The basic idea of sales pipeline management is to estimate the upcoming sales you’re aiming to close.
Without proper management, you could be missing profitable opportunities. Do you know how many qualified leads are actually converting? Have you overlooked deals that are now lost? How many deals are actually worth pursuing?
Over time, poor pipeline management can also cause inaccurate sales forecasting, which affects critical planning information such as resource allocation and budgeting. Revenue growth can suffer as a result.
As you can see, an inaccurate and poorly managed sales pipeline can eventually lead to the self-destruction of a business.
Granted, before you can properly manage your pipeline, you need a standardized sales process that includes a set list of steps for each pipeline stage and a definition of your ideal pipeline size. Ensure that a formal process is first in place to keep all sales reps on the same page.
That said, here are seven steps you can follow to effectively create and manage your sales pipeline:
- Find your prospects.
- Determine the real potential.
- Identify decision makers.
- Follow up.
- Measure results.
- Analyze results.
- Update your pipeline.
Creating the pipeline
1. Find your prospects.
Before we can talk about managing your sales pipeline, you need a pipeline to begin with. This means you need to find prospects. Just remember that the focus needs to be on the quality of leads you are bringing in rather than on the number (review your buyer personas if needed).
In addition to cold calling and emailing, here are a few ideas for finding new prospects:
- Lead capture forms: A lead capture form gives you the ability to capture information from prospects who visit your website and want more information. Sell gives you the ability to create and embed lead capture forms to display on your website and Facebook page.
- Social media: Interested people will often reach out on the company Twitter or Facebook page to ask questions about your business. Use this as an opportunity to provide assistance and determine whether they are worth pursuing. You may also use these platforms to reach out and message individuals you believe would be the right type of client.
- Content marketing: A content strategy aligned with sales is an excellent way to generate interest and attract new prospects. Related blog articles, ebooks, and thought-leadership pieces are all educational and provide a platform to capture reader contact information. Connect with the marketing department on developing this type of content.
Sales prospecting does not have to be difficult. Just make sure that a clear sales-prospecting strategy is also included in your standardized sales process.
2. Determine the real potential.
This is your qualification step. To begin, obtain critical information from the prospect, including potential total sales dollars and volume for a specific period (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.). Remember, there’s no room for estimation here.
There is no doubt that a current client or a prospect has more accurate information about how much their company can spend on your product/service. This is also an opportune time to determine a client’s relevant purchasing policies. Think about the following questions:
- Is the client prohibited from buying all of the product from one supplier?
- On a monthly basis? Annual basis?
- Are the client’s purchasing decisions based solely on price?
Collect every bit of information that can affect whether a client can or will buy from you. Don’t forget to check your gut either: While a prospect could be walking the walk, try to really gauge their intent to follow through. How responsive is the prospect? Do they get back to you right away, or are they quick to disappear? How serious is the prospect?
Figure out objections early to have a more accurate sales pipeline later.
3. Identify decision makers.
In some cases, your contact may be the decision maker. But many times, purchasing decisions may be made by key executives, based on the following:
- Volatile market conditions
- Other reasons specific to their industry
Asking your contact about the key decision maker(s) can be an awkward conversation that may not help you in the end. Try softening your approach: Let the client know that this purchase would represent a significant expenditure for your company and would need executive approval. Once you’re on topic, ask if that’s their policy, too.
Don’t forget to ask for any purchasing directive the executives have provided; that can be a huge asset.
Sales pipeline management
4. Follow up.
Follow-up is critical to close on any request for business and can be as simple as this:
- Send an email to thank them for their time and summarize next steps.
- Call to see whether the lead is still interested.
Document all follow-up actions you agreed to complete for all clients and prospects in your CRM; make sure to add a description of the action required, a contact name, and an estimated date of completion for each action item. Then track and complete these actions accurately, totally, and within the agreed time frame.
Make sure to immediately follow up on any urgent issues, requests for a quote or, perhaps most importantly, the first call from a potential client. During this period, be aware of other potential sales offered to a client, and learn their hot buttons.
5. Measure results.
For each prospect, track and measure your successes (and failures). Tracking the results of your sales pipeline — especially in a CRM — helps with accurate sales forecasting later on and gives a better idea of future revenue. You should be reviewing metrics that give you an idea of pipeline health, sales activity, and stage conversion rates.
Here are a few examples of important metrics to track:
- Win rate
- Lead to qualified opportunity conversion rate
- Average sales cycle
- Sales velocity
Sales velocity is a key metric. Combining conversion rate, average deal size, sales cycle length, and number of opportunities, this metric looks at how fast leads go through your pipeline and how valuable they are to your business. Sales velocity helps you determine what pipeline stages need attention and how you can quickly close more deals.
Note: If you’re a Sell customer, you can use our stage conversion report to identify sales stage conversion rates for each of your team members. It lets you compare your reps’ performance in each stage and discover their strategies. For example, you can see who is a qualifier and who is a closer. This is also helpful for learning where your sales reps need improvement.