The purpose of sales pipeline management is to provide sales teams with insight into the progress of sales opportunities. Sales pipeline management is a visual representation of the sales process and all buying stages. It allows teams to understand the company’s overall revenue generation and growth potential.
This visualization helps sellers and sales managers determine what stage a buyer is currently in and what content and interactions brought them to this stage. It also helps sellers determine the next actions they should take to move the buyer forward in the pipeline towards becoming a customer. Essentially, a sales pipeline illustrates how many deals a seller can expect to close in a given time-frame in comparison to their sales goals.
According to the Harvard Business Review, a standard sales pipeline management process generates 18% more revenue than those without a standard process. Based on the conversations we had with customers and B2B buyers, we compiled a list of tips that they have implemented to improve their sales pipeline management.
Define your sales stages clearly
One of the most common mistakes sales teams make when developing a plan for sales pipeline management is not defining the stages of the pipeline. Sales pipelines are not one-size-fits-all. Different sales teams may have different sales pipeline stages that fit their sales cycle best.
Therefore, you should align your sales pipeline stages with your buyers’ journey. This ensures that the actions and criteria required for a buyer to progress fit to your company’s unique sales process. That way sellers have a clear understanding of what questions and concerns their buyers most commonly have in each stage and can customize their approach to fulfill these needs.
While defining your pipeline stages, it’s important for your entire team to understand:
- Your organization’s unique sales stages
- The average amount of time a buyer remains in each stage
- What your buyers expect at each stage
- The criteria required for buyers to progress to the next stage
The benefits of clearly defining your sales stages
- You align your sales and marketing functions so they can cater activities and content towards the buyers’ needs
- More accurate sales forecasting as the predictability of deals improves
- An improved buying experience resulting in increased win rates
- Your sales team is able to identify bottlenecks and improve the sales process
Focus on lead qualification
Sellers have high targets they need to achieve, which can push them towards adding leads to their pipeline that have not been qualified yet. That is understandable, but has many disadvantages. If sellers spend time on pursuing unqualified leads does not only waste time and resources, it also diverts attention away from more promising prospects.
Defining a robust lead qualification process is a team sport and should involve both your marketing and sales team as well as your operations team. It is key that the lead handover process from marketing to sales is outlined in detail to ensure that all involved teams understand the lead criteria.
Based on the lead criteria, you can analyze and assess what criteria a lead needs to have to be evaluated a qualified lead.
Criteria to qualify a lead should include:
- The lead’s decision-making power
- The lead’s willingness to purchase
- The company’s budget
- The lead’s solution awareness
The benefits of focusing on lead qualification
- You align your sales and marketing functions so your marketing team can generate more high-quality leads
- Your sellers focus their efforts on the leads that have the highest value
- You generate more revenue as sales and marketing focus on the most impactful activities
- Improved forecasting accuracy as your predictability scores increase
Keep your CRM data updated
Manual CRM data entries and updates are tedious tasks sellers hate – understandably so. Poor CRM data will lead to inaccurate selling initiatives, missed opportunities and a lack of insight. Therefore, it is an integral part of sales pipeline management success to ensure that your customer data is accurate.
Consider this example. Say you have a lead in your system whose job title is listed incorrectly. And for the past few weeks, you’ve been sending them irrelevant information that has nothing to do with their actual daily tasks. So naturally, this contact unsubscribes from your emails. This is likely the outcome of poor data. If your data is full of errors, your pipeline metrics and customer insights will be inaccurate. This can lead to lowered closing ratios and win rates, not to mention, a poor buyer experience.
Initiatives to keep your CRM data updated:
- Implement a sales enablement tool to increase automation
- Train your sales team and create a standardized process
- Analyze your data accuracy continuously and highlight mistakes
The benefits of CRM data accuracy
- Improved sales forecasting
- The marketing team can analyze what activities are generating revenue
- Increased sales efficiency
- Improved buyer experience leading to increased closing rate
Invest in sales training and onboarding
The skills and knowledge of your sellers directly impacts your sales pipeline management. If you sales team is well-versed in customer communication, objection handling, and negotiation techniques, they are also able to guide buyers through the sales stages more effectively.
It is important to make any onboarding and training initiatives a continuous process to ensure that your entire sales team is equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.
Sales training and onboarding should include:
- A sales playbook outlining your ICPs, user personas, value propositions, etc.
- An overview of all sales tools and guidance on how to use them
- Detailed product/ solution overviews as well as product updates
- Brand guidelines including visual identity, tone of voice and communication guidelines
- Your company’s specific sales techniques
The benefits of sales training
- Increased conversion rates
- Revenue growth
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Decrease in employee fluctuation
Implement a lead nurture strategy
Leads can end up in a nurture stage due to a variety of reasons, but they all have in common that the lead could not be qualified. That doesn’t mean that they should be forgotten though. A lead still has the potential to become a qualified lead in the future, which is why it is important to implement an effective nurture strategy that keeps these leads engaged.
A lead nurture strategy should be created by the marketing and sales team in alignment. It depends on your company’s specific criteria for lead nurturing which of the two departments should own and execute the nurturing activities. The goal of these activities is to provide valuable content, personalized communication, and share relevant information to keep the leads effectively engaged.
A lead nurture strategy should include:
- An outline of continuous nurturing activities across channels in a nurture flow
- An analysis of your company’s specific nurture reasons
- A content plan to drive the highest impact
- A mix of marketing-driven and sales-driven communication
- An outline of when a lead leaves the nurture flow
The benefits of lead nurture
- Increased return on marketing and sales investments
- Revenue growth
- Increase in sales efficiency
- Higher closing rate
Review your sales pipeline management regularly
Implementing the sales pipeline management initiatives outlined in this post shouldn’t be a “done and dusted” solution. Your revenue teams as well as the leadership team need to actively work on improving the sales pipeline management. All active stakeholders should regularly assess the pipeline performance and uncover areas for optimization.
To review your sales pipeline management, it is important that you are looking at the right metrics. These metrics can vary from company to company, but in B2B there are a few key metrics that the revenue should review together.
The key sales pipeline metrics should include:
- The sales cycle length
- The number of deals
- The pipeline value
- The average sales velocity
- The conversion rates from lead to deal won
- The win-loss ratio
Reminder, your sales pipeline is dynamic and these metrics can change from day to day. That’s why it’s important to consistently monitor your pipeline and take note of any major changes in your insights. These changes may be the positive result of the effectiveness of a brand new ROI guide, or the negative result of sending an irrelevant email message to the wrong persona.
The benefits of optimizing the sales pipeline management
- Informed decision-making based on data
- Improved sales forecasting
- Increased pipeline efficiency
- Revenue growth
Overall, companies with strong sales pipeline management have an average revenue growth rate of 5.3%. As B2B companies are currently heavily impacted by the economic recession, it is crucial to set your teams up for selling success. If you don’t actively manage your sales pipeline, you could be missing out on gaining and closing new customers.