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Sales pipeline management best practices

It was reported in 2018 by LinkedIn that a whopping 24% of forecasted deals “go dark.” Meaning… they drop off. Kaput. No more. 

Why is that? 

Well, there are some unavoidable reasons that contribute. Like account churn  where decision-makers change roles, and internal churn where people change roles internally. But on the flip side, there’s a considerable amount of much more accountable actions that play a role in losing forecasted revenue. Namely, a lack of attention to the sales pipeline caused by poor sales pipeline management.

Investing in better sales pipeline visibility and using sales pipeline management best practices is a key driver for improving sales strategy and performance. The trick is being smart and savvy about how you manage the flow of customers through that pipe.

When exploring sales pipeline management we’ll start with explaining what a sales pipeline is, and the key stages that define it. Then we’ll dive into the management part by seeing what that is, before diving into the sales pipeline best practices: when is the best time to follow up with a lead, how to prioritize or decide to drop leads, how to keep your sales cycle short, tracking your customer journey, which sales processes to standardize, which metrics are important, and finally, how to break down communication silos.

First of all… what is a sales pipeline?

According to Hubspot, “a sales pipeline is a representation of how a prospect moves through every stage of your sales process.” So in other words, what your prospective client is doing at every stage of their journey, starting from when they are identified as a lead. 

Key stages of the sales pipeline

Customers flow through a predictable process when moving along the pipeline, and 

  1. Prospecting 
  2. Qualifying leads
  3. Initial meeting
  4. Define prospect needs
  5. Make an offer
  6. Negotiation/Finalize proposal 
  7. Closing deal
  8. Product or service delivery
  9. Retention and follow up

What do we mean by sales pipeline management?

Each stage of the sales pipeline deserves attention. The tracking and managing of the process from start to finish is called sales pipeline management. And it works.

By tapping into client behaviour at every stage of the sales pipeline, you are more in tune with what’s working and what’s not—what the client is responding to, good and bad. Managing all incoming sales opportunities at each stage of the pipeline helps salespeople to refine the sales process, and improve. And like any stellar sales tool, there are best practices associated with using it. 

What are the benefits of sales pipeline management?

If it seems like extra work, rest assured that spending the time and effort on using sales pipeline management best practices is well worth it. For example:

  • It helps you monitor your progress with prospects
  • It helps you better nurture leads, as you’re more in tune with the prospect
  • It increases your total sales volume and revenue, as you close deals more effectively
  • It helps with more accurate sales forecasting

All of which means bigger, better, faster sales leading to happier, longer-lasting customers. 

Sales pipeline management best practices

So what specifically are the best practices you can employ to manage your sales pipeline like a pro? 

Follow up on time

Master the art of the perfect follow-up. The key is not to seem desperate or pushy, but genuinely interested in defining their needs or wants. Definitely don’t leave them hanging and feeling like they aren’t a priority. A healthy follow-up gives them an appropriate amount of time to have considered your interaction and keeps them in the pipeline.

Know how to prioritize and/or drop leads

It’s way more effective to be able to recognize your most promising deals or those with higher value. Prioritize those that will close quickly and deliver faster. Don’t let less-promising prospects take away your time finalizing better deals and bringing in revenue. And when a prospect is dead—walk away.

Follow them along the pipeline

Forbes interviewed members of their business council in 2021 on sales pipeline management, and as Cody Jefferson put it: “Utilize a proper CRM that drives the prospect through a nurture and qualification process. This is contingent on the product, service or offer and will vary based on price and objective. By utilizing a CRM, you can track the customer journey, as well as your retargeting, lifetime value and overall satisfaction of the customer or client.”

Keep your sales cycle short

You want to keep your average time to close as short as possible, so you can move on to new business. The faster you can nurture your leads through the sales pipeline, the better, (as long as you’re getting a clear picture of client needs and giving them the best service)—the more deals you close, the more revenue you generate. One great tip is to make small, daily cues that keep your prospects moving along.

Know which sales processes to standardize

To save time and close more deals, look at what along the sales process could be standardized or automated. You don’t want to waste time on tasks that could more easily be done with the right tech or tools in place. (We recommend starting with CRM data entry.)

Measure important KPIs

The only way to truly analyze what’s working and what isn’t in your sales processes is to set up measurable KPIs. You want access to data points like how long it takes to close a deal, the average length for a prospect to get through the pipeline, which stages of the pipeline take the longest, and the closed-won ratio. These will reveal valuable insights. 

Break down internal communication silos

Make sure that your sales pipeline data is a single source of truth for everyone at your organization—meaning everyone has access to the exact same, accurate information. This helps the entire company stay on the same page by identifying who knows who, breaking down communication silos, and creating organizational synergy. Keeping a clean, accurate CRM database is the first step.

Conclusion 

If you’re looking to track prospect behaviour along the sales pipeline to improve sales strategy and performance, it’s kind of (really) important to invest in a sales pipeline management tool. And if you’re already using a proper CRM, the great news is that a relationship analytics solution like Introhive already exists. It can analyze that important data in your CRM and guide important sales decisions using the insights drawn from that data. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Introhive can illuminate your path to sales success, book a demo and we’ll show you what we’re all about.

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