One of the most common questions asked from VP of Sales and Chief Revenue Officers is “How can you help with pipeline management?”. We get it. When you’ve invested so much time and resources in people, processes and tools, and still aren’t seeing the performance you expect, it’s a fair question to ask. But it’s also a broad umbrella topic, and one that must be broken down to discover where the real issues lie.
Want to improve pipeline management? Start by asking questions, and considering key points such as:
- How do you currently track pipeline progression? How much of your information is from real-time data vs anecdotes that have to be tracked down individually?
- How do you stay up to speed on what reps are actually doing? Do they follow your playbook? What sales activities have occurred and also what steps are missed?
- How do you identify deals at risk? Or early funnel deals that could advance quicker?
- How do you manage the data produced across your various tools and know that reps are using the tools and resources you’ve invested in?
- When you have your forecasted number, what do you do with it?
In most sales organizations, there are still too many surprises, too many reps still operating based on gut feel instead of the playbook, and too much time spent on tasks that are not active selling. When you can fix those issues, you finally gain control over your pipeline.
Based on the responses to the questions above, we’ve identified four key strategies that can improve pipeline management, including visibility, pipeline velocity and overall sales predictability—to ultimately boost forecasting accuracy and fuel long term growth.
- Deploy guided selling. Traditionally, sales training takes place when a rep starts, during QBRs and sales kickoffs. And of course is supported by playbooks and rule-based spreadsheets. But research shows information out of context is rarely effective. Instead, we recommend sales organizations find ways to provide reps customized, in-the-moment coaching. Similar to a GPS, you can improve sales process adoption by delivering tips and prompts that help reps understand the next step for each account, based on activity that has already occurred as well as unique variables. Reps then know when to deploy the most effective sales activities for each opportunity. The result is more closed deals in fewer steps.
- Automate data capture. Get reps out of the data entry business. It’s not just because they dislike it, or even that it takes time away from selling, rather it’s because they simply aren’t good at it. They only input a fraction of their activities, and typically weeks after they occur. The result is managers have little visibility into their true pipeline. Bad CRM data impacts everything from sales strategies to identifying deals at risk in time to save to forecasting and marketing alignment. Automating the data entry of course gives reps back time in their days, but more importantly gives sales leaders real-time insight into deals—what’s working and what’s not—in time to adapt.
- Consider your Forecast a number that can be improved. Forecasts are a critical part of sales operations, but they are still just a number. And a number that is rarely on target. It’s educated prediction based on CRM data as well as rep guidance. But as mentioned above if data in the CRM isn’t accurate and current, your forecast will immediately be off. Getting to the number is only step one. More importantly, it’s what you do after you’ve identified the number. Okay, your forecast says you are going to be 90% of plan. That’s great, but what should you do to improve? To get full control of your pipeline, take the insights you get from reporting and dashboards and use them as inputs to improve deal success. Apply machine learning to determine where the patterns exist, what sales activities speed deals, what tools slow them down. Sales processes are never perfect so the ability to adapt in real time can make a significant impact.
- Keep tabs on early stage velocity and qualification. Are your reps working the right deals? All their opportunities? We get it their focus is on the deals most likely to close—and the should be—but at the same time you can’t fully neglect the early stage opportunities that will prime your pipeline for future quarters. Or assume that marketing will simply cover that phase. Early engagement can significantly improve pipeline velocity. Little reminders to send a particular piece of content or reach out to early stage deals can keep your competitors from scooping in and in some cases, lead to deals that could be pulled forward into early quarters.
Aligning people, processes, tools and data will finally give you control over your pipeline. And truthfully, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The work is already occurring. The next step is to automate the collection of these elements, and deliver it in real-time, in a way that sales leadership can consume it. To learn more about Pipeline Management, visit: https://www.olono.ai/pipeline-management/.
"Aligning people, processes, tools and data will finally give you control over your pipeline. And truthfully, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The work is already occurring. The next step is to automate the collection of these elements, and deliver it in real-time, in a way that sales leadership can consume it. "