10 Sales Pipeline Management Tips to Speed Up Your Cycle
Your sales pipeline is a roadmap — a visual, shared representation of the journey your prospects take as they move through the entire sales process. It’s also one of the most accurate indicators of current and future sales performance.
Insights you can uncover with a defined sales pipeline include:
- How your sales teams and leads interact
- The actions they take at each stage
- Gaps and/or bottlenecks that may hinder your win rate
- Tactics that are effective and should be repeated
- The revenue potential of your pipeline at any given time
To actually glean these insights, however, and have the ability to take action in response, you need strong sales pipeline management practices in place.
Sales pipeline management is the active tracking of leads progress toward sales goals and a continual commitment to optimizing your pipeline at every stage in order to maximize sales and revenue.
The benefits of doing it effectively are manifold — higher sales and revenue, as mentioned, as well as a shorter sales cycle, more productive sales teams, and higher quality buyer experience.
But the rapid pace of business today and capabilities delivered by new technologies — specifically, the ability to execute lead gen and nurturing at scale — means that sales pipeline management is also more complex to execute than it was in the past.
Today, it needs to be seamlessly integrated into your overall sales strategy while also receiving separate prioritization in the forms of defined KPIs and frequent sales pipeline analyses. Ideally, it should also be supported by strong data analytics and intelligent automation tools.
In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at 10 proven, actionable sales pipeline management tips you can use to optimize the buyer experience, speed up your sales cycle, and maximize ROI on your larger sales strategy.
- Sales pipeline management should be a collaborative process powered by software tools that provide shared visibility.
- Lead management — including lead-gen tactics, lead scoring, lead qualification, and lead nurturing — lays the foundation for successful pipeline management.
- High-value content and sales enablement materials serve as critical support resources at every pipeline stage for buyers and sales reps alike.
- Your sales tech stack should always be optimized and free of outdated or unusable tools.
- Sales strategies are more effective when they’re customized by audience segment.
- Frequent sales pipeline analyses power continuous improvement and optimization.
10 Sales Pipeline Management Tips to Speed Up Your Cycle
Define your sales process — and train your sales team to follow it
The sales process outlines the specific steps your sales reps should take to move leads through the pipeline and convert sales. If your sales pipeline provides a view into the buyer journey, your sales process is like the manual that reps follow to guide them through it.
A defined sales process is important for a few reasons — it ensures your reps are using best-practice approaches when interacting with prospects, and it creates consistency so you can effectively analyze sales performance and make decisions about how to improve it.
For example: If you’re experiencing low conversions for a particular customer segment, but your reps are all using different sales tactics, it will be difficult to get to the root of the problem. On the other hand, a standardized sales process makes it easy to identify where and why an issue is occurring, then resolve it with strategy adjustments.
Here’s what to include in your sales process:
- Timing and methods for prospect outreach
- Lead qualification and scoring methods
- Scenario guidelines (if buyer does X, you do Y)
- Lead nurturing cadence and channels
- When to use content and enablement assets
- Procedures for closing final sales
To maximize ROI, your sales process should be documented, shared, and highly visible for every member of your sales team. Incorporate it into sales rep onboarding and professional development, and ensure your sales leaders clearly communicate the expectation that it always be followed.
Optimize your lead generation process
An intentional and optimized lead generation process sets your leads in the right direction from the start and boosts the likelihood they’ll convert in the end. With automation at the heart of most lead-gen strategies today, companies are at risk of becoming disconnected from that initial step of their buyer journey.
Considering lead generation tactics are what builds your pipeline in the first place, it’s a risk you want to avoid by making lead gen a part of your sales pipeline management strategy. Important questions to ask include:
- What channels are we using to generate leads?
- Are we collecting enough/the right information from new leads?
- Are our lead-gen forms user-friendly and easy to access?
- Where does lead data go when it’s submitted? Who handles it?
- How fast is our follow-up? Which channels are being used to do it?
- What’s our current conversion rate? Can we improve it?
Handling leads with intention contributes to a better buyer experience. It also provides your marketing and sales teams with the information they need to to execute your sales process and keep your pipeline healthy.
Score your leads and focus on high potential
Lead scoring is the process of assigning a numerical value to leads based on inherent attributes and behavioral indicators of purchase intent.
For example — you might assign five points to companies from industries that fit your ideal customer profile, and three points to those that fall outside preferred industries but still have high intent. Leads that have only filled out an interest form may only be assigned two points, while those that scheduled a demo get four.
In practice, of course, it’s a bit more complex — companies often have scoring matrixes that their marketing and sales teams use to score leads, and many software tools can do it automatically.
The point of lead scoring: Keep the highest-potential leads at the top of the pile, and redirect those less likely to convert to alternative places in your pipeline (like a lead nurturing campaign).
Given that poor leads are one of the biggest time wasters for sales reps — and thus significantly detract from your sales potential — lead scoring can be a game changer for pipeline movement and overall sales productivity.
It’s important to note again that redirecting leads due to a low score doesn’t mean eliminating them from your pipeline. Instead, it means cultivating leads until they’re ready to purchase, and enabling your sales team to focus on closing actual sales in the meantime.
Educate leads with high-value content
Content is a critical resource to buyers as they conduct their research (largely independently, without the help of a sales rep). It should be a part of your sales pipeline management strategy in that you create it for prospects at every stage, using it as a tool for moving them forward in the sales process.
The key for companies is to develop this customized content and target it appropriately so it always reaches the right audience. SEO can help (you can optimize content for certain search terms) as can email marketing platforms with sophisticated segmenting features.
For example: A lead in very early stages of showing interest requires separate content than one nearly ready to make a purchase decision. Content topics, calls to action, and preferred channels will all be different.
Create content that represents your brand, establishes expertise, is customized for buyers at every stage, and builds trust leading up to a purchase decision.
Measure performance with data-driven metrics
Maintaining a metrics-driven pipeline strategy keeps your teams accountable and gives you benchmarks against which to measure sales performance over time.
Sales pipeline coverage, for example, measures the ratio between total value of opportunities in your pipeline and your revenue targets for that time period. Tracking it ensures you have a healthy amount of leads in your pipeline and a balance of leads across all stages. Length of sales cycle measures how long leads stay in your pipeline, helping you spot opportunities to optimize.
Use the technology tools at your disposal to track key metrics related to your sales pipeline and define processes for reporting on them. Frequent, visible performance reporting keeps teams accountable, builds momentum from small wins, and helps create a culture around finding new ways to improve.
Optimize your sales tech stack
According to Salesforce, sales teams use an average of 10 tools to close deals and many reps say they are overwhelmed.
Software platform tools have transformed the ability for companies to execute smart, data-driven sales strategies. But at the same time, too much technology — or failure to optimize it — can lead to inefficiencies and/or siloed and competing efforts across your sales process.
When it comes to your sales tech stack, keep a few important things in mind to help it power effective pipeline management:
- Marketing and sales tech stacks should be aligned
- Integration is a key — it drives better UX and more seamless data flow
- All-in-one platforms (with many capabilities) centralize efforts
Most importantly, your tech stack should enhance sales pipeline management and every other part of the marketing and sales process, not make it more complex. If you feel like you’re dealing with constant troubleshooting or that technology is complicating your efforts, it’s time to evaluate your tech stack and look for ways to optimize.
Make the pass-off from marketing to sales seamless
Without marketing, companies would have no leads, and without sales, they’d have no way to close them. Marketing and sales alignment, then — more specifically, perfecting the lead handoff from marketing to sales — accelerates your sales cycle and keeps your pipeline moving smoothly.
This step requires setting defined criteria around lead scoring and qualification. To this end, think about three important questions:
- What attributes define a quality lead for your company?
- What criteria determines when a lead is sales qualified?
- What’s the process for passing quality leads from marketing to sales?
Agreement across these three areas and adherence to your company’s lead quality standards puts your marketing and sales teams on the same page. Then, clearly-defined steps for handing off leads ensures they move seamlessly along the pipeline and never get lost in the process.
Customize your approach by segment
Customers are divided into segments for a reason — they each have unique needs, preferences, and buying habits. A one-size-fits-all approach to selling across segments is likely to stall your pipeline as leads fail to advance (or fall off completely).
A recent Demandbase report found that attunement to specific company and industry needs is one of the top reasons companies choose specific vendors over other competitors.
As part of your sales pipeline management strategy, develop (and then periodically revisit) ideal customer profiles and buyer personas to understand your different customer segments and how you can tailor your sales efforts to meet their needs.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every segment — rather, aim to establish a framework strategy that can be customized in flexible ways, such as targeted content, specialized sales reps, or preferred communication channels.
Create exceptional sales enablement materials
Sales enablement materials are knowledge, tools, and resources provided to your sales team to help them execute the sales process to its full potential with confidence and expertise.
The role of sales enablement has become more critical in recent years as the internet created more informed buyers who know much about your brand before they ever have a conversation with your sales team.
In response, sales enablement materials can help reps shift their focus away from introductory information (which the buyer now already has) and more immediately address buyer pain points, questions, and needs. From a pipeline management perspective, these materials help reps understand how buyer expectations evolve as they move down the pipeline, and execute the right tactics and approaches at every stage.
Perform regular pipeline analyses
A sales pipeline analysis is a formal evaluation of pipeline performance using the key metrics we outlined earlier in this guide. More specifically, it centralizes these metrics into a single report to enable both high-level and granular analysis.
Conducting periodic sales pipeline analyses is perhaps the most important part of strong sales pipeline management. These reports serve as the reference point for continual discussion about how to optimize and improve the pipeline over time.
Today, sales pipeline analyses can be highly automated with CRM and other sales management tools that generate pre-designed reports. Companies can schedule reports and run them periodically without much manual effort, making pipeline analysis an ongoing strategy rather than a one-off event.
Beyond actually running the reports, the key essential step is to set aside time with your sales leadership team to discuss pipeline analyses and strategically leverage their insights.
Level Up Your Sales Pipeline Management with Xactly
Active, effective sales pipeline management puts you in control of your company’s revenue potential with intentional strategies at every stage of the B2B buyer journey. Over time, you can achieve more predictable sales and revenue streams that drive growth for your organization.
But to reach these goals, you need the right tools in place.
Xactly Forecasting® delivers data-informed pipeline analytics to drive consistent sales execution and accurate forecasting for accelerating predictable revenue. Valuable features like pipeline flowlytics, AI-powered forecasted revenue predictions, opportunity 360 views, and guided selling equip your sales leaders and reps alike to manage the pipeline with confidence.
Schedule your free demo today!