No business can survive for long without a healthy (and watertight) sales pipeline.
It’s what keeps your sales team organized and focused on managing opportunities to close deals.
It helps you forecast revenue and business growth, and provides insight to drive new initiatives.
Well, that’s the theory, at least...
Unfortunately, many B2B organizations suffer from ineffective sales pipeline management.
The symptoms are almost always the same:
- Sales teams waste time delivering demos to unqualified leads
- No one follows up with promising opportunities
- High-value deals get stuck
And the outcome is always the same too... low close-won rates and slow growth.
In this article, you’ll learn how to overcome this all too common scenario. We’ll show you how to manage your sales pipeline to crush your sales targets, faster.
Because sales pipeline often gets confused with a sales funnel, it’s best if we get our definitions straight.
What is a Sales Pipeline?
In the simplest terms, a sales pipeline is a visual representation of your current deals and opportunities.
The pipeline shows where your leads and opportunities are in your sales cycle. As deals move from one stage of your sales process to another, the pipeline should become your go-to resource to measure progress.
In contrast, a funnel usually represents your conversion rates at each stage of the sales cycle.
Finally, a sales forecast, another term which may be confused with the pipeline, is the estimate of future sales. Forecasts are made based on the pipeline deals. However, the two are not the same.
There's no point sugarcoating it. Your sales pipeline is the most critical tool for your organization.
A healthy and watertight pipeline means that you can move leads closer to the sale faster.
Understanding where opportunities are in the sales process helps you improve the sales process.
You can identify potential problems earlier and push the most promising deals forward too.
Not to mention, forecast revenue and growth.
The thing is, as LinkedIn explained it on their blog:
“[...] to be truly valuable, your sales pipeline needs to be visible, updated, accessible, and actionable for the pertinent players on the sales and marketing teams.”
Unfortunately, that is precisely where so many companies go wrong.
Why Sales Pipelines Get Leaky - Common Problems at Each Stage of the Sales Cycle
A sales pipeline is a visual representation of where your prospects, leads, and opportunities are in your sales cycle. Which means that any problem occurring at any of its stages will affect the quality and effectiveness of your pipeline.
Sadly, there are so many of them. Since our main topic is pipeline management, let’s review them in the four common stages of the pipeline.
Stage 1. Qualification (or The Discovery Call)
The sales cycle begins when a prospect makes initial contact and the sales rep asks them questions to determine a fit.
The key problem with the discovery call occurs because the information they collect often gets lost.
Shockingly, as we’ve discovered here at Chorus, on average only 5% of relevant information from customer-facing calls gets into the CRM.
But it’s not surprising. Conversations usually happen over the phone and it's difficult to write down important points during an engaging discovery call.
The most common examples of crucial information that never ends up in the CRM include:
- Insights about the prospect’s current situation.
- Competitors mentioned during the call. In fact, after analyzing more than 4 million sales conversations, we’ve discovered that only ⅓ competitive deals are marked as such in the CRM.
- Expectations prospects have for your product or service.
Stage 2. The Meeting
If qualified, the prospect and related opportunity will get passed to an account executive. In turn, they’ll meet with the prospect to discuss which of the company’s solutions fit your future customer's needs and attempt to close the sale.
But those leads were prequalified by an SDR or an inside sales rep, initially. And as a result, much of the information about them never reach the account executive.
Problems that arise at this stage, typically, include:
- Account executives not being prepared fully for the meeting. They often miss out on a critical insight into the lead’s problem.
- They talk to the wrong person. Today's B2B buyers are in-fact buying committees. They may talk to the potential user, but not the one that can sign the paperwork.
- Lacking insights results in another problem – The inability to find the best approach or angle to create momentum during the meeting.
Stage 3. The Proposal
All the information missed in the previous steps will cause problems with the proposal too. With insufficient insights, reps are likely to recommend inadequate solutions or include too few details to overcome the lead’s objections.
Stage 4. The Close
The secret to closing a deal lies in listening and understanding the prospect’s concerns. It’s only if you uncover the deepest need, you can leverage the sales process to close the deal.
But once again, it’s almost impossible to do without a centralized way to manage and evaluate insights prospects provide at every interaction with your business.
Let’s see how you could overcome it.
The Best Practices for Sales Pipeline Management
Let me give you some context for the advice that follows. For the last four years, we’ve been focusing on a single goal - To help sales teams make better decisions by uncovering deeper insights from their sales conversations.
As a result, we’ve tried, tested, and uncovered how to ensure that your opportunities close faster. We’ve also heard from many of our users how effective those strategies are.
Below are some of them.
#1. Push the Best Opportunities Forward First
The statement above might seem a little obvious. Isn’t the purpose of a sales pipeline to help identify the deals you should be working on right now?
It is. But that’s also where so many organizations go wrong.
For one, as we’ve noticed, many of them lack processes to identify those opportunities in the pipeline.
Unfortunately, often, the best leads might not be the ones at the final stage of the buying cycle. Unless you have a way to spot signals indicating a lead going warm, you may miss out on too many opportunities.
To overcome it, build safeguards that prevent missing critical information during sales interactions. Chorus.ai, for example, lets you record and analyze every customer conversation. What’s more, the built-in artificial intelligence will surface the most important insights, delivering crucial information to help close the deal.
With those, you can spot the most promising opportunities, shorten ramp times, and increase close rates.
#2. Identify Your Organization’s Key Sales Pipeline Metrics
It’s amazing how many companies lack clear metrics to measure their pipelines. Sure, they review the progress of each deal regularly. But many are struggling to answer what’s their sales velocity, for example. All because they can’t measure it effectively.
Having those metrics defined means that you can monitor sales pipeline performance, and spot potential leaks or other problems faster.
Now, your organization will, most likely, have to develop a unique set of metrics. You employ a specific sales cycle, after all. In general, however, the most common data to track includes:
- The number of deals in the pipeline at present
- The number of qualified leads or leads per pipeline stage
- The average deal size
- Current win rate to establish whether things move as normal or have started stalling.
#3. Update Your Pipeline Often
By its nature, the pipeline changes constantly. Your team adds new leads daily, move existing contacts to new pipeline stages, and update information about deals.
Without regular (daily) updates, you pipeline gets messy. Information becomes unorganized, eventually causing chaos for your sales organization.
Managing your sales pipeline should be a team effort. For one, reviewing the progress of current deals together will help surface issues and problems. Discuss and solve them as a group.
By reviewing your pipeline with information and insights from customer-facing calls, the team can uncover winning strategies.
The result is a clear picture of winning approaches sales reps take to close more deals.
Combining the data with pipeline deals will reveal how to close more deals faster.
But there is another, hugely important reason for approaching pipeline reviews as a team exercise.
They reduce the need for salespeople to self-assess the existing pipeline. Reviewing the pipeline together helps uncover information to identify the most promising deals.
Selling should be a team sport, after all, right?
#5. Improve Sales Processes
Another reason why sales might stall are bottlenecks, often caused by outdated processes. A particular cold calling sequence your organization’s been using since forever might no longer work. A demo format your team prefers might lack the punch to convince leads to choose your solution and so on.
And it’s not easy to identify these. Not without a deeper insight into your pipeline. But it’s a well-worth exercise to do so. Removing bottlenecks will improve sales velocity almost right away. Not to mention, re-energizing your team.
The sales pipeline is one of the most critical growth tools. With a healthy pipeline, an organization can close deals faster and improve its sales processes continuously.
Unfortunately, most organizations suffer from leaky, disorganized pipelines. As a result, deals get stuck in different sales cycle stages or the team wastes time on unqualified leads.
In the article, you’ve learned some of the reasons why. The biggest one is missing out critical insights about leads.
Luckily, there is a solution: tapping into customer facing conversations to analyze and extract critical information to move deals forward.
Want to Improve Your Sales Velocity and Close More Deals? See Chorus in action to experience first-hand what a quantum leap for your sales and revenue teams looks like.