3 easy steps to Pipeline management

Pipeline management should be easy for everyone

A solid, trustworthy, sales pipeline is the best way to get in control of your company’s performance. 

A solid pipeline is crucial across the business, trustworthy information form the basis for their decisions.

It could be recruiting, ordering parts, or whatever is needed to deliver against the forecasted sales pipeline.

A “noisy” pipeline on the other hand, containing unrealistic deals, presents the opposite! It steals both time and energy, risking a push in the wrong direction.

In a worst-case scenario, it can cost your company a great deal

This is not new and one of the primary reasons business leaders spend countless hours deep in Excel producing a pipeline/forecast they can trust.  It is also the cause of poor relationships between customer-facing and back-office teams.

There are however ways to avoid these challenges with a pipeline you can both trust and grasp in seconds. 

This article lists the TOP 3 things to think about if you want easy pipeline management. 

Step 1 – Split the pipeline into unqualified/qualified deals

The traditional method is to add all your deals to your pipeline, regardless of their status. This is usually because CRMs usually only provide one place to list your potential deals.

There are major business impacts arising from this behaviour…

1. Many deals are simply pushed along until someone gets tired or asks a direct question resulting in sudden shrinkage of the pipeline

2. White-noise in the pipeline heavily affects forecasts. 

3. Sales reps delay the scrutiny that adding deals to the pipeline creates until they are confident it will be won. This adversely affects delivery teams, who receive little warning of unplanned deliverables or worse are unable to meet the expectations since they had little time to prepare for deals closing the coming weeks/months.

The best way to get around these issues is to actually split the pipeline into two parts. One for unqualified deals and another for the qualified deals.

An important part of this is also to remove your unqualified deals from your monetary forecasts. This to prevent noise in your forecasts.

Step 2 – Define simple criteria for qualified deals

The key questions to answer are:

> Where do you draw the line between unqualified and qualified deals?

> What is a qualified deal, what does that mean for us?

Therefore you should also define very clear criteria for what constitutes a qualified deal. 

The huge benefit to everyone is a greater trust in the qualified section of the pipeline.

The focus for the sales reps in the unqualified part is to, yes, as it says qualify the deals and when the deals are qualified to re-categorise them as qualified. 

This simple approach contributes to focussing on “qualifying a customer” the first time you engage with them. 

What you will see when applying this way of working is reduced stress for sales reps and a clear focus on the number of leads needed to create one qualified deal. 

It also makes far less painful “losing” some deals, since they did not match the set criteria to become qualified.

Step 3 – Segment your pipelines & processes

Most companies are actually working with different types of sales internally. Some work with… 

>  Complex long sales cycles (Example: solution sales), 

>  Short sales cycles (Example: additional orders from existing customers)

>  Proactive sales (Often new business)

>  Reactive sales (Incoming requests)

Despite the clear benefits, the most common method to process opportunities is to apply the same pipeline for all types of sales.

There are two issues with this…

1. It provides little support to the individual sales reps. You dilute the process to a point where it does not fit anyone. (Unless all team members sell the same product in the same way, regardless of the type of customer.)

2. It makes it hard to split the pipeline and get a quick overview of the sales performance for different segments (Geographies, Industries, New business, Existing clients, etc.)

The way to avoid these challenges is to operate different pipelines and processes. A good pipeline should both be easy to use for the sales reps and highly visible for management. All opportunities are not created equal, so why should they all be expected to conform to the same process?

Pipeline management for business leaders

The priority with pipeline management is to get a quick overview of sales performance. Presenting both an overview and detailed elements of that pipeline. 

Your pipeline should guide what those most important next steps will drive a win within your market. 

This could mean splitting the pipeline into different geographies, industries, New business, or whatever segmentation that is relevant in your organisation.

You should of course also be able to easily see the sales performance in a pipeline for different time periods.

Therefore, it is recommended you split your pipeline into segments that can also be viewed as a high-level summary. 

It then becomes easy to track the performance at both the overview and detailed level.

Pipeline management for sales reps

If a process is meant to actually support the person using that process it needs to align with how the person can and will work in reality. Otherwise, the process is not a support tool, it is just another control tool.

This is, unfortunately, a common occurrence in sales. It is also one of the reasons why many sales reps become critical of the sales process.

One of the reasons behind this is the fact that most companies apply one unified way of working in the business. 

Since most companies do work in different ways depending on what type of sales they are doing, it is actually quite unusual to find a common process. It is like squeezing a square through a round hole.

To truly support the reps in their daily activities, they need processes that actually support them. This makes it easier and clearer for them to focus and close the deals.

Just sending a quote is not enough. Closing deals is not about sending quotes, it’s about all the things that happen before the quote. 

A good process should aim to help the reps to focus on the key success factors driving success for your company.

Some deals are pretty straight forward and you can largely do the same thing every time, in the same order. In this case, you should apply a sequential process.

In other deals you can’t pre-empt the order activities will be completed before you begin, in this case, you should work in a more dynamic way, perhaps with todo-lists on the deal.

In some scenarios you want the process to decide the likeliness for closure and in other scenarios, you need to decide the likeliness cases by case.

This means that you might have the need for not just different processes, you actually might have the need for different types of processes.

The pipeline of course needs to mirror these different processes, regardless of type.

Summary – pipeline management

So, to wrap it up. 

To get…

> quick and easy overviews of the sales performance 

> processes that actually support the way you work

…you will benefit from splitting your pipeline in these different ways.

It will benefit both management and the individual reps.

it is, therefore, recommend you think about how you actually work, in reality, and how you want to follow up sales.

Don’t forget that the pipeline is supposed to make your life easier, not harder, for everyone involved.