Pipeline Management Best Practices For SMEs
To a company endeavoring to maximize sales (which, let’s face it, is most companies), the state of its sales pipeline is absolutely key to the chances of success. This is especially true of SMEs, for whom each sale is that much more significant, compared to the overall size of the enterprise.
A smooth flow is what you’re after, so customer journeys are pleasant for them and profitable for you. This, unhappily, is not guaranteed. However, you can up the odds in your favor by applying pipeline management best practices.
We’ll look at these below, but not before looking into that pipeline to see what bubbles up:
PIPELINE INS AND OUTS
A sales pipeline is what we term the route by which a sales prospect is converted into a solid result and from there, a loyal customer. They can vary from company to company but, broadly, there are seven stages within a sales pipeline:
1. Lead generation
Contact details of prospects are secured through the use of targeted ads and marketing campaigns, often with the use of zero-party data.
2. Lead nurturing
Prospects are sent content that may interest them and with the intention of encouraging them to take more interest in the company’s products.
3. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)
A list of MQLs is generated, these being leads that have been nurtured and therefore represent the most promising potential customers.
4. Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
The lead has passed the criteria for a likely customer, so the sales team will assess.
5. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
The sales team has assessed the lead and has rated them as a good sales opportunity.
6. Actual sale
The sale is conducted and closed successfully.
7. Post sale
Billing, customer support, follow-up calls, retention marketing, etc.
This is only one instance of a sales pipeline. It could, instead, look like this:
The important thing is to construct a pipeline that makes sense for your business.
Once a sales pipeline is constructed, and everyone knows the part they must play within it, it’s tempting to think that it can be left to its own devices and perpetual success will result. Not so.
To keep a sales pipeline functioning to its full potential, it’s important to monitor it. Only by taking steps to manage it properly can you be sure that the pipeline won’t let leads fall through any cracks. Also, by attending to the pipeline’s processes, you’ll stand more of a chance of increasing its efficiency by, for example, using automation where possible.
You’ll also be in a position to see what’s working and what’s not, meaning that you can seek to rectify problem areas or even eradicate them altogether. You can then exploit areas that are working better.
PIPELINE MANAGEMENT BEST PRACTICES
How can you conduct effective pipeline management? Let’s look at some best practices:
1. Be clear with your pipeline stages
As mentioned, pipelines may vary from company to company. Make yours reflect as closely as possible what happens in your sales process. Think about each sales pipeline stage, in particular in terms of the touchpoints between sales and marketing and the customer. Then, consider how they might be optimized for customer conversion.
Be clear with your team that you’re talking about a sales pipeline and not a sales funnel. What’s the difference? They’re related, but the former is all about the steps in the sales process from your business’s perspective. The latter is more about what the customer experiences.
Talk to your sales and marketing staff to get their perspectives. See how you can make the pipeline readily understandable to them. Check in with them periodically to see that they’re still invested in the pipeline model. Personnel changes and cultural shifts can result in what was thriving one day being all but abandoned the next.
In common with all such constructs, the pipeline concept will only work if there’s buy-in from everyone involved. So you need to keep underlining its importance to your team.
2. Monitor metrics
It’s vital to keep abreast of the sales metrics that your pipeline generates and that give valuable insight into its health.
What kind of sales pipeline metrics are we talking about? Information like the success ratio is hugely important. If it’s looking a little unimpressive, it could be that the sales pipeline needs some attention. It could be that the process is taking too long, which might lead to customer disengagement.
With this in mind, have a look at the average sales process time. If it’s high, then you need to streamline the process in some way to get your sales velocity up.
Also, see other KPIs, like the total number of sales and the average deal size. These are key metrics that you might be able to improve upon with a bit of pipeline tweaking, especially in terms of stages one and two.
In general, pipeline metrics will deliver information that will help you zero in on the fault, wherever it might be. Or whomever. If a rep’s not delivering in terms of their sales quota, you may need to hook up to discuss.
A lot of KPI information can be generated automatically, with the use of a CRM report feature. Alternatively, you might want to look into acquiring some sales pipeline software to assist with the overseeing aspect.
3. Focus on good leads
There’s nothing more dispiriting than devoting huge amounts of time and energy to a lead, only for the process to go by the wayside at some point and the sale disappear into the ether. So, as time goes by, learn to tell the difference between hot leads and those dead leads that have impending disappointment written all over them.
Obviously, you and your team only have so much time to devote to lead nurturing so it makes sense to prioritize the leads most likely to deliver a sale. Let’s say we have a lead who’s shown an interest in the content put out by PandaDoc on electronic signature law in Canada. As we’re active in Canada and provide e-signature solutions, then this might turn out to be a productive lead.
This of course is not to say that you should be dismissive of everyone else. No, if you have the time and resources, there’s nothing wrong with attempting an unlikely conversion. Just don’t let those efforts get in the way of the safer bets.
4. Align sales and marketing
For bodies with such related areas of concentration, sales and marketing departments can get very disconnected, both from each other and from the rest of the company. Silo working is all too common and conflict can result.
We’ve all seen situations where sales employees haven’t been updated about marketing campaigns, leaving customers confused and frustrated.
There are several reasons why a lack of alignment persists:
Getting them working in unison can deliver great results for your company. Sales based firmly on marketing work will be smoother and more rewarding, as the process is helped along by the groundwork marketing has done on identifying and securing the prospect.
One approach is to get your sales marketing teams to align their goals by giving them a joint project to concentrate on. Speeding up the pipeline, for instance. This kind of collaboration encourages communication and integration going forward.
5. Assist with individual pipelines
Your staff should all have their own individual pipelines, showing them where prospects are currently located and assisting them with their workload planning. Sometimes they may need a little help with staying on top of this. This is where you come in.
Make sure they know how to use any assistive tech, like your Customer Relationship Management system. And, ensure that they know what to do if they have any trouble. It could be that they should come to you, or to Technical, or some other route.
The important thing is that they know that help is available and how to get it. Feeling supported is vital to staff wellbeing.
6. Explore multi-thread relationships
It’s important to think about how you can create more than just one connection between colleagues and clients. This is to enhance relationships so that if, for instance, a team member leaves, there’s no need to start from scratch when a colleague picks up the client.
With this end in mind, it’s a good idea to look into how your team can share information concerning their prospects. This kind of relationship enhancement is known as multi-threading.
Consider an employee who’s managed to close a deal between your business and two separate clients (perhaps using a PandaDoc tripartite agreement template). The information regarding those clients shouldn’t reside with that employee only. It should be shared with the team at catch-up meetings and stored centrally in a CRM, so that knowledge of the deal is passed to the group.
7. Consider approaching influencers
Influencers are bigger than ever. And our next pipeline management best practice is to make the most of that.
To a huge sector of the buying public, they utterly dominate their decisions. What might this uber-effective force bring to bear on the world of pipelines?
What they can deliver is trust. Consumers generally trust influencers more than they trust brand messaging. What this means for pipelines is that customers are likely to move through the early stages more quickly when they are being enticed by an influencer’s seductive words.
The big problem with influencers is their cost. They aren’t cheap. You can seek to emulate some of their success by using your own staff. Emphasize the personal by promoting individual staff members, and underlining their areas of expertise.
There’s a tendency for consumers to give greater credence to information if it comes from “someone like me”. For this reason, it’s a good idea to promote a number of different employees, and to give consumers something to feel aligned with by picking out a few facts about the team member in question.
For instance, “Frank here is our go-to guy for things like property lease agreement template matters, but at the weekend he and his dog Percy like nothing better than to get out there on the paddleboard then fire up the bbq when back on dry land. Go fellas!”
8. Add value
Throughout the pipeline, think about how you can give the consumer more than your competitors. It could be through better content, such as well-written blogs and up-to-the-minute databanks, or invitations to webinars. If you’re in doubt about what to provide, listen to your client. They’ll let you know what’s of interest to them.
Here are a few other ideas:
- Informative blog posts
- How-to videos
- White papers
9. Continually review
It’s important to conduct a sales pipeline review at regular intervals. Keep returning to the pipeline to assess for problems. It can be the case that developments outside the business can impact your pipeline’s performance. While these may be hard to predict, you can certainly adapt to them where necessary and possible.
Also, pay attention to how fluctuations in the business cycle have effects on the pipeline.
Again, input from your team is crucial. You can’t be expected to be everywhere all at once, so you need the insights and perspectives of those involved in stages of the pipeline that you rarely venture into.
Have regular update meetings, at which you can all learn from each other about how the pipeline is performing. You can share best practices and look into experiences in other companies, too.
10. Implement regular sales training
Not everyone’s a born salesperson. And even the best sales reps can wane a little over time. Sales pitch styles can change in popularity, or an individual might just lose their mojo and their sales efforts can hit stony ground. It can happen even to the most experienced salesperson.
To get everyone pepped up and performing at their best, it’s often worth investing in some sales coaching. When doing this, it’s important that the coach appraises each sales representative individually and works with them to rectify any perceived shortcomings. In these sorts of training scenarios, it’s best to concentrate on one skill at a time, to avoid overwhelming the trainee.
Great benefits can result:
Sometimes, however, the expertise you need is right there among your existing sales people. It can often be enormously useful to have staff learning one another’s best techniques.
Such activity can even lead to staff members becoming experts, able to train external candidates, and making additional income for your company. Should this happen, the PandaDoc consulting contract template might come in handy.
Your sales performance depends on the successful resolution of the sales activities that characterize a healthy sales pipeline.
Sales pipelines are just like any other pipeline. You can have the best-made pipe in the business, shiny and massive and tailor-made for your needs. However, leave it unmaintained for a while and what you’ll have is a big shiny pipeline with a nasty case of blockage.
Just as a physical pipeline needs regular attention to keep it clear, the metaphorical sales pipeline needs a manager to give it a good rodding from time to time. These effective sales pipeline management best practices are what will supply you with a good firm hold on that rod. Go to it!
Yauhen Zaremba – Director of Demand Generation
Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc, all-in-one document management tool for almost all types of documents including these PandaDoc house lease agreement templates. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.
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