Increase your rate of opportunity conversion with these 7 pipeline management tips
Spend any time in a sales environment, and the term ‘sales pipeline’ will crop up soon enough. Sales reps are always concerned about their pipeline: it must be managed, increased, filled with leads. But “pipeline” is more than just a buzzword. It’s an important tool to help you manage and monitor your sales operations. It’s a visualization of how many deals your sales team is expected to close in a given period of time. Its management is tied to your revenue growth.
Good pipeline management leads to higher close probabilities, more conversions, shorter sales cycles, and larger deal sizes. Top sales performers are experts at pipeline management. But what does good pipeline management look like?
Answering that question means examining not only your entire sales process, but also your sales strategy, your selling culture, and the data you’re using to make decisions about these.
Common pipeline management pitfalls to avoid
Before we get into how to improve sales pipeline management at your organization, let’s look at what not-so-good pipeline management can look like. At Mensana, we’ve worked with many an organization to assess their current practices and discover opportunities to improve efficiency. These intensive, deep-dive evaluations reveal a few common errors that organizations make when they don't actively work on improving their pipeline management practices.
What we frequently see is a sales approach that’s reactive rather than proactive. It’s not uncommon for reps to manage 60 to 120 accounts. That sounds like a lot, and it is—but these accounts aren’t being prioritized. Nor are there usable criteria to help determine how to prioritize accounts. Instead, reps are left to determine on their own which accounts to visit and at what frequency. This leads to them visiting the accounts that purchase the most from them or with whom they already have the best relationships.
Visits also often lack direction. Reps believe that simply being on-site and available will lead to opportunities, but many don’t observe the table stakes of actually building their accounts—for example, visits often don’t have a clear objective or don’t involve key decision makers. While it’s nice sometimes to stop by and say hello to the associate behind the counter, this is not the best use of time and effort.
The result is that reps spend quite a lot of time driving to sites, dropping off brochures or samples, engaging in general discussion, and moving on—and not a lot of time identifying opportunities to add value for your customer.
It’s true that accounts, especially large ones, do need attention. If, however, you’re already the only seller for such an account, your efforts would be better directed towards customers where you’re one of many sellers. And to obtain a greater share of your customer’s wallet, you must have both the right strategy and tactics to realize your growth potential. The actions of your sales reps are critical to the success of your sales, of course, but so is knowing where your organization stands and where it wants to grow.
Our top 7 practices to improve pipeline management
You may be wondering what you can do to close these gaps, optimize your pipeline, and help your sales team excel. We’ve put together a few tips for you.
- Revisit your sales strategy. A clear sales strategy serves as a lodestar. It provides clarity, resolves confusion, creates alignment between departments, and enables standardization and rigor. By getting crystal clear on your strategy, you can develop the shared framework, language and messaging necessary for excellence. You can create strategies that will take you where you want to go while avoiding opportunities that don’t align with your vision of the future.
- Map the buyer journey and define buyer types. Buyers expect more from sellers than ever before—which means you need to understand how buyers move from being aware of a solution to becoming loyal customers. To paraphrase Sun Tzu: if you know the other and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt. Spend time and effort assessing current buying and selling processes, digging into underlying customer needs, and defining the types of buyers (and their behaviors) you should be targeting.
- Define a standardized sales process. Create a roadmap that your reps can implement, and establish behaviors that they should follow to stay aligned with your overarching sales strategy. Describe when to engage your buyers, what decision makers to engage, what techniques to use, when to qualify leads out, and how often to update the pipeline. Be sure to also clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team along the buyer journey—by aligning your customer-facing functions, you can avoid internal confusion and ensure a seamless experience for your customer.
- Measure the right things with the right tools. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Your measurements won’t paint a clear picture if you’re measuring the wrong things. And you can’t measure without the right tools. Key sales metrics to watch include the number of deals in your pipeline, the average deal size, your close ratio, and sales velocity. You could also include activity-based metrics for your reps: the number of calls, product presentations, or offers sent. Metrics will depend on the customer type and your strategic goals—whether, for example, you want to grow your existing wallet share or break into a new market. You’ll also need a CRM to help you track and measure your progress. We have some advice on how to pick a system that will work for you.
- Have the right team in place. You might have the right strategy, the right process, and the right tools and techniques. Do you have the right people? Your team should be proactive, willing to learn, and eager to grow. Education can help promote adoption of the new culture among existing employees, and training can help them understand the new sales methodology. Examining and adjusting your hiring criteria can help you expand your team with people who are likely to succeed at your organization.
- Iterate, adjust, rinse, repeat. Your team might fluctuate, your business strategy might shift, new markets might open, or industry trends could change in an instant. Or it could simply be that your predictions aren’t matching up with your reality. Regardless of the reason, if you have a solid dataset to drive your analysis and decision-making, you can be confident that every move you make is taking you in the direction of your desired end-state.
- Go the extra mile. High-performing sellers are likely to have many, if not all, of these tactics in place. How can you differentiate yourself from your competitors? It sounds simple, but going the extra mile will help you stand out in a sea of highly qualified sellers. You can build this mindset right into your sales playbook by creating a process where reps connect with potential leads earlier in the buying process, understand their specific challenges, tailor any offers to their particular pain points and provide them with insights and education they won’t get from other sellers. Buyer or seller, we all value being treated well. Excellent service can offset a higher cost in a customer’s eyes.
Picture perfect: visualizing the ideal outcome
How will you know your efforts have been successful once you’ve taken the steps to improve pipeline management and sales performance? Simple. You’ll see improvements in your numbers—more deals closed, deals closed faster, larger deals, and that ultimate barometer of success: increased revenue.
But your wins extend beyond just the bottom line.
Imagine an environment where your sales team functions like a well-oiled machine. Every rep has a prioritized sales portfolio, with each customer journey mapped out according to buyer type. Sales managers work with individual reps to strategize, develop a plan, and identify growth opportunities before appointments are scheduled. Reps have a clear understanding of the customer information they need, and have lists of probing questions that will further uncover customers’ goals and drive discussion around how your solution brings value to the customer. They develop relationships with multiple key stakeholders along the buyer journey. All of these steps have been documented in your CRM, and reps follow up with customers in a timely fashion to understand their journey and course-correct if needed.
Your approach instills your customers with confidence. Your sales reps, sales managers, and other customer-facing staff are fully bought into your method; they support it and they feel equipped to succeed. Your data shows your sales have improved in volume, size, and time to close. You’re confident your growth is sustainable, and you’re looking forward to the next phase.
It sounds too good to be true. It isn’t.
Mensana has the expertise to help your organization move from ad hoc, disorganized selling to a culture of sales excellence. We do it by working alongside you to understand your organization from top to bottom, soup to nuts, and developing the methodology that works for you. Our proven process can help you improve your sales performance no matter what your current portfolio looks like.
Want to learn more? Give us a call or drop us an email, and let’s talk about how Mensana can help you achieve sales excellence.