Managing a pipeline is equal parts art and science, beginner's mindset and your 10,000 hours of experience. But by the time you get to the point of managing a team, the problems that can come up in your organization's pipeline get exacerbated on a scale that can be difficult to deal with.
Fortunately, many of these problems are also predictable - and can be addressed with solutions pioneered by those who've already been in your shoes.
Today, we're highlighting some of the best practices for effective pipeline management, so you can skip the painful learning curve that can show up in the form of lower sales, a discouraged team, and more. As an added bonus, many of the links below contain templates to help you navigate this territory as effectively as possible. (In particular, Close.io's piepline review guides are phenomenal.)
Separate Pipeline Reviews from Forecast Meetings
Forecast meetings are designed to talk about revenue and what deals are closing this week. Those meetings only deal with the end of your pipeline, not the overall health of the pipeline. Schedule a pipeline review with your sales team to discuss what’s at the beginning of the pipeline.
A successful pipeline review can not only help you determine how many leads you have in the funnel, but it can be an important training tool for your team. You can take a closer look at what’s likely to close and what’s just cluttering up the pipeline. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate how the most qualified leads are generated and focus on those.
Keep the Pipeline Clean
More is not necessarily better when it comes to your sales pipeline. It takes valuable time and resources to follow up properly with all the potential customers in the funnel. It’s been said that 20% of your leads are going to provide 80% of the payoff.
That’s why it’s so important to keep a close eye on your sales funnel and eliminate weak sales opportunities. By clearing out the clutter, you free up time and energy to focus on the most qualified leads in your pipeline. You’ll be more likely to convert and keep that revenue stream flowing.
Evaluate Your Sales Metrics
Focus on evaluating the sales metrics that will really help to keep your pipeline flowing. Of course, your win rate is important, but figuring out how you got to your win rate could be even more crucial. Here are some additional metrics that could help you understand your pipeline a little better:
Opportunity Dollar Size vs. Average Won Deal Size
Is the size of your potential sale here about the same as it usually is? That’s a good indicator that you’re in your sweet spot. If a deal is significantly larger than the average size deal that your team usually wins, that’s an indicator that it’s less likely to close.
Optimism can keep you stuck here with the large deals that might not close when you could be closing significantly more of the deals that are in your team’s wheelhouse. Leaving those big deals in the pipeline can also be dangerous to the health of your pipeline because it’s inflating the value of the pipeline with deals that are less likely to be won.
Opportunity Age vs. Win Cycle
In the same way that it’s key to evaluate the size of the deal, you must evaluate how long a deal has been in the pipeline. The longer you have a deal lingering in the pipeline, the less likely it is to close (unless you have a product with a longer life cycle). When you’re paying close attention to your sales cycle, you know about how long it takes for your average customer to make their decision. If a deal has been in the pipeline too long, it’s time to let it go and focus on deals your team is more likely to win.
Look at Your Sales Process from the Customer’s Perspective
Your potential customer isn’t thinking of themselves as a “qualified lead” - and maybe you shouldn’t be either. Try aligning your sales process with your potential customer’s buying process. First, your potential customer becomes aware of pain point in their current systems. The customer then discovers your company, or the product or service you sell, then they begin to consider how your solution stacks up against their other options. Thinking about the sales process as a customer journey helps to ensure that you’ve got your sales staff at the right place at the right time to continue your sales cycle.
Focus on Data Quality
Is everyone entering data consistently? Is there a formalized process for how your potential customers move through your pipeline? If not, poor data quality could be giving you a false sense of security (or despair when it’s unwarranted) in your pipeline. What you get out of your pipeline is only as good as what you put in. A great CRM tool can help you manage the quality of the data your team or sales automation process is collecting.