Sales Pipeline Guide
Introduction / Chapter 5 of 7
by Steli Efti, CEO
Last updated July 17, 2020
You’ve built a thing of beauty. Your sales pipeline is practically gleaming, and all that effort you put into building it is certainly paying off.
Or is it?
The real question is: are you taking full advantage of your sales pipeline?
For a sales pipeline to remain valuable in the future, you need to learn how to manage it correctly.
In fact, sales pipeline management has been proven to have a huge effect on revenue: according to a study by the Harvard Business Review, companies that had effective pipeline management saw their growth rate increase by 15%.
Want to see that kind of increase for your business?
In this chapter, we’re going to discuss:
With the skills you’ll learn in this chapter, you’ll be able to effectively manage your pipeline over a long period of time, getting the most out of it now and into the future.
Put simply, sales pipeline management is the act of analyzing, tracking, and organizing your pipeline so that it runs smoothly and stays clean.
It’s the job of sales leaders and managers to take care of the pipeline, make sure it’s up-to-date, and improve it over time.
Why is this so important?
Because your pipeline as it is now will not continue to serve you well in a year or five years or ten years. The market is under a constant state of change, and your sales process needs to change with it. When that happens, your pipeline must adapt to fit current conditions.
When your pipeline is updated, improved, and cleaned over time, this allows reps to focus on selling and not get lost in the noise of the pipeline. It also helps sales managers and leaders to see exactly what’s happening in the pipeline, where the most important deals are, and how their reps are performing at each stage.
So, what specifically does sales pipeline management involve?
Basically, managing your pipeline requires you to do these five things:
Building a sales process that involves developing a collection of repeatable steps that your team can use to push leads through the pipeline and convert them into happy customers.
When your sales process is clearly defined, that will help you understand what needs to happen in your sales pipeline.
For example, perhaps your process needs to be adjusted because of a change in the market or to your product. Maybe the customer journey has shifted, and the way people discover or interact with your business has changed.
In that case, you’d need to adjust the sales pipeline stages to match current market conditions.
Just make sure they always revolve around these seven main pipeline stages:
Your sales pipeline shouldn’t involve any guesswork. To successfully manage your team and what’s going on inside your pipeline, you need to use the data you have to forecast accurately.
Never be left wondering what’s going to happen with your sales.
To forecast like a pro, start by tracking your sales process and goals for your team. Next, take into account information about your product costs, what you spend per lead, the potential market, and any upcoming fluctuations in price.
Finally, collect data on your pipeline and conversion rates.
With this information and an effective CRM, like Close, you’ll be able to translate this data into accurate forecasts.
Since there are several different sales forecasting strategies that are equally valuable for different teams, you’ll need to decide what kind of forecasting you need to reach your goals effectively.
Within your sales pipeline, there are tons of important sales metrics that you need to be aware of.
To manage your pipeline successfully, focus on a few key metrics and avoid getting lost in a complex whirlwind of data.
In Chapter 4, we discussed some of the key metrics you’ll need to keep an eye on, including:
Close CRM helps you manage your pipeline and keep your metrics on hand.
These and other essential metrics help you keep an eye on the health of your pipeline, and give you insights on where to make adjustments.
Monitoring what your reps are doing inside the pipeline is essential to managing it efficiently.
It’s the job of the sales manager to make sure deals are assigned, prospects are contacted, and opportunities are moved forward through the pipeline. By monitoring your reps’ activities during the sales cycle, you’ll make sure everyone is playing the right part in building a sales process that wins.
The final key aspect of sales pipeline management is reviewing your pipeline from time to time. Schedule regular reviews every month or quarter, and use this time to analyze and clean up your pipeline.
This is the time to review opportunities that were lost during the month, purge your pipeline of leads that went cold, analyze the data, and define areas in your pipeline where you can improve.
You can also use these sales pipeline review meetings to talk with your reps about current deals that are on the table, especially any big fish in the pipeline. Together, the team can discuss obstacles and brainstorm ideas to close faster.
To manage your sales pipeline effectively without wasting time, you need to put specific processes and automations in place. This gets you the information you need without forcing you to sift through loads of data.
Let’s talk about five methods to hack the sales pipeline process and manage it more efficiently.
While building a sales pipeline in a spreadsheet (like SalesTable) can work for small teams, you can seriously boost your productivity by using a CRM to keep track of the data and organize it automatically.
We may be a bit biased, but we really think that Close is one of the best options to automate your sales pipeline process.
For example, Close’s reporting features include an Opportunity Overview Report, which gives you a clear view of what’s happening in your pipeline, the current value, and how likely you are to close the deals there.
You can even customize these reports to show you just the information you want to see in the columns.
This means your reports won’t be bogged down with information you don’t need.
Choosing the right forecasting tools and templates will help you manage your pipeline better and have a more accurate view of where your sales team is headed.
For example, if you use a sales forecast template that can be converted to a Google Sheet, you can easily integrate this to other tools and data points using Zapier.
Knowing exactly what your reps are doing at different stages of your sales pipeline is only part of a high-level pipeline management strategy.
When you combine this information with other relevant data points, you’ll practically be able to see the future (without the help of Doc’s Delorean)!
Start by comparing rep activity data for a particular stage to the conversion rate. For example, in the qualifying stage, which activities lead to conversions? Are reps who focus on calling getting better conversion rates than those who email? Or is there a combination of phone and email touches that lead to a higher conversion to the next stage?
Using questions like these, take time to analyze the data for each stage. Next, use this data to draw accurate conclusions and record these. For example, you might find that:
Once you have these conclusions, you can more accurately guide your team to the right actions. Using Close, for example, you can track rep activity and even set up a leaderboard. Reps who accomplish more of the target actions go higher on the ranking.
These conclusions also help you forecast more effectively. For example, if you know that it takes an average of 3 follow-ups to finalize negotiations, and can more accurately predict when the deal will close.
Your CRM is a great place to collect important data, but it’s not the only tool you’ll use to gather information and analyze metrics.
If you want to keep everything in order, you’ll need to set up a system to automate the collection of important data and gather it together to one central location. That way, you won’t have to keep checking different tools and systems to find the data you need.
That’s why here at Close, we love integrations. By integrating your favorite data collection tools, you can gather relevant data based on the handful of essential metrics you picked for your team.
So, once you have which metrics you need to track clearly in mind, make a list of the tools you need to do so.
Start with your CRM. This is where you’ll collect data about your customers, open opportunities, and rep activity.
Then, add other tools: For example, do you use customer communication tools like Drift, MailChimp, or Zendesk? What about analytics tools like Gong or Google Analytics?
Once you have this list, find a way to integrate all of these tools. Since Close CRM integrates natively with all of the tools mentioned above, you can collect and analyze data with no trouble at all!
If you want, you can feed your data into a Google Sheet, or you can display it visually using a tool like Geckoboard.
With this tool, you can create your own custom dashboard with information from various sources and display it for your reps to see. You can use Zapier to link Geckoboard to almost any tool you want, including Close!
By analyzing, organizing, and integrating your data across different tools, you’ll save time and have a better point of view to manage your sales pipeline effectively.
Another way to level-up your pipeline management is to automate your pipeline review meetings. Although this is an essential part of managing your pipeline, it’s true that preparing for and attending meetings takes time out of your busy schedule.
To reduce the time spent on pipeline review meetings, use templates to automate your workflows.
For example, why not create an agenda template? This ensures your meetings always follow the same pattern, which helps everyone stay on track. If you create your agenda template in Google Docs, your whole team can collaborate and add their talking points directly into the agenda.
This agenda template could include items such as:
You can use your metrics dashboards and custom data in these meetings as well. For example, create your own Opportunity Report in Close as discussed above, and you’ll have essential metrics on hand when discussing current opportunities with your team.
Let me ask you again: Are you taking full advantage of your sales pipeline?
By using the above steps to manage your pipeline efficiently, you’ll be able to track the right metrics and your reps’ actions and fully optimize your pipeline. Your reps will be better prepared to attend to the leads in their pipelines, and you’ll have a clearer view of your current sales and future forecasts.
If you’re ready to fully optimize your pipeline for your business, you need the right tools to get started. That’s why our next chapter will dive into the best sales pipeline CRMs, and how to use them effectively.