During a forum I attended recently, the topic of sales pipeline management came up. Unsurprisingly, it sparked lots of debate between Sales Managers and Sales Professionals.
The panel speaker asked a very simple question; “What’s the biggest issue with the sales pipeline in your business?”. There was a little silence and hesitation at first and then as I observed, two clear opinions started to form. (By the way, lack of leads was ruled out by the guest speaker rather sensibly.)
Camp A, as we shall call them, felt that most of the leads in the pipeline were not very well qualified by marketing to begin with. The issue being that when the sales teams managed to start working them, they were already off to a bad start.
Camp B argued that it was not necessarily the role of marketing to qualify, but to generate and provide leads. The issue was to do with the time leads were hanging around in the pipeline before they were being closed out or progressed.
On the train home, I started to think about some of the programmes we have been running and some of the methodology we have been using. I also remembered two statistics Steve had used:
- 44% of salespeople give up after one follow up, whether that is by phone or email. (Source – Scripted)
- 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to Sales: however, only 27% of those leads will be qualified. (Source – Marketing Sherpa)
Short answer? Both camps were correct to point out these two key issues, but in my opinion there was another piece of the puzzle missing. There was no common framework, no structure and no alignment between the teams.
More importantly, everyone there felt that you should keep more in the pipeline, with some leads only being followed up on once and then left to hang in limbo.
Personally, I didn’t understand how wanting to progress leads to close or develop but equally not take anything out of the pipeline unless absolutely necessary was a good approach. The logic put forward was ‘active’ contact management, which on the surface makes sense, but still leaves you with a badly managed sales pipeline.
On the programmes Salestrong run, we ask teams to look at their sales pipeline as “flabby” or “fit” and advise them that you cannot have both.
Approaching sales pipeline management in such a direct way facilitates a behavioural change as much as a commercial one. After all every Sales Professional wants as much in their pipeline as possible at all stages. It’s also about being brave, efficient and avoids “soaking up resources and distracting attention from real opportunities” as Bob Apollo puts it.
So taking all of the above into consideration, below are 3 key things you can do to manage your sales pipeline better.
By no means a silver bullet, but most certainly a good structure to work with.
1- Check your pipeline stages
Sales pipelines/CRM systems are now used by sales teams everywhere. I have seen some with up to 15 stages. That’s too much.
Ask yourself; what are the key stages necessary to progress and close business with the buyers you are targeting? Map those stages down and then challenge yourself to condense that to no more than 5 or 6 stages.
Even the most proficient Sales Manager will have some intricate, wonderfully mapped out stages in a sales process, but that will not be of help to the Sales Professionals within the team.
The risk is two-fold with the process become inward-looking instead of outward looking and therefore buyer centric. The second element is that your probability to close statistics become skewed, particularly around the 30-40% and 80-90% zones. (More on this in point 2.)
Checking your pipelines stages will keep sales teams focused on where the deal actually is with the buyer and not where the deal is within the team. After all, only 46% of sales people feel their pipeline is accurate. (Source – MarTech)
The even scarier part is up to 10 hours per month is then spent working on sales forecasting! (Source – MarTech)
2- Beware the ‘probability’ mousetrap
It’s the end of the month and your sales target is not met with a few days left to close.
The easy solution is to look at those deals hovering in the 80-90% probability to close stages of your pipeline. Low hanging fruit right?
What may have been missed is how long they have been there, the barriers to sale or the current activity. That takes time to review and with 3 days to go you don’t have that.
Look at those stages and ask some questions quickly. Over 14 days? More than 3 people involved in the decision making process? When was the last time contact was made? If the answers are negative or no answer at all then move on and focus your team on some deals earlier into the pipeline that may benefit from some focused activity to quickly progress.
Leads and deals can move very quickly through the sales pipeline when resource is directly targeted at those deals that have a clear buyer momentum.
Review quickly and focus your team to ensure the best chances to convert don’t get missed because of the probability trap.
2- Bounce. Bounce. Bin. (Activity driven prospecting)
Let’s take it all back to the start of the pipeline and look at those leads. Now, let’s revisit both the opinions of Camp A and B and propose a happy medium.
It’s at this point you need to be ruthless, efficient and focus on getting rid of those leads that are not going to become decent prospects, which according to Gleanster Research is only 25% of the original lead pool.
It’s a simple three step process and for the purpose of this example we will use email as the prospecting channel.
- Bounce – The intro/follow up email
- Bounce – The “are you still interested” second email
- Bin – The close out/move on
The technicalities of the emails are for you and your team to decide, the structure is there to ensure time is not being wasted on leads that have no buyer momentum.
The term “Bin” means they are going back into the database, the lead closed out as lost/lack of interest and if they pop back up again, you have them on file. It’s not that you have completely wiped them off the face of the earth.
The aim is to ensure at all times, the focus is on working active leads that have momentum, are of benefit to your monthly sales target and to ultimately keep your pipeline lean or “fit” and healthy.
Most CRM systems such as Pipedrive have activity trackers and reports which you can use to drive this approach to pipeline management with your team. Each team member can allocate the activities to the lead/deal in question allowing you to observe that your new structure is being implemented.
In summary, these 3 elements can help form a basic structure which the coaching team here often refer to as a Tripod. If one leg goes down, the Tripod falls over.
The end goal is to move from “flabby” to “fit” and drive change. It will also help drive change in your sales strategy, forecasting and sales team management techniques.
At first it may seem like your sales pipeline is not as full.
Just remember, you are no longer a part of the 46% and unlike Camps A and B, your CEO or Sales Director will know you are actively doing something about it:)
At Salestrong, we have been doing something about this with our clients for quite some time including delivering 2 million increased sales in just 1 year.
We also like Triathlons, except Rob, who has to go one better (as per usual) and do a Half-Ironman.
Swim, Bike, Run. It’s a lot like Sales Training, Coaching and Consultancy.
You can complete one part but the best results come from doing all three.
If you would like to talk to us about how we can guarantee an increase in your sales performance, triathlons, or both, give us a call on 01778 382 733 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All The Best.
P.S. Do you think 3 is enough? What else would you add? What have you done to your sales pipeline that has yielded results? Pop your comments below and let’s build a knowledge network.