Pipeline management is a major part of maximizing sales revenue – and the longer your average sales cycle is, the more important it is to have full visibility throughout your pipeline.
All too many B2B deals fall through because well-qualified leads stall out in the middle of the pipeline. Their needs are never fully met, and they move on to a more responsive vendor as a result. The longer the sales cycle drags on, the more likely this becomes.
That doesn’t have to be the fate of your business.
When pipeline management is a priority, it gives you insight to monitor, manage, and improve your entire sales function. That makes it easier for sales pros to produce, meet quota, and aspire to those stretch goals. You can even do more with less headcount.
It’s reasonable to ask the question: What’s really important in pipeline management?
Since your sales pipeline is broken down into lots of discrete, interconnected elements, there are many angles of attack. A tweak in how you handle one area can reverberate through the system, creating much better results.
Here are the sales pipeline management tips we’ve found most effective.
1. Align Your Sales Pipeline With the Buyer Journey
If you’re pursuing the inbound philosophy, your marketing is already focused on the buyer journey. Content should exist for every stage, with a clear progression of conversions leading from Awareness to Consideration to Decision. Sales can take this approach, too.
Sales departments in larger enterprises are often tempted to see things only from the company’s perspective, but the customer should remain the star. This not only allows you to anticipate needs and potential objections but makes it much easier to “close the loop” with marketing.
2. Monitor the Right Sales Pipeline Metrics for Strategic Deal Review
Inbound sales and inbound marketing are driven by data. Leveraging data means establishing the right criteria to interpret and organize it. Sales teams have an advantage: Their work is close to the bottom line, so it’s easy to avoid getting caught up in vanity metrics.
Certain sales pipeline KPIs will help you prioritize current deals at a glance.
Opportunity Dollar Size vs. Average Won Deal Size
Opportunities much larger than your company’s average win are less likely to convert than those closer to average size. Enterprises pursuing account-based marketing might go “all in” on these big fish, but others should proceed mindfully to optimize their efforts.
Opportunity Age vs. Win Cycle
Opportunities that languish in your sales pipeline a long time are less likely to come back to life and give you a payoff. By noting cases where this metric is above average, you can collaborate with marketing to shore up soft points in your buyer journey.
Win rate is one of the most basic sales pipeline metrics, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Simply divide your number of closed deals by the number of opportunities in a given period to generate a win rate. It’s a bellwether for how likely it is any one opportunity will become a sale.
These metrics lay the foundation so you can evaluate opportunities as they arise. They can even help you establish lead scoring criteria. This goes beyond the “case-by-case” approach to help you recognize hot leads by comparing them to past customers’ behaviors.
3. Optimize Your Sales Pipeline One Step at a Time
Once you have the baselines above, a different set of metrics can fine-tune each portion of your pipeline. It’s essential to take a page from the inbound playbook – the sales pipeline is so closely intertwined with marketing’s buyer journeys, both sides must collaborate.
You might hear this referred to as “smarketing.” To make a long story short, smarketing is the idea that sales and marketing teams are on the same side and should work together as needed.
We don’t always use that term around here – we just call it common sense!
Problems with the sales pipeline are often solved at the marketing level. Clear sales metrics guide and structure this partnership.
Here’s how to do it.
a. Flag Long “Age in Stage”
If a sales opportunity stays in the same stage for a long time, it’s less likely to convert.
That means it’s time to review the current stage and look for some obvious shortfalls:
- Is there enough web content at the current stage to move the opportunity forward?
- Does the existing content have strong, clear calls-to-action into the next sales stage?
- On the sales side, are team members following up? In what form? Is there rapport?
- Are there tools in place to reignite stalled leads, like automated email or retargeting?
b. Look Out for Stage Leaps
The buyer journey can take countless different forms, but in general, there should be some clear forward momentum over time. It doesn’t look like an arrow – more like a scatter chart with lots of dots trending in the same general direction.
What happens when this pattern breaks? If leads skip stages or go back and forth, it may mean your existing content isn’t responsive to their needs. There might be a specific use case for your product or service that’s under-represented in your content.
When stage leaps happen, it’s a bad sign. It’s not always possible to recapture leads who’ve been jumping around, but you should check up to see if you can learn more about their thought process.
c. Attack Time and Value Slippage
After you have clear interest from a lead and have conducted the initial discovery session, it might look like smooth sailing. Alas, storms can appear out of nowhere when you least expect it!
Slippage refers to negative changes in the way a deal is expected to proceed after the lead has made a preliminary commitment. It can happen in terms of time – implementation date keeps getting pushed back – or deal size.
Clients have a lot of excuses for this, with budget constraints and authority conflicts among the most common. To keep your pipeline from getting clogged, be sure to institute a strong sales qualification framework to use on every deal.
At Bluleadz, we prefer BANT for sales qualification. It’s fast, easy, and effective.
You can uncover it here: Why BANT is the Ultimate Sales Qualification Framework.
4. Use CRM and Automate, Automate, Automate
At its heart, a sale pipeline is everything leads experience that moves them toward a deal. Managing all those interactions, for dozens or hundreds of people across months or years at a time, is a stretch no matter the size of your team.
Luckily, sales technology is advancing fast to keep up with the volume and velocity of data your leads generate. A good Customer Relationship Management suite will put you well ahead of the game in maintaining the rhythm of your follow up, lead scoring, and much more.
Your pipeline gets a lot more streamlined once you adopt a CRM, so make it a priority.
Companies using ad hoc pipeline management are like a garage band: They sound good sometimes, but they’re rarely on key together for long. Rigorous, documented pipeline management practices turn your sales team into the world class orchestra it deserves to be.