Sector, product, or service aside, succeeding in today’s challenging business environment requires a sustainable flow of sales. Crucial to this is a robust and measurable sales pipeline.
Managed effectively, sales pipelines can offer a wealth of insight, including a clear snapshot of which sales activities are having the most impact, how many deals sales reps are likely to close in a specific timeframe, and how close they are to achieving their quotas. Today however, 56 per cent of managers* state their effectiveness in managing pipelines is poor or neutral.
John Cheney, CEO of Workbooks, provides actionable pipeline management tactics to help businesses optimise the lead generation, qualification, and nurturing processes, and ultimately increase sales success.
1. Prioritise the most valuable leads
The main thing is to adopt a data-driven approach to pipeline management. Working with the right metrics to score and qualify leads intelligently will help prioritise prospects more efficiently. Once an Ideal Customer Profile has been created and agreed upon, this can be used to rate leads. Demographic and behavioural information will help teams to prioritise, allowing reps to invest their time in those prospects that are most likely to convert and deliver the most value.
2. Stop holding out hope for dead leads
Knowing when to drop dead leads will streamline the sales pipeline further and prevent reps from wasting time on deals that are never going to land. By leveraging sales data and metrics, it is easy to quickly identify unresponsive leads and remove them from the pipeline, handing them back to marketing for further nurturing so that sales reps can focus on the priorities.
3. Regularly review processes and evolve
By regularly reviewing processes, the sales pipeline can be fine-tuned and optimised to engage leads throughout the cycle. When reviewing pipeline management processes, sales leaders should:
- Score and qualify leads so reps can focus on the most valuable prospects, minimising time wasted.
- Assign reps specific roles to empower them to play to their strengths and encourage a more cohesive way of working.
- Analyse and map out the buyer’s journey to define key stages using marketing automation and web analytic tools.
- Once established, drill down into each stage. Consult sales and customer data to identify inefficiencies causing missed opportunities. Then, drill further into communication touchpoints to find where engagement is lacking.
- Be persistent and follow up with high-quality leads consistently using a multi-channel approach.
- Conduct a win-loss analysis into why some deals are closing and others are not, to gain insights and useful learnings.
4. Condense the sales cycle
Many sales teams will be familiar with extended sales timelines, with some deals taking months to close. But the longer the sales cycle, the more opportunity for the prospect to be approached by a competitor or change their mind.
To condense this, it is important to constantly review and test core activities at each stage. Assess the effectiveness of each activity and eliminate unnecessary steps. For example, the results of assessment may determine that the sales team should give prospects more information early on, progressing them through the pipeline faster.
Collaboration with marketing is also key to ensuring each team can have an impact, bringing valuable input and tactics to the process. By agreeing on ideas and strategies, and working together to benchmark performances, the sales cycle can be streamlined.
5. Use CRM
Central to tracking leads and prioritising follow-ups are pipeline management tools. Using a customer relationship management (CRM) system, it is easy to see where each opportunity or lead sits in the sales pipeline and the journey to date.
Gaining a 360-degree view of each prospect from the first engagement all the way through the customer life cycle provides a wealth of knowledge on how leads progress through to close. This allows businesses to identify the most effective activities to continually improve the sales process.
John Cheney is a Software-as-a-Service pioneer, having launched one of the first SaaS companies in the late 1990s. A successful entrepreneur with more than thirty years of experience in the IT industry, he is now the CEO of Workbooks.
*Vantage Point Performance and Sales Management Association, Creating Value In Sales Pipeline Conversations