8 Simple Sales Pipeline Management Practices
70% of sales managers are holding weekly review meetings with their sales teams, and only 37% are happy with how their companies are managing their sales pipelines. Your team is dealing with unqualified leads from the marketing team, leads are ghosting you due to long sales cycles, and you feel like you’re out of touch with the rest of the company. These, plus a ton of other unresolved and frustrating failures, that are killing your team’s morale. You may keep asking yourself: what are the sales pipeline management changes I should implement to make things better?
No matter how challenging things look right now, it doesn’t have to be that way!
You can fix the problems you’re facing by implementing the best practices (we’ll discuss them in detail later on) through using a three-pronged approach towards sales pipeline management:
- Convince the executive team to support you
- Collaborate with the marketing department
- Hold your sales team accountable
I know it may sound complicated, but you need all the help you can get to have a pipeline that leads to loyal customers. And in each best practice, we’re going to highlight where a given element of the three-pronged approach comes in to help you get the results you’re looking for.
But, before we go into that, let’s start with the basics!
What’s the difference between a sales funnel and a sales pipeline?
A sales funnel refers to the steps that your prospects take when buying your product or service.
Let’s break down these steps to see how a prospect’s path looks like:
Top of the funnel [TOFU] – Here, a prospect knows they have a problem but they don’t know the solutions available are for that problem. In this stage, they’re reading blog posts, watching videos, and listening to your podcast shows to learn more about their problems.
Middle of the funnel [MOFU] – Your prospect is still learning about their problems and has identified several solutions. They know about you and your competitors and are comparing your specific offerings to see how well they solve their problems. Here, they’re reading high-level content such as ebooks, white papers, and attending your webinars.
Bottom of the funnel [BOFU] – Your prospect has identified your solution as their best option. They’re looking into your case studies, signing up for a demo, and reading your comparison content before making the final call to buy your product or service.
A sales pipeline, on the other hand, reflects the stage at which a prospect is in your sales funnel.
Just like sales funnels, sales pipelines have different steps that vary from company to company, depending on their sales strategy.
Sales reps use a CRM tool to follow-up with leads, automate recurring tasks, and maintain a pipeline full of high-quality leads. At any given time, your pipeline has three different types of leads: marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, and closed leads.
In other words, a sales pipeline is part of your sales funnel. The marketing team generates leads from your sales funnel then sends them to your sales team for nurturing.
Best practices for sales pipeline management
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the best practices you need to implement in sales pipeline management while highlighting where you need help from marketing, management and your sales team.
Put your buyers first
Your product or service solves a unique problem your buyers have. However, sales managers often make the common mistake of building their sales pipeline around arbitrary sales processes and not around the buyer’s thought process, or “buyer’s journey.”
In each stage of your buyer’s journey, your prospects are interacting with content and sales reps from your company and your competitors. These interactions influence how they think, feel, and act.
If these interactions aren’t answering the questions they have, addressing their objections, and showing them what’s in it for them once they buy your product or service, your sales team is going to have a hard time turning leads into customers.
Putting your buyers first requires you to get buy-in from the executive team so that they allocate enough budget for the user engagement tools like User.com or Kissmetrics to track their behavior and send them relevant content.
Once you have this in place, you want to consistently show up at the right time and meet their needs during their journey to help them make informed decisions before buying your product.
Collaborate with both the marketing team and your sales team to build and refine a buyer’s journey that’s focused on providing a great buying experience.
Of course, that also means saving them the hassle from signing those documents when you close the deal.
Work towards aligning your sales team with the marketing team
Misalignment between sales and marketing teams puts a strain on performance and, ultimately, revenue. 85% of sales reps argue that having the right data and insights about leads and customers helps them do their work better. However, only 46% of them have access to this information.
You’ll need to reach out to the marketing department to explore ways through which you can work together.
For example, agree on the top KPIs to track, then hold regular review meetings to share the wins and challenges the sales and marketing teams are facing to make sure that no one is getting in the way of the other.
To align your sales and marketing teams, you don’t need to jump onto the bandwagon and get more tools, rather, good tools that help you align both teams by combining data from all other tools into one dashboard, acting as a single source of truth.
It helps avoid conflict that arises when everyone has different sources of information and can’t agree on whose data to trust and rely on when making decisions.
Create sales enablement content
Given 72% of buyers start their buyer’s journey on Google during the awareness stage (TOFU), they have to sort through lots of information they get. That’s why 70% of these same buyers will go back to Google during the consideration stage, looking for more content to help them make informed buying decisions.
And I get it. Asking the marketing department for sales enablement content only to receive content that makes you wonder where your team is going to use it when nurturing leads can be frustrating. And 35% of your colleagues feel the same way too.
Take a look:
Sales enablement content helps you address objections that buyers have so that your sales team can spend less time convincing them to buy.
So to make sure you’re on the same page here’s the kind of sales enablement content you should request from the marketing team:
A. Case studies
They help show your prospects the results you got for your customers, proving that your product or service delivers on the promise you make. You can have a look at the User.com example as they have been recently expanding their case studies library.
B. ‘Best of’ list posts
These provide the buyer with an overview of the best options available to them in the marketplace, helping them narrow down to their favorite ones.
With a ‘best of’ list post, you’re able to showcase your specific offerings without being salesy about it, making it easier for them to trust your offerings.
Here’s how Sleep Junkie does it:
These best of posts help build both trust and loyalty while subtly promoting your brand and products.
C. Product sheet
These help you sell your products and services to your leads, and you can distribute them through email or during live events, especially if you have a booth.
Great product sheets capture your buyers’ attention through captivating headlines that address a relevant pain point and provide relevant information that helps them take action either through booking a demo or a sales call.
D. Sales scripts
You need to leverage speed and consistency in your sales process, and sales scripts help you do that with ease.
For example, if you’ve identified common objections or a particular approach to selling that works, create an email sales script that your team will refer to when they need it to help them get things done faster and close more sales.
E. Comparison content
Buyers are continually weighing their options, and, in the process, they often end up being caught up between 2-3 solutions, which seem to offer similar benefits.
Reviews help you break that tie by providing them with enough detail about each of the solutions they’re considering.
One of my favorite examples is a password manager review by LoginLockdown:
It covers almost everything a buyer looking for a password manager needs to know, making it easier for them to make up their minds.
In addition, comparison content helps you target multiple keyword searches. In this case, people searching for LastPass, Dashlane, or 1Password could stumble upon this post.
These are documents that provide a high-level view of what you offer. They are useful for top-level executives who might not have the time to read through other types of sales enablement content but want to quickly understand what’s in it for them.
Create an effective follow-up strategy
40% of sales reps are finding it harder to get a response from a lead, and this suggests that following up isn’t good enough.
You want your team to be persistent without coming across as pushy and annoying, which might make a lead go cold on you.
Following up helps you reduce buying resistance to buying by building a relationship with them. That means your follow-up strategy needs to include three things: Timely follow-ups, using the right channels, and sharing valuable content with your leads.
You want to have your sales team reaching out to leads consistently with reasonable timing between follow-ups. So, looking at your data, how many follow-ups does it take to convert a lead into a customer? You need to test to come up with an ideal number of follow-ups that works for your leads.
What social media channels do your leads use? On average, social media users are spending more than 100 minutes on their favorite social media channels every month.
Instead of relying on email alone to follow-up with your leads, make sure that you’re present on these social media channels running retargeting campaigns and sharing relevant sales enablement content with them.
Multiple touchpoints create brand intimacy, increases trust, and pushes them closer to the sale either through email or a sales call.
Also, consider objections that you get in your follow-ups. For example, a lead might be stuck in a contract with a competitor for the next six months, so they can’t move. Instead of discarding such a lead, follow up with them every 30-60 days sharing useful content with them.
Work on shortening your sales cycles
Shorter sales cycles allow you to spend more time working following up on new leads.
Here’s what you need to do to shorten the sales cycle:
In your follow-up emails, add a link via email or in your email signature to a calendar scheduling tool like Calendly or a free User.com Calendar to book sales meetings with your leads and to land sales calls fast. Remember to add a note asking your lead to feel free to book a call anytime they’re ready to do so.
In addition to this, instead of selling them on your core offer, focus on getting your buyers to sign up for product demos, free and paid trials to give them a glimpse of how their lives change with your product in it.
Alternatively, offer incentives to your buyers that require them to spend little to nothing such as redeeming coupons.
Breakup your pipeline stages
Break down and analyze different stages of your sales pipeline to help you identify any loopholes that are costing you sales. For example, you want to look at your close rate, retention rate to assess the quality of leads you get from the marketing team.
If you’re having a high churn rate (more than the industry average) and a low, close rate, reach out to the marketing team and request them to help you fix this by having dedicated landing pages. Since your goal is to get the right lead to sign up, there are two ways to do this:
- Segment your leads on your landing page.
LFA Capsule Fillers does this by offering an ebook as a lead magnet then requests their leads to mention the industry they’re in. This makes sure that they have the right leads from the industries they’re targeting.
Doing so will help you instantly filter and pre-qualify leads for a more efficient funnel.
- Create landing pages offering a specific service or audience segment. Just like Loganix does.
Rather than targeting direct buyers, they target a B2B segment of the market with this landing page, narrowing down the field to more specific targets.
While this can lower your total traffic to the landing page, it often increases your conversion rate by being more specific.
Weed out low-quality leads from your sales pipeline
Your sales pipeline is as good as the quality of the leads you have. You want to keep it in mint condition by making sure you only have quality leads that will end up buying.
So to help make your work easier and maintain a healthy sales pipeline, come up with a buyer persona for leads who aren’t an excellent fit for your company. Let’s call them non-ideal buyers. These are buyers who aren’t a great fit for the product or service you’re offering, and having them in your pipeline doesn’t add any value.
For example, if your product can’t meet the needs of an enterprise client, then enterprise clients are your non-ideal buyers. Similarly, if your service targets a specific market segment is a non-ideal buyer.
Once you identify people you don’t want to sell to, create a non-ideal buyer profile (just like what you have for your ideal buyers). Share this information with the marketing team so that they don’t target them in ads or other marketing campaigns.
Your sales team will also use this profile to identify which leads to pay attention to and those they need to avoid so they remove the unwanted leads from your sales pipeline. It helps you hold them accountable for the time they spend following up high-quality leads.
Strangely enough, you’ll find that the most annoying leads and customers your team has dealt with fit your non-ideal buyer profile. Still not convinced? Give it a shot and see for yourself.
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Dive deep into your pipeline reports
Your sales pipeline reports show you how well you are doing in each stage of the sales pipeline.
They tell you what’s working and what isn’t, so you can take the right action to fix the situation before it’s too late.
Besides, they help you hold your sales team accountable to make sure everyone is pulling their weight to meet their sales quotas.
Here are the metrics you need to focus on every week:
- The number of active deals in your pipeline – How many leads are you pursuing right now? When do you expect them to become your customers? If you have a huge number of leads, start weeding out your non-ideal buyers, so you focus on those who are a great fit for your company.
- Size of each deal in your pipeline – The deals you choose to pursue depends on your revenue goals and the resources you have to pursue them. If it takes three big deals to hit your revenue goals this quarter, you might as well focus on those, then circle back and focus on the small deals.
- Time spent in your pipeline – How much time does it take for a lead to convert and become your customer? If your long sales cycles are unnecessarily long, analyze the quality of leads you’re getting from your sales team, and your follow-up strategy.
- Close rate – How many deals have your sales team closed so far? More closed deals over a given period mean that your pipeline is healthy and you should double down on what’s working.
Sales pipeline management is hard work. No doubt about that.
But you can make it harder by deciding to go it all alone thinking that the rest of the company will catch up and help you.
It hasn’t worked before and it won’t work this time round either. Don’t stress yourself trying to figure out everything on your own.
As you implement these best practices, reach out for help from both the marketing and management teams to help deliver the results that you’re all looking for.