal. If you can’t get ahold of your potential lead, if they don’t return calls or respond to emails, then it’s probably over.
Losing a deal hurts, but just like a relationship you’ve got to move forward. Removing a dead lead from your pipeline is like tossing your exes stuff out of your apartment. It can be cathartic – and there are always other fish in the sea.
5 Keep Your Sales Cycle Short
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, in the B2B space, sales cycles have seemingly grown exponentially over the years. In fact, over three-quarters of B2B sales now take over four months to complete. Almost 20% can stretch out to a year!
This is not what your sales team wants to hear. Longer sales cycles are filled with opportunities for leads to back out, for deals to fall apart, and for things to simply go wrong. Plus it keeps your sales team tied down when they could be working on new business.
So, what’s the solution? Decreasing the time of your sales cycle.
Your pipeline will show you how long your average sales cycle lasts – and if it’s longer than you’d like, it’s time start figuring out why people aren’t moving through your pipeline with more velocity.
Common culprits are not following up in a timely fashion, not initiating enough contact with the lead, and so on. Sales enablement software can show you exactly how often your team is reaching out to clients – and whether or not this is an area where you can make an adjustment.
Beyond that, the right software can help you find the right content, the right stakeholders, or the right approach to not only help move those deals forward, but to do it in a faster and more efficient manner.
6 Keep the Sales Pipeline Clean
One of the benefits to clearing dead leads is that it helps you keep your pipeline all neat and clean.
You don’t want to live in a pigsty, right? So why would you want your pipeline to be a mess?
Unfortunately, sales teams often just file things in their sales enablement program or their CRM to tick off an administrative checkbox. Over time, all of that stuff can pile up – taking up valuable space in your pipeline and providing “noise” data that may not actually be relevant.
A messy pipeline can be a distraction – causing your team to spend time looking at dead leads, deals that are no longer viable, outdated information affecting your forecasting, and just generally causing chaos.
Performing a regular cleaning can alleviate these problems. If you’re not regularly cleaning your pipeline, you’re not being as efficient as you could be.
Go nuts removing the dead leads and outdated materials. Don’t be so quick to remove completed sales – it can be valuable to reach out to customers after they’ve moved through the pipeline to see if you can help them with additional purchases.
7 Don’t Forget Your Closed Customers
Sales and marketing spend a ton of money every year trying to find new business, but what if I told you there’s a valuable market of potential sales you’ve already qualified and converted just waiting to be turned into repeat customers?
That’s right – your current and past customers are every bit as valuable as new customers. And they’re cheaper to sell to and often require less effort.
This is why it’s good to keep closed customers in your pipeline for a time after you complete a sale – these are wins who may be willing to buy more. If they’re no longer in your pipeline, it’s basically out of sight, out of mind…and you’re leaving revenue on the table.
Your sales pipeline can not only remind you to follow up with customers who’ve made past purchases at regular intervals, complex sales enablement software can help you predict what pain points they might be experiencing, what products they might be interested in, and more.
Your previous customers deserve your attention – they’ve already fostered a relationship with you. Let your pipeline help you figure out how to keep them in your sales family.
8 Evaluate Sales Team Performance
Your sales pipeline is overflowing with valuable information about your customers, your sales cycle, the velocity of your deals, and more – but it’s also able to provide valuable feedback about your sales team and how they’re performing.
One sales pipeline management best practice that often gets overlooked is using it as a tool to evaluate your team’s performance.
For instance, since you can prioritize high value leads by ranking customers in your pipeline, it’s easier to perform a post-mortem on deals that fall through. If you’re giving a sales team member your best leads and they’re not converting, this means it’s a good time to sit down and figure out why.
And since your sales management AI software will commonly track interactions between your sales staff and clients, you’ll be able to more easily see where things have gone off track and work to create teachable moments where you can help your salesperson find a better path to success.
If you’re just evaluating leads and customers with your pipeline, you’re not taking full advantage – make sure you’re using it to evaluate your sales force as well.
9 Focus on What’s Working
Many times, these types of blog posts tend to focus on all the areas where you’re falling short with your sales pipeline.
Your pipeline can certainly help you spot potential problems before they become major issues – but you should also take the time to focus on all the things that are working as well.
In the last bullet point, we discussed how you can use your pipeline to see when your sales people are coming up short.
However, you can also use it to see when your team is excelling and work backwards to find out what’s driving that success.
If you’re using sales management AI software, you’ll be able to see what your sales team is doing at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Is there a technique your top sellers are using that’s appealing to customers?
Is there a piece of content you’re offering that’s particularly effective at closing sales?
Is there a specific window of opportunity where making customer contact yields better results? All of these are valuable things to know.
Looking for what’s working, figuring out why it’s working, and then sharing that knowledge with the rest of your team can really move the needle for your business. Remember, don’t just focus on things that aren’t working – pay attention to what is because success leaves clues.
The value of your sales pipeline simply cannot be understated.
The pipeline provides an absolutely insane amount of information and insight into your business and you ignore it at your own risk. Given how much value a pipeline can provide to a sales team and company, it’s a bit disheartening to see so many companies doing such a poor job at managing what should be one of their greatest assets.
We get it – there are a lot of moving parts in even the simplest of sales pipelines. Tackling it can feel like a Herculean task and most sales managers already have enough on their plates.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this overwhelming, time-consuming task. Building the pipeline is the hard part – keeping it up and running at max efficiency is a whole lot easier.
None of the best practices we’ve discussed today are particularly complex. Almost all of them can be further simplified thanks to sales enablement software that will allow you to automate processes and guide your team to more and bigger wins.
At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all after. Start implementing these best practices and in a few months from now you’ll have a pipeline to be proud of and an improved bottom line.
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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.