When you work in sales, nothing gets the pulse racing quite like landing a deal. Chasing ambitious targets and hitting those numbers is the buzz teams live for. Now just imagine if there was a way to turbocharge the whole process, so you were getting even more sales and faster – sound good?
It could be as simple as examining your sales pipeline to see how it’s working and to spot where improvements could be made. By managing your pipeline more effectively and ensuring the whole process is fully optimized, your results could soon rocket.
Here, we’re going to look at 5 key areas of pipeline management that can have a huge impact and what strategies you can use to better master them.
What is a sales pipeline?
The term ‘sales pipeline’ basically refers to the specific steps that a sales rep needs to take to move a prospect along from being a lead, to being a paying customer. It covers the different stages of a sale that a lead will go through as part of this journey.
Generally, a sales pipeline can be broken down into four key stages:
1. Qualification – where you confirm that a lead has the need and budget available right now
2. Discovery – defining the problem that a lead is facing, the solution you can offer and how it could help with their problem
3. Proposal – preparing a detailed proposal including terms for what will be delivered, when and for how much
4. Closing – finally, getting a lead to sign on the dotted line and become a customer
A pipeline can be useful for showing where leads are in the journey and can help provide a visual representation of what’s happening.
This information will not only help you with forecasting and your targets, but also to spot areas where improvements could be made.
Improving your sales pipeline management
Measurement is a vital component here. It is by looking at your sales pipeline and the key metrics associated with it that you’ll be able to spot trends, patterns and opportunities.
As a minimum, you should be able to see how many leads are coming in, how many are successfully being moved through each stage and all those which go on to close.
Importantly, you should be able to see where leads are dropping out, so you can start thinking about why. If you can pinpoint what’s happening, then you can start working to improve it.
For example, if lots of leads drop out straightaway, then this would suggest you’re not getting enough of the right type of leads in to start with. While if it’s towards the end of the process, then maybe there is a mismatch of expectations that needs addressing, or objections aren’t being tackled early enough or in the right way.
The type of data and metrics you should be checking, includes:
- Number of deals coming into the pipeline
- The close ratio – number of leads in versus number of leads closed
- Average size of the deals being won
- Sales velocity– based on the number of opportunities, their value, the win rate and time taken to close them
Calculate your sales velocity with our easy to use free calculator.
Top tips for better pipeline management
Here is a run through of the key areas you need to work on, if you wish to improve your results through better pipeline management:
1. Make sure you’re generating the right type of leads
To land sales you need leads and that means working hard to fill the sales funnel. One mistake that teams often make is to become too focused on quantity, rather than quality.
In reality, a handful of the right type of leads will always be more valuable than a pile of the wrong kind. The better fit a lead is, the quicker they will move along the pipeline and the more likely they are to close.
Look at your lead generation activity with a focus on the quality of the leads coming through. Where are the best leads coming from? How can you get more of them?
2.Work on increasing the average deal size
Upselling and cross-selling opportunities will be useful here. Think of ways you could enhance or offer added value to your proposition. For example, could you provide specific product customizations, extra features, or additional coaching and consultancy.
Also think about introducing a model of working that will help to minimize customer fears and any perceived risk, by giving them an opportunity to check the product is a good fit, before they commit to a larger or longer contract. You could also use a fixed pricing scheme that locks in a better deal for longer term commitments. The more personalized you can make your offer and the higher the value proposition for the customer, the more you’ll stand out.
3. Improve your touchpoints
Every prospect will interact with your company at various points along the pipeline. The information they receive and the impression they form, will both play a part in whether they go on to use you as a supplier, or move on and forget you exist.
These touchpoints may range from social media posts, to email marketing campaigns, sales calls and face-to-face meetings. It’s about getting the right information, to the right person at the right time. The more tailored your communications are, the more effective they will be.
Think about your content and targeting. If it’s been a while since you reviewed your buyer personas, then revisit them. Are they still relevant? Are your content marketing plans the strongest they can be – what’s working, what’s not? Are there any gaps?
Also, make use of technology. Marketing automation can help ensure you never risk dropping a ball. The last thing you want is to lose a potential sale because you were unresponsive or left it too long before contacting a lead again. Or because you didn’t do what you said you would. Always aim to overdeliver.
4. Increase your win rate
Improving the quality of the leads coming into your sales funnel will help here, as will optimizing your nurturing process with highly tailored content. The next step is qualifying leads, as sales teams will always be more successful if they are able to focus their efforts on only the best opportunities. Look at your qualification process and how well it’s working.
The real secret to increasing your sale win rate is engagement. You need to understand how modern buyers make their decisions and what they want from you. No-one likes to be sold to or to have their time wasted. Prospects want to feel listened to and understood. Make sure you are focusing entirely on the prospect and not on your own product and company. Help them understand what it may be like to work with you, show them you understand the pain point they are facing and the way your solution could benefit them. Listen, be helpful and make it easy.
5. Reduce the length of your sales cycle
One approach you can take here is to introduce a timeline into your discussions early on. Help map it out, so there is a clear direction and expectation. Also, to keep everything moving always have some options worked out for what the next steps may be. It’s something that’s too important to try and do on the fly. Have a plan, so you are ready to firm up next steps each time you speak to a prospect.
Never shy away from, or worse still, try and hide any negatives about your product or service. They will all come out eventually and a prospect may already be thinking about something, even if they haven’t said it. Address potential objections head on, so they are out of the way. That way, you can take them out of the equation, while demonstrating your honesty and transparency.
Now, go for it!
Sales is one of the oldest professions around but with the arrival of the internet and advances in technology, the process of selling is becoming more and more sophisticated. What you cannot afford to do, is to get complacent and give the competition a chance to get a foot in the door.
With the pressure of targets and all the time and energy it takes to make a sale happen, it can be easy to let other things, such as examining pipeline management, take a bit of a back seat. But by taking a moment to regularly examine how things are working, in the long run, you’ll be spending your time more effectively and making sure every second counts.
For more great tips, check out:
- Building a stronger sales pipeline
- Building a successful sales pipeline for short and long sales cycles
- Top tips for maintaining a healthy sales pipeline when you’re a small team