Sales Pipeline Management: The Deep-Dive Guide

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The following blog post is a deep dive into sales pipeline management. We’ll go over the different types of metrics, challenges in managing a sales pipeline, and how to effectively manage your time when it comes to staying on top of things as well as where your sales playbook fits in.

Not only will this help you get more done in less time, but it can also keep you from getting overwhelmed with information overload. Read on for the complete guide!

sales pipeline management

Sales Pipeline Management Definition

Do you have a formal sales pipeline? If so, I bet it’s pretty essential. And if not yet…you should start one because this will be how we keep track of all the deals won for your business!

The key thing about managing your own business is knowing what works well and where improvements can happen – but first, let’s take care of how much information there IS in those pesky pipelines (hint: A lot).

A sales pipeline is a series of stages in which your company can take to get potential clients. Customers move through these stages, and it’s up to you whether or not they should go onto the next one with an opportunity on their hands (and potentially money). But pipeline management is so much more than that.

The best way to improve your sales process is by mapping out all of the methods you can use and making sure that they’re working. Pipeline management facilitates analysis as well as improvement on these steps for a better outcome.

Every opportunity in your pipeline occupies a specific stage of the sales cycle.

When you manage your pipeline successfully, it will be easy to track and evaluate the steps associated with each stage.

Sales Process Examples: Sales Pipeline Steps

sales process - cold calling and cold emailing new leads

Cold calling and cold emailing new leads

Cold emails are still a great way to get in touch with people you don’t know yet. Cold emails are for networking or introducing yourself at events where it would not feel right to be social, such as meeting your ideal customer!

sales process - setting appointments and meeting with new prospects

Setting appointments and meeting with new prospects

Landing more appointments with prospective clients is an art in itself. You need to think about making time for discovery, be confident when conversationalizing, and ask for the meeting while being clear on your next steps so they don’t feel overwhelmed by your follow-up efforts!

sales process - generating sales proposals

Generating sales proposals

A sales proposal is a document that pitches your services to potential clients and customers. You can refer to them as project proposals, executive summaries, or even just plain old business papers if you prefer.

sales process - running discovery meetings

Running discovery meetings

An introduction to lead nurturing is the discovery meeting, a conversation between one or more members of your business or sales team and a potential or current customer. This meeting aids you in comprehending what needs exist for your prospective consumers and how you may fill them.

sales process - rehearsing major pitches

Rehearsing major pitches

Rehearsal is crucial because it enables you to practice different components of your presentation before presenting it to the decision-makers.

sales process - running a negotiation meeting

Running a negotiation meeting

A sales negotiation meeting is a strategic discussion (or series of discussions) between a buyer and seller that aims to bring about a contract closing. The primary aim of the negotiation process is to reach an agreement that meets the needs of all parties.

sales process - doing a product demonstration

Doing a product demonstration

A sales demonstration is a presentation given by a sales representative to a potential client to demonstrate the product’s features, capabilities, and value. A sales demo is used to seal a transaction.

Characteristics of sales pipeline management

The first step in understanding pipeline management is to understand the process that sales teams use. They can do so because it allows them to: 

  • Eliminate weak points or bottlenecks in the sales cycle
  • Gain a deeper understanding of why some opportunities are closed-lost
  • Proactively work out when you’re due for a slump or growth period
sales pipeline management characteristics

Six key characteristics that drive pipeline management

Achieving success is all about working with six crucial traits, like being organized and detail-oriented to make sure you can handle anything your company throws at you.

1. Metrics

Metrics are important because they help businesses evaluate performance and inform our decision-making process.

2. Maintenance

Effective pipeline maintenance is essential for salespeople to stay on top of the deals they are working on. Tracking which stages a contract is in, plus whether or not there are enough available at this time, can help keep you productive and meet your goals!

3. Optimization

Every step of the way, a well-managed pipeline ensures that you can optimize your process.

4. Sales team management

You have a significant job on your hands. You need to know when and how much is the right thing for each team member so that you can maximize their potential as well!

5. Sales forecasting

To make it possible for you and your company’s pipeline, proper management of the process will lead us to forecast our sales revenue.

6. Tool integration

Best practices include using pipeline management software like HubSpot CRM and integrations specifically designed to coax the best performance from your sales process like SalesGRID.

sales process - building a sales pipeline

Building a sales pipeline

A sales pipeline is a strategic representation of prospects who are in the process of becoming customers. It outlines what actions should occur at each stage, giving you an idea of how many deals to expect from each lead for this month’s quota and overall goals met or exceeded!

A typical seven-stage pipeline looks something like this:

Lead Generation

Lead generation is the first stage of any pipeline, and it’s where you’re trying to find new prospects. It starts with researching your target market, then getting out into the world and talking to people about their problems or challenges.

Qualification

Qualification is where you’re pre-qualifying new leads. This helps you identify the best of the bunch before investing too much time or resources into them. You need to determine if they’ve got a budget and are in your target market!

Discovery

After qualifying the lead, it’s time to learn about their needs. During discovery, you’re trying to understand what they are looking for help with and how you can help them improve.

Needs Analysis

After understanding their problems, you need to determine a solution. This is your proposal or needs analysis where you’re providing a proposal that shows how much value they will gain by using your product/service!

Proposal

After you’ve presented your plan, it’s time to follow up and see if they have any questions or concerns. You should also find out where they are in the decision-making process so that a salesperson knows whether or not to continue following up!

Negotiation

If they’re ready to move forward, it’s time to negotiate the deal. This is where you’re able to give them great deals now that they are already primed to work with you!

Closed

After a successful negotiation, your lead will become a customer! Congratulations! But make sure you stay in contact and continue providing support as they grow.

The sales pipeline process is a systematic approach to overseeing, tracking, and improving the sales cycle. It begins with lead generation and ends with closed deals! The idea behind it is that all of these steps are essential for consistent growth.

sales process - map and maintain your sales pipeline

How to map and maintain your sales pipeline

It’s time to start creating your pipeline now that you know what the stages of one are.

Step 1: Take a look at your prospective customers.

All you’ll have at first is a list of people you believe would want to buy your product, and before you even establish a pipeline, that’s all there will be. If there are a lot of them, you’ll need something to help you manage not just those contacts but also your conversations with them.

You may accomplish this by using a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Excel. Here is a free sample to get you started. A dedicated sales CRM, on the other hand, can also be used.

If you’re just getting started and need to manage a small number of transactions, such as ten or less, using a spreadsheet template like this makes perfect sense.

However, if you have more than a few transactions or salespeople, a CRM is a more efficient tool.

CRMs provide a way for a team to collaborate and organize deals, allowing you to quickly move them from one stage of the pipeline to another, link contacts information, and enable sales managers to monitor the performance of an entire team toward revenue targets

Do you need any more reasons to consider signing up for a CRM? We’ll get more into CRMs later.

Step 2: Set up the pipeline stages

There’s a lot of pressure on reps to accomplish their objectives; sometimes, a yearly or quarterly goal may appear too daunting.

There’s a strategy for reducing this type of pressure: dividing each deal into the regular steps required to close a sale. Your team is more likely to achieve their sales targets if you manage and focus on sales steps.

That is what your pipeline is designed to monitor and manage.

Consider the steps your team performs most and those you feel have the most significant impact on sales while building out your pipeline. You may use the stage list above to help you.

Step 3: As you work your way forward, update your stages as required

You’ll notice that certain types of conversations often occur after you’ve got things moving. You must decide whether these regular occurrences are sales stages in your pipeline.

For example, if you’re a real estate agent, you might want to include a “reassure buyer” column if you deal with a lot of hesitant purchasers.

When sales stages are well-defined and planned, they are the essential components of your pipeline that get you on track to predicting sales revenue with accuracy.

Don’t worry about getting your pipeline perfect the first time. It might take a long time to figure out what works for your company. Some stages may be negated, and others will emerge as essential.

Step 4: Keep your pipeline current

You’ve created a pipeline. You’ve already collected your existing contacts and transactions. How do you make sure your pipeline stays up to date?

It’s not always easy. When a team hasn’t worked with a formal pipeline before, it might be difficult for them to get accustomed to the routine of adding contacts and agreements into the pipeline and moving them through the stages. The goal is to re-enforce the behavior of moving deals through the pipeline.

The simplest method to do so is to consider your pipeline stages and steps as a to-do list. Each step corresponds to an activity that your team must accomplish. After all the steps in a Stage are completed, your staff will move a deal into the following sales pipeline stage.

It may take some time for them to get used to it, but after they have, the pipeline will be a valuable tool since it shows them what they’ve done, where they need to go next, and what remains ahead of them in the pipeline.

sales crm

How to make your sales pipeline as efficient as possible

Consider how your CRM sales pipeline will be completed.

Even before you get into the nitty-gritty of how to boost sales pipeline development, make sure your sales pipeline stages are suited for sales reps, sales leadership, and sales operations.

You need to think about your sales pipeline stages in one way: sales pipeline stages are for salespeople to talk internally about their sales pipelines in a consistent manner.

This must take precedence over everything else because if sellers aren’t utilizing your sales pipeline stages, everything will be off regardless of how great the reporting is.

There is no one-size-fits-all set of sales pipeline stages that every company can utilize. It is entirely dependent on your business. To figure out what’s best for you, talk to your salespeople to understand your sales motion. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do we do when we come across a sales lead that is qualified to begin working?
  • What are some of the possible consequences? What happens after that? And then what comes next? Then what happens?
  • What indicators can we use to determine whether they’re progressing in the sales process?

From there, you can build the necessary sales pipeline stages and establish straightforward entry and exit criteria for each.

Improve your sales pipeline measurement techniques

According to research conducted by Forbes and the Sales Management Association, over three-quarters of CEOs believe that their sales pipelines are inadequately managed.

You can improve sales pipeline management by monitoring what is going on with the sales pipeline each day, week, and month. So, how do you measure the sales pipeline?

You evaluate the sales pipeline by whether it’s growing or shrinking. But the more essential questions are: why is the sales pipeline increasing? Why is the sales pipeline decreasing? 

Is it because your sales pipeline is expanding?

  • Are there any opportunities that have been shoved into the current month/quarter?
  • Is the amount of money you are earning from current sales opportunities increasing?
  • Are you aware of any new sales possibilities that have been established and will be closed this month/quarter?

Is it possible that revenue is declining because of:

  • Is your marketing producing future-dated sales opportunities?
  • Is it true that current sales opportunities’ sizes have decreased?
  • Has the amount of money you’ve made this quarter been spent on new products or services?
  • Have you lost any opportunities in this quarter?

As we said in the introduction to this blog, the sales pipeline is a moving picture that shifts every day. This means that it changes on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

You’ll be able to see what’s affecting sales pipeline growth or decline each day, week, and month – allowing you to spot areas for improvement and manage salespeople more successfully to boost your sales pipeline and sales volume.

Use the process to test your sales pipeline for opportunities and avoid sales pipeline risk.

Performing pressure testing on your sales pipeline is a valuable exercise for sales managers and agents in good times and bad. The aim is to poke every sales opportunity in your pipeline and place them into one of these four categories.:

  1. Dead deals
  2. Deals at risk
  3. Deals stalled
  4. Deals moving forward

When you’ve categorized each sales opportunity into a bucket, you’ll be able to see where sales pipeline risk exists and where you should focus your efforts.

It can be confronting to look at your sales pipeline with a disciplined set of criteria.. It begins with closing out all of the sales possibilities that have been dormant for weeks, if not months, and should be closed-lost. Your sales pipeline coverage number will suffer as a result of this. You need to keep in mind that you weren’t going to win those deals – worse they were slowing down your pipeline and creating unnecessary conversations and unnecessary updates.

The next phase is to find sales possibilities that are underperforming or have stagnated so that salespeople may focus on improving them. Several indicators suggest when a sales opportunity is in danger, but the most telling signs we’ve observed are sales (step) activity and the deal’s age.

If there’s been no activity on the opportunity in the previous 14 days, it’s a sign that it may be in danger. If the age of the opportunity is significantly outside of your normal range at any stage or overall, this is an indication of a deal that could be stalled or at risk.

sales pipeline metrics

To help salespeople develop better habits, track the health of sales opportunities.

One method to boost sales pipeline development is to be more efficient with what you have. Keeping your salespeople accountable for their sales opportunities is the best method to do this. 

There are a variety of signals you may look for on each open sales opportunity to determine if it’s healthy or not. Still, the following are the five most important ones that every firm should be monitoring right now:

  1. The number of days left until the sales opportunity expires
  2. The most up-to-date sales data
  3. If there’s a further step(s) in the sales process, see whether you can complete it
  4. If a closing date has been set for the sales opportunity
  5. How many contacts are linked to the sales opportunity?

Once you’ve established a sales opportunities’ health score, keep salespeople accountable for taking the necessary actions to keep deals healthy by making the indicators above noticeable and doable.

Set up alerts based on your indications that encourage and nudge salespeople to take action before a sale opportunity is lost to make more considerable changes faster.

Consider how you can nurture sales leads in a new light.

You may immediately envision nursing marketing leads with things like a weekly or monthly newsletter when you think about nurturing. Still, there is another type of qualified sales leads that can be guided so you can have a steady supply of qualified leads flowing back into the sales funnel.

When considering what success looks like for marketing leads, consider getting them informed about the value of your company and motivated enough to indicate a buying signal. But when you think about nurturing sales leads and bringing them back into the sales funnel, it’s all about timeliness and overcoming their concerns.

You must nurture sales leads in a 1:1, task-driven manner using particular nurture reasons – for example, if a lead wishes to re-engage on a certain date or if they have a specific problem that they need to address.

It’s essential to have good, specific reasons for your sales nurture strategies. You may build sales nurture programs that your sales team can utilize to overcome objections and retain qualified sales lead warm until they’re ready to buy by having clean, defined reasons for your approaches.

sales manager

Forecasting your sales pipeline accurately

Pipelines can be a tough nut to crack, but there are many benefits to be gained by doing so. Forecasting your sales performance using a pipeline is beneficial and may help you make better business decisions by predicting your sales success. However, how do you go about forecasting a sales pipeline in the first place?

In other words, your forecast depicts what is possible when it comes to achieving your sales targets. We’ll go through all of the pipeline forecasting best practices in this post so you may better anticipate your company’s future sales performance and give your sales staff the assistance they require.

What Is Pipeline Forecasting and How Does It Work?

Forecasting sales opportunities for a company at a specific time is referred to as pipeline forecasting. It’s the process of predicting how many deals will be negotiated with a company’s potential customers.

You might also use a combination of pipeline forecasting and intelligent sales velocity modeling to make longer predictions for future pipelines. In other words, these extended forecasts can boost accuracy while also providing deeper insights into existing pipeline projections.

A sales pipeline is a visual representation of every potential sales opportunity accessible to a specific salesperson. On the other hand, a sales forecast can be thought of as an estimate for all anticipated sales opportunities that will likely come true at a particular time.

deal stages

Pipeline Forecasts: Why They’re Important

You may ask why it is vital to understand what’s going on in your sales pipeline and how analyzing future sales might benefit your company. According to a recent study conducted by HubSpot Research, there is a strong relationship between the number of sales opportunities in your business’s pipeline and monthly earnings.

In other words, the more qualified sales possibilities you have open to you, the more likely you are to meet your revenue objectives.

However, if you want to keep a healthy sales pipeline, you must regularly assess your pipeline management, which will also impact your capacity to forecast reliable sales forecasts. Accurate pipelines ensure that you have precise lead data, allowing you to plan in terms of sales forecasting.

Pipeline Management vs. Forecasting Sales

Given that forecasting and sales pipeline management are two intertwined processes that influence one another, it might be difficult to distinguish between the activities assigned to each. It’s vital to remember that while one is more important than the other, both are critical in helping you expand your company’s revenue.

When it comes to pipeline management, you must consider the two primary aims of the technique:

  1. It’s critical to have a strong sales pipeline to develop and maintain a healthy business.
  2. To guarantee more closed transactions,

Pipeline health may be divided into three categories: contents, size, and form. The term “pipeline” is used to describe the process of selling a wide range of products and services over time.

sales deals

The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Sales Pipeline

When it comes down to it, your sales forecast should represent the most accurate prediction of the amount of money you will make in a specific time. It can reflect both the best-case scenario and the maximum degree of confidence you may have in closing that number. In general, the projected revenue for a company during a specific period is equivalent to its expected sales total throughout that same period.

If you want to fulfil your revenue projection, you’ll need to balance your opportunities and leads. This is why maintaining a strong sales pipeline is so crucial for achieving success and exceeding sales targets.

Your pipeline is comparable to the top of the sales funnel. When it comes to maintaining your pipeline, the top part of the sales funnel is more crucial. Because of this, while sales forecasts focus more on closing a transaction, pipeline and forecast strategy sessions should be kept separate since they focus on different things.

Forecast Your Sales Pipeline

You may better understand what sales possibilities are on their way to you by managing sales pipelines effectively. Here’s how to do pipeline forecasting:

Active Sales Opportunities Only

To effectively use social selling, it’s critical for you and your sales team to have a thorough understanding of your customers’ activity on social media.

This necessitates that your sales staff not only add new opportunities into your CRM but also manage all sales leads and detect when they convert into lost leads. The following actions can assist your sales team in maintaining a clean pipeline.

First and foremost, you’ll need to establish objective goals or criteria that sales opportunities must satisfy at each step of your sales funnel.

For example, at the top of your sales funnel, you might want to concentrate more on opportunity identification and determining which prospects have high or low follow-through rates. The middle stages may focus on establishing an agreement, while the final stage demands that contracts be signed.

Keep To The Sales Criteria That Have Been Set

The objective criteria for each stage of the pipeline must be identical for every sales representative. Probably, your sales forecast will not be correct without strict adherence. Similarly, you’ll need to clarify what requirements need to be fulfilled before a sales opportunity can progress down the sales funnel.

Second, determine reasonable chances for each step of the sales funnel. The higher the level of the sales funnels, the greater the probability should be.

Based on these statistics, you may come up with a “Yes” or “No” answer to the following questions: Do I need to establish who is in control of which opportunity? If not, then this must be done manually.

Rules For Progressing Sales Opportunities

We’ve already seen that a well-run sales pipeline can help you make more accurate forecasts. This implies that every sales team requires a seasoned leader who can assist in developing and closing new opportunities.

To assist your salespeople in better assessing each opportunity, there are certain elements you may focus on.

To begin, you must first figure out the demands of your customers. As a result, before meeting with any potential clients or consumers, ask them some easy questions to ensure that you understand their exact problem and what you can do to fix it.

Second, you must be crystal clear on the specific value your firm provides. And, last but not least, you should figure out who the key decision-makers are within your company. Finally, you and your team should understand how and why your business will outperform its rivals.

You can accurately assess whether each sales opportunity is at the proper development stage if you can answer these questions.

Use historical data to determine stage weighting

You must use historical sales data entered into your CRM to calculate stage weights for pipeline forecasting to be accurate. From here, you may calculate your conversion rate at each stage of your sales funnel.

To improve accuracy, track how far each transaction goes through your pipeline before being lost. Although obtaining this information may be time-consuming, with a good CRM, it is feasible.

sales quota

Tools that can power up your pipeline

Customer Relationship Management Software: CRMs are essential for any B2B. You’ll want to make sure your CRM is able to integrate with third-party applications so you can best support your sales reps. We recommend using HubSpot Sales Hub or Salesforce Sales Cloud.

Sales Enablement Software: To make sure your reps are consistently performing and improving their craft, you’ll need SalesGRID. We help you provide the reps with exactly what they need to do at each stage of the pipeline. Not to mention we also integrate with the world’s leading CRMs.

Sales Performance Management: Helping reps visualize their performance and rewards plays a major role in keeping your pipeline healthy. Software like Performio helps you confidently pay reps their commission accurately while encouraging the right behaviors.

Marketing Automation Software: Sales and Marketing must be aligned to effectively guide buyers through your pipeline. We recommend HubSpot Marketing Hub so you can automate what ads prospects see as they progress through your pipeline.

Key takeaway

Get clarity on the key stages and steps in your sales process and use these to actively manage your sales pipeline. You need to invest time in consistently communicating the definitions of the stages in your pipeline – so that your salespeople are clear on how to categorize and assess their sales opportunities.

You also need to pay careful attention to the “exit criteria at each stage. These are are the key criteria that must be “ticked off” before an opportunity is moved to the next stage in the pipeline.

Make sure that the software tools you use can be configured to match the Stages and Steps in your pipeline.

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