Effective sales pipeline management – seeing inside the pipe

Posted by David Costello on 02-Mar-2017 14:37:49

The concept of a sales pipeline has existed for many years, providing a useful tool for assessing the lead-to-conversion process. But this over-familiarity means that mistakes are being made and sales lost – or the system is simply not being worked as hard as it could be.

The maturity of Big Data concepts and technologies has seen businesses using data more intelligently – particularly with a view to identifying new opportunities. These same analytical techniques can be applied to internal processes too; there’s a very good chance your production and manufacturing units are already trying to develop new efficiencies and savings based on the data your business generates.

Just because your current pipeline has delivered sales for several years doesn’t mean that it cannot be improved. After all, every improvement means increased sales volumes, a reduction in the cost of sales, or (preferably) both. Here are some tips to enhance your sales pipeline management.

  1. Transparency is crucial

Natural attrition means that your sales team cannot realistically expect to close every deal. But often the collapse of these deals comes as a complete surprise – your reps never realise there is a problem until it’s too late.

There are two possible reasons your reps are unprepared for these lost deals:

  1. Workload pressures mean that they are unable to properly serve customers.
  2. They are unable to “see” the nitty gritty details of each deal that would provide early warning of an imminent failure.

The answer is to build a pipeline capable of capturing every detail, along with a sales pipeline management system capable of drilling down into them. Ideally you want to be able to monitor trends across all deals past and present to identify common factors that influence the success or failure of each. Reps can then use this information to strengthen their pitches, or to iron out the issues that deter customers.

  1. Shorten your cycle

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that the longer your sales cycle is, the harder it is to keep prospects engaged through to completion. The logical response is to shorten the pipeline to remove obstacles and objections, helping to increase engagement and the potential for successful conversion.

Your current pipeline has probably evolved organically to address specific needs – so you cannot simply remove steps as part of a best-guess approach to streamlining sales operations. Instead the SOM needs to use the historical data stored inside their sales pipeline management to identify points of failure and bottlenecks that need to be ironed out.

Ultimately, you should be looking to make small changes to the pipeline as part of a continuous improvement process. Companies that spend at least three hours per month managing each rep’s sales pipeline see 11% greater revenue growth than those that spent fewer than three hours per month.

  1. Personalisation is profitable

Consumer and corporate clients may have different reasons for making purchases, but both types of customer demand products and services tailored to their specific needs. Similarly, they expect your reps to tailor the sales process too.

A defined pipeline is crucial to keeping each potential sale moving forward, but it must also make provisions for personalisation. Using an effective sales management platform, the SOM can help reps mine customer data, looking for opportunities to tailor their pitches. They can even up-sell and cross-sell, based on historic activity, or the purchasing habits of clients in the same target demographic.

Having experienced personalised sales services from other vendors (although not necessarily those in your sector), means that customers expect you to offer similar services. If your pipeline cannot deliver against those expectations, you may lose sales to competitors who can.

Data lies at the heart of a continuously improving sales pipeline management strategy – so you need an underlying platform capable of making information more easily available and visible to everyone in the sales team. Your rigid, ageing sales pipeline’s days are numbered – and if you don’t address the need to adapt now, you will never achieve increase your prospect conversion rate.


Topics: Sales Tips

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