Whether you think of it as a funnel, a pipeline, or another magical pathway shape, mapping where your sales prospects are in the process of becoming a happy (and loyal) customer is obviously crucial for success.
But just like any process, they can get stale. Perhaps you’re not getting the results you used to — or perhaps it’s not working at all. Maybe you’re looking for a few new ideas or an entire overhaul.
Whatever the reason, we’ve got your back. Check out these 11 tips that might spark some inspiration while you’re thinking about your sales pipeline.
1. Ask yourself this painful question: is your CRM really working?
Even thinking about shifting your data into a new software is enough to make any manager twitch. However, just like ripping off a band-aid, it’s best to make the decision to fix your CRM situation as quickly as possible.
“CRM solutions are mature. Most vendor solutions are chock full of features and functions — probably more than you would ever need.”
-Kate Leggett, Forrester
Of course, unlike ripping off a band-aid, re-evaluating your needs and wants when it comes to a CRM service will take careful thought and a fair amount of time. Do you really understand what is converting your customers? Is it collecting the right data for your sales pipeline to understand new opportunities and overall trends? Does it display it in the right way?
Say you’re a traveling salesman. Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually map out your needs, optimize your gas mileage, and track important information about your customers all in one easy-to-use tool? But we digress.
2. Invest in content that’s actually useful for your actual customers.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but a little planning can go a long way. Take an honest look at the educational materials and marketing content that you’re offering your customers.
Source: E-Commerce Wiki
Does your content feel fresh, on-trend, timely, and relevant? If not, take a look around at what your competitors are providing to your customers. Is it actually answering real questions that they have, or is it useless fluff? Think about how you can stand out in the crowd when it comes to your content. What can you offer that isn’t being talked about in your industry?
Plus, good content can be reused as advertising on social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Planning your content with distribution in mind can give you more bang for your buck.
3. Think about how you measure the quality of your leads.
Yes, you could just buy reams upon reams of phone numbers and also pay tons of salespeople to cold call all day. But that doesn’t sound efficient for you or good for anything other than making a miserable and pointless existence for everyone. You’re probably not doing something that extreme, but your lead sourcing probably could use a refresh.
What new lead generation tactics could you use in your sales pipeline? Think about how you encourage your favorite customers to refer your company to their friends. Do you offer a reward system? Is it easy to understand the benefits of selecting your service? Are there any social influencers that have a mutually beneficial customer base?
“Improving lead quality means measuring, better targeting, educating, creating strategic conversion paths and optimizing based on the data you build.”
-Ellison Jusino, Hooklead
And while you’re thinking about the customer’s experience, think about your sales pitch and process. Are your salespeople researching actual decision makers who can use your product, or are they wasting their time with irrelevant leads?
4. Make sure you can share learnings easily teamwide — and industry-wide.
Maybe you have been wrestling with a sales problem for months, trying to figure it out, and finally got something you that was innovative and unique. Proudly, at a company happy hour, you share your accomplishment with another sales person — only to hear that they figured out a very similar problem quicker, earlier, and, dare you to admit it, smarter.
It’s happened to all of us. The trick is, how can you prevent this from happening among your coworkers? Create a culture of free communication.
Ask for learnings and distribute them widely. Don’t just stuff them in a dry newsletter — figure out a system that gets others excited about learning how they can make their lives and work easier.
Then, use that information to create industry-respected content that sets your company ahead of the crowd. If you figure out a bombshell of an approach, or source fascinating metrics, these could be pitched to PR or media organizations that may want to cover it — or use you as an expert source in an article in a trade magazine. More exposure means more sales. Win-win!
5. Don’t “batch” your updates.
This may be controversial, but hear us out. If you save the process of recording all of your updates from all your sales calls at the end of the day (or the end of the week), this will only increase the chance of you forgetting to include important details, contact information, or discoveries you made during your interaction with the customer.
Get into the habit of taking notes as soon as you’re done — or while it’s happening!
As the saying goes, “the faintest ink is better than the best memory.”
Note down personal details you may discover as well — especially if you learned what not to say.
This can also relate back to the CRM issue. Does your software or system have an easy to use mobile app? Or does the website work on your mobile browser, at the very least? If not, make your life easier by investing in one that does.
6. Make sure your sales pipeline is in step with your customers’ “buyer journey.”
Seeing as the whole point of a sales pipeline is to create sales, this should be obvious but. As with anything, it can become muddled over the time. It’s human nature to make processes easier for ourselves, especially if you’re doing one thing over and over again, but it’s a good idea to think about it from the other side.
For each step in your sales pipeline, examine what voluntary action your customer must make. For instance, say you’ve already had an initial meeting and they’re using a trial version of your product. What do you think that looks like? What additional information may they need to use your product in a way that encourages them to convert?
Considering the pipeline from their perspective may reveal some painful truths — but hopefully, all the extra money you make can help you manage the pain.
7. If you have limited time to examine your pipeline regularly, focus on early-stage opportunities.
The point of regular pipeline reviews is to spur more sales, so it doesn’t make sense to see specifically what happened at the end of a sale as much as what happened at the beginning to garner a great result.
“Early-stage opportunities are essential for proper pipeline management… Because late-stage opportunities are out of a manager’s hands.”
Plus, managers have more clout at the beginning than at the end (when a personal relationship has been cultivated between the salesperson and their customer). Course correction is easier and more effective before a lot of investment has taken place — and who doesn’t like preventing disasters rather than trying to solve them?
8. Don’t lay lots of pipes when a simple one will do.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Your pipeline shouldn’t look like a convoluted flowchart or inscrutable infographic. If there are lots of steps on your road to success, consider putting in some ramps to segment leads.
Source: Venture Harbour
“Smaller pipelines are often smaller because they already have the bad opportunities weeded out, which saves reps a lot of time,” says one recent study by Hubspot. “ It also provides clearer insight into the opportunities that are in the pipeline, such as which have had their close dates pushed back or their expected deal size lowered — both reliable indicators that an opportunity is unlikely to convert.”
A simple pipeline will also free up your employees to spend more time selling. According to GrowthHouse, one major factor that can plague any pipeline is overwhelmed employees. Overwhelm occurs when employees are leveraging too much energy on non-selling activities, such as organizing a complex pipeline.
If you have a very thorough process, try testing out a simplified version. You might be surprised by your success — and by solving redundancies, you’re making your salespeople more efficient, too!
9. Examine your oldest prospective customers.
How quickly does your average sale close? For some lucky companies, it may be a matter of hours, but for others, it may take months. Regardless, keep your current average number in mind as you examine your oldest leads.
Considering the factors that caused them to stagnate could illuminate more unique factors you may not have considered with other data. Pairing the age with the step in the funnel or pipeline is even better, because it may reveal very telling trends. Or, at the very least, it may communicate where more training would be helpful for your sales staff.
10. Clean it out.
Salespeople are generally very optimistic but a dose of realism needs to happen every so often. All of your records should be current, updated, and reasonably formatted. If it’s not, it will not bring you joy — and it’s time to do some housekeeping.
“Many sales funnels tend to look like a messy fridge — filled with moldy leftovers and expired bottles of salad dressing.”
Make a routine out of organizing and assessing the quality of your records. Pairing it with a fun activity, exciting reward, or simply reminding yourself of the benefits will also make it easier. Consider sharing these motivations with your other team members.
A smaller pipeline with great leads is better than a huge pipeline filled with low-quality and hard-to-understand opportunities. Plus, keeping it neat will make your analytics more accurate, which will only help you report accurate numbers and forecast helpful trends.
11. Read actual studies on sales pipelines.
I’m sure you’re incredibly fascinated by sales pipelines, subscribed to a magazine called something like “Sales Pipeline Aficionado,” and maybe even have a funnel tattooed above your right ankle — but it’s always a good idea to see what other experts have to say.
Lucky for you, there are actual social scientists that study this stuff. Don’t take our word for it — just plug in “sales pipeline” in Google Scholar and see what pops up. Filter it by this year alone and you might be surprised by how much is actually being studied about it.
And you know what else counts? Reading this article! Keeping yourself up to date on the latest ideas about sales can only help you achieve your sales goals.
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