4 Strategic Ways to Polish Up Your Sales Pipeline
Why is your sales pipeline so important?
Your pipeline is the key to evaluating, managing, and ultimately improving your sales process - so you can close more deals. That’s why effective pipeline management is a primary factor in sales success.
According to this infographic from TechnologyAdvice, companies who master pipeline management see 28% higher revenue growth -- and for good reason.
Your sales pipeline is more than just a place to unload all your accounts and opportunities. When used effectively, it becomes a guide for understanding patterns and trends in your sales process. It provides the key to aligning your time and activities with your sales goals and improving your relationships with prospects.
There’s no better time than now to get your pipeline in shape by cleaning out old prospects and leads and making room for the new.
Follow these 4 steps to start polishing up your pipeline to better understand your sales process and manage your sales productivity.
Step #1: Assess Your Pipeline
This is the critical first step because, in order to clean up your pipeline, you first need to diagnose it. Where is it lacking? How can it be improved?
To assess your pipeline, start by asking yourself these questions:
Do I have the most up-to-date information?
This means basic information like contact name, email, phone number, company name, etc. -- but also more detailed facts about the opportunity you’re pursuing. Contact information alone cannot help you truly understand your prospect’s situation or needs.
If you want to establish a valuable, long-term relationship, then you need to go beyond surface level information to really dig into what this prospect is trying to accomplish and whether you can help them achieve it.
For instance, you may need some understanding of whether an opportunity is qualified in terms of:
- Decision-making authority
- Timeline for implementation of your solution.
If you have all of the information you need, great! Think about how you got it. What questions did you ask? Is there anything you could have done better or would like to improve for next time?
If you’re missing information, take the next step towards retrieving these missing pieces from your prospect.
Depending on what information you’re missing, you may be able to simply tell them you are updating their file and wanted to double check a few things.
On the other hand, if information about their goals, plans, challenges, or timeline are missing then you may want to consider scheduling an in-person meeting where you can review and reconfirm these important pieces of information.
Either way you look at it, this gives you another reason to reach out and connect with your prospect or client.
Assessing your pipeline to ensure you have the most up-to-date information for each of your opportunities and accounts will help you become more effective at asking the right questions during meetings so you won’t have to backtrack later in the sales process.
Do I have a diverse portfolio of opportunities?
This is a great question to ask yourself on a frequent basis. It helps you check the pulse of your pipeline based on the variety of deal types and sizes you need in order to reach your target sales number.
Depending on the nature of your business or industry, you may need a mixed portfolio of opportunities. While large deals are great revenue, you may not always have the bandwidth (i.e. server space, manpower, etc.) to handle them all at once.
In these situations, you must diversify your pipeline in order to create deal flow and sales momentum. This means working on a few small deals, medium-sized deals, and large deals at the same time.
If you’re in an industry where having different deal types and sizes don't apply, then you can think of this idea in terms of uncovering new opportunities. For instance, if you’re in SaaS or retail, you can diversify your pipeline with add-on, upsell, or cross-sell opportunities.
When you look at your pipeline in this way, it will help you think more strategically about your prospecting approach.
Is the majority of my prospects advancing in the sales process?
When you think about this it’s important to consider your individual sales process and personas.
Are you speaking with the right people? If the majority of your prospects are stuck at one stage, not moving towards a sale, then you may need to reevaluate who you’re making initial contact with.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re neglecting your buyer’s natural journey. If you’re jumping from one stage to the next or sending proposals too soon, then you’re likely contributing to the reason the majority of your prospects are stuck.
Which brings us to our next question:
Do I have a clearly defined Buyer’s Journey?
When you’re assessing the opportunities in your pipeline, it’s easy to get distracted by your own perspective but to truly gain insight you must think in terms of your customer.
What path to purchase makes the most sense to them as the buyer? What does their buyer’s journey look like?
If your pipeline stages are currently more accommodating to you, the seller, then it’s time to reevaluate.
Ask your prospects and clients about their experience; how they made their purchase decision. Your stages should be defined by this buyer’s input and feedback.
Assessing your pipeline may appear to be an easy task, but a lot of sales professionals struggle with doing it objectively.
When you use the points above to objectively assess the state of your pipeline, then you can realistically know where you stand and how far you have to go.
#2 Track it With a Dashboard
After you’ve assessed your current pipeline and have a better understanding of the things mentioned above, it’s time to build your dashboard so you can easily track those questions in the future.
Pipeline management centers around creating a clear and unambiguous dashboard that showcases your “best” opportunities -- the ones which, using objective criteria, define the path to reach your goal.
Think of it like the dashboard in your car, which quickly shows you critical information about how well your vehicle is operating. It enables you to make quick decisions like whether you need to fuel up or not.
Because a busy sales day is like driving fast in a steady flow of traffic, you want to be able to glance at your dashboard in order to know where you stand and what you need to do next.
Once you’ve identified your starting point by looking at your sales dashboard, you can begin to work that plan and easily make decisions.
For instance, if you had to choose between prospecting and writing a proposal, you would know instantly which was right, if you first glanced at this dashboard.
Creating Your Dashboard
You can create your dashboard using a CRM or a simple spreadsheet. The key thing is to have it in a place you’ll update and check daily.
Your dashboard should keep track of things like:
- Activity goals (i.e. Do I have a certain number of appointments I need to set each week?)
- Priorities (i.e. What is the most important task or project I should be working on?)
- Leads and Opportunities (i.e. Do I have enough leads to fill my pipeline to avoid any ups and downs in my sales performance? How are my current opportunities moving through the sales process?)
- Revenue goals (i.e. How am I pacing towards my month or quarterly revenue goal?)
- Calendar (i.e. Does my schedule align with my priorities?)
Use it as a daily guide to stay organized and focused on what’s important.
#3 Remove Stagnant Prospects
Now that you’ve taken the first two steps to sharpening your sales process and pipeline, it’s time to take action.
This ultimately means removing stagnant prospects who might be weighing you down or wasting your time. You don’t need them cluttering your database or distracting you.
Your pipeline shouldn’t be a collection of every sales attempt you’ve ever made, but rather, prioritized prospects who are on their way to close, following the usual path of similar sales you’ve won.
Whether you realize it or not, your successful sales likely follow similar patterns and timelines. If an opportunity goes beyond the “usual” amount of time at each stage, then your chances of closing the deal are significantly reduced.
So, know the signs and know when to put them aside to focus on someone else.
The managed sales pipeline is a tool to help the determined salesperson close more sales by guiding them to prospects more likely to buy and decrease time spent on the others.
When you are deliberate about the prospects in your pipeline, you will have a clean and clear view of those who need to be removed and those who are worthier of your time and attention.
#4. Make It A Habit
Cleaning up your pipeline should be like cleaning up the kitchen: It’s better to do it more or less every day instead of once a month — think of the all those lingering crumbs!
When you set aside 20-30-minutes every day to go through your CRM to double check, back-fill, and update any information you’ve collected throughout the day, it will keep you organized and focused.
During this time, get into the habit of asking yourself these questions:
- Are all of my opportunities in the right stages?
- Do I have an accurate close date attached to every opportunity?
- Do I have the correct dollar value (or estimate) attached to every opportunity?
- Did I log all of my notes and activity in the correct place?
- Did I mark my next steps in my calendar so I don’t forget to follow up?
A sales pipeline without movement is just a stagnant list of leads. By regularly cleaning it up, you’ll create a faster flow toward more closings. Ultimately, making you more productive and successful.
Building and maintaining the right pipeline requires adaptation. We have to change the way we prospect, the amount of time we prospect, as well as the way we qualify, present, negotiate, and close.
Your current pipeline represents the way you sell.
If you want to sell better, you will need to build a better pipeline. These 4 steps will help guide you as to how much and how often you need to make a change in order to make your pipeline shine.
About Steve Bookbinder
Steve Bookbinder is the CEO and sales expert at DMTraining. He has delivered more than 5,000 workshops and speeches to clients all over the world and has trained, coached, and managed more than 50,000 salespeople and managers. Steve continuously refreshes his training content to reflect his latest first-hand observations of salespeople across industries and regions. Through him, participants in his workshops and coaching sessions learn the best practices of today’s most successful sellers and managers across industries. Steve understands that sales is a competitive game. To outperform competitors and our own personal best results, we need to out-prospect, out-qualify, out-present and out-negotiate everyone else, not merely know how to sell. Through his specialty programs in Pipeline Management, Personal Marketing, Great First Meetings, 2nd-level Questioning, Sales Negotiating, and Sales Coaching, Steve trains sales teams to master the skills they need to overcome the challenges they face in today’s world… and keep improving results year over year.