Beyond the Forecast – How Better Pipeline Management Can Help You Make It Rain
Pipeline management typically comes up as a way to make your sales forecast more accurate. While that’s certainly not a bad effect to have, you should be more focused on the ways that it helps you close deals. Here are three ways that you can improve pipeline management discipline.
1. Clean Pipelines
When it comes to pipeline management, many reps assume a bigger pipeline is better so they focus on the overall deal quantity. You often see old sales limping from quarter to quarter. They’ll never close, but the sales reps hold onto the hope that they’ll eventually finish them off.
You end up with a pipeline that’s cluttered and fails to tell you anything meaningful about the sales that are happening. It’s impossible to direct rep attention to the most promising accounts, since their efforts are split among too many prospects at the same time.
Cleaning up the pipeline gives you better clarity into your sales reps’ activities. Stalled or slow deals can get categorized into their own pipeline, so you don’t have to worry about those acting as a distraction. The end result is a sales team that better understands where to spend their time, so they end up making more deals overall.
Another benefit of cleaning up the pipeline is improving follow-up and relationship building. When your sales reps stay on top of keeping their deals clean and organized, they’re going to naturally spend more time figuring out whether a prospect is ready to move forward or if it should stay in an earlier stage of the cycle.
You see a highly fluid pipeline as a result of these changes, with updates on a frequent basis. The sales team is highly engaged with finding out exactly where each account should be, rather than using an overly optimistic viewpoint and cluttering things up.
2. Well-Understood Process
How well does your sales team understand the sales process? Reps might have a hard time moving a prospect through each stage if they don’t know what those are.
Ideally, your team learns about the sales process during their onboarding, so they’ll take that foundation with them once they get out in the field. You don’t always get a chance to enforce this, especially if you’re in a busy season or part of a rapidly growing organization.
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Document your sales process thoroughly, including the tips and tricks that your sales reps use to optimize the entire cycle. Create suggestions on how to move prospects between each stage, the way the stages interconnect to one another, and common resources that work well for converting the customer. They’ll learn which characteristics to look for, which also helps with accurately reporting the deal in the pipeline.
The buyer’s journey isn’t linear these days, so treating your process as a framework is the best way to go. Sales reps won’t follow a step-by-step list for complex sales. Instead, they’ll gain a thorough understanding of each stage and the pipeline as a whole. They can adjust their activities and build on this framework, rather than putting it together from scratch.
This process should be so straightforward that your customers can understand it. If it’s too confusing or goes over the same ground multiple times, you need to trim the information down to focus on clarity.
You need to revisit this process on a regular basis, especially after major changes in your organization. You don’t want new reps to come in and start trying to make sales based on a process that you haven’t used since the company started. Try to check-in on the document at least once a quarter.
3. Regular One-on-Ones
You brought your sales reps on board because of their great performance or promising potential. Everyone has their own way of going through the sales process, so you can’t use one-size-fits-all training to get the most out of your staff.
Regularly scheduled one-on-ones are the best way to provide relevant and actionable advice. Each conversation focuses on the movement in that rep’s particular pipeline and what they’re doing to bring in the deals. You don’t have to go over sales basics with your experienced team members. Instead, give them advanced tactics to try and tailor content to their prospect list.
Someone who’s new to the team can get up to speed on optimized techniques used by the top performers. They could also get some hands-on time with the product or talk with customer support to see what their prospects can expect after they close the deal.
You don’t have to throw group training out the window completely. Some education makes more sense in a group setting. For example, showing your reps how to use a new customer relationship management system or going over changes in the sales process works well in a group configuration. A well-balanced mix of group and one-on-one sessions can really elevate your team.
Your pipeline management should not center around accurate sales forecasts. When putting your attention on improving the team’s win rate with these three methods, you end up with a cleaner, more precise pipeline as a direct side effect.