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How Would You Manage a Sales Pipeline?

Published on March 21, 2021
Sayantan
Content Writer, Rafiki.ai

Making the optimum use of a sales pipeline is of critical importance to your remote sales team. When it’s about the perpetuity of your business, you need to know how to manage a sales pipeline well.

What is Sales Pipeline Management?

A sales pipeline depicts where your sales prospects belong in the sales process.

Consider that you’ve hundreds of prospects. Each of your prospects is going through the sales funnel – the awareness stage, the consideration stage, and the decision stage.

[Note: Please note, that ToFU means Top of the Funnel, MoFU means Middle of the Funnel, and BoFU means Bottom of the Funnel]

And each of them is at a different stage of the sales funnel. The visual representation of how a prospect travels through the entire sales funnel is called a sales pipeline.

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Why Sales Pipeline Management is Important?

As per the Harvard Business Review a well-managed sales pipeline can get you an average growth of 15%.

In addition, when organizations focus on the following practices for managing their sales pipelines, they earned 28% revenue growth on an average –

  1. Have an articulated sales process
  2. Invest a minimum of 3 hours for sales pipeline management
  3. Provide training & development to your remote sales team on sales pipeline management.

When your remote sales team is able to effectively manage the sales pipeline, it can provide the following benefits –

  • Finding leaks and fixing them whenever they’re visible in the entire sales process. The leaks include the bottlenecks, the areas of improvement (e.g. sales calls that could be made top-notch by using a cost-effective tool), etc.
  • Do a pre-mortem and post-mortem of every sales deal to understand why a sales transaction closes and why another doesn’t
  • Do a possible forecast analysis to prevent the possible downfall and to take charge of the areas where growth can be possible

These are the reasons why you and your remote sales team need to manage a sales pipeline and understand it well.

How to Build a Sales Pipeline?

Imagine that you’re visualizing your revenue goals backward.

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How would you know how many opportunities you need at every stage of your sales cycle?

Well, here is how you find out:

  • Articulate the stages of your sales cycle: Before you can ever visualize, it’s important that you know the specific stages of your sales cycle. According to LucidChart, there are seven specific steps of a sales cycle –
  • Identify the potential prospects for leads. Understanding both your target audience and the products/services you sell are keys to the right identification of the prospects.
  • Connect With Potential Buyers. You need to choose the right channels to reach out to potential buyers.
  • Filter out the potential buyers. The first filtering starts at the first stage of your sales cycle. The next one once you connect with your potential buyers. Engagement brings in more clarity.
  • Presentation is the next stage. This is critical because at this stage you would present to the qualified buyers what you have for offer.
  • Handle the stones. Yes, once you present your product/service, you will face objections. How you handle the objections has a big impact on your closing rate.
  • Close. Once you handle the objections, it’s time to close with the similar attitude/type of objections of the potential buyers.
  • Request for referrals: This is the most critical stage most choose to omit. And as a result, they leave a lot of money on the table.
  • Identify an average conversion rate for every stage: When you understand your potential prospects and look at various sales pipelines, you will get an idea about the average conversion rate. The ratio is like the following – 100:50:5, meaning if you find 100 potential prospects, you end up qualifying 50 qualified buyers, and close 5 customers. The more you handle sales pipelines, the prediction of the ratio will improve. 
  • Now think about your revenue goals: Once the ratio is clear in your mind, you need to work backward to see how many potential prospects you would need to reach the revenue goal. And then aim for the same.
  • Pinpoint the KPIs: Use cost-effective tools like GetRafiki to analyze the sales calls to improve the conversion rate or use Slack for better messaging or chatbots for improving the customer experience. The idea is to pinpoint the right KPIs that will provide the maximum results.
  • Build a revised sales process: Once you take the above steps, it’s time to create a revised sales process that would help you improve the conversion ratio and generate more revenue.

What are Sales Pipeline Stages?

According to SalesForce, sales pipeline stages can be divided into seven parts. Let’s divide these sales pipeline stages as part of the sales funnel stages –

Awareness

  • Prospecting: At this stage, you help your potential buyers discover your business (or products/services). You run ads, reach out to your ideal prospects. At this stage, your prospects don’t know what sort of challenges they’re going through that your products/services can solve.

Consideration

  • Lead Qualification: Here the prospects enter the second stage of both the sales funnel and the sales pipeline. At this stage, the prospects name their challenges, and the businesses also qualify their target audience from the pool of prospects. To filter out the leads from the prospects, you need to offer them lead magnets such as eBooks, webinars, checklists, etc. 
  • Demo: Once you qualify the leads, it’s time to show them what you’re offering with a demo or meeting. Remember that this is also a way to filter out some more and reach your ideal clients/customers.

Decision Stage

  • Proposal: Here the ideal prospects enter the third stage of the sales funnel and the fourth stage of the sales pipeline. At this stage, you would propose the scope of work and communicate your competitive advantage so as to differentiate from your competitors.
  • Negotiation: At this stage, you’d be rethinking the scope of work and resetting your prices as per the requirement of the clients/customers and according to the customization your customers require. This is the pre-stage before closing.
  • Opportunity won: Once the negotiation is done, you close the sales and move ahead to the next sales pipeline stage.
  • Post-purchase: There’s a term that organizations are focusing on right now – customer delight. Customer delight comes from when you go beyond what your clients/customers expect. You can serve your customers most after they buy from you. You can also upsell and cross-sell if you have a variety of offerings.

How Would You Manage a Sales Pipeline? 

Here are a couple of statistics before we talk about how to manage a sales pipeline –

  • As per Super Office, 63% opine that their organizations don’t manage sales pipelines well
  • According to the research done by Vantage Point, 72% of the company’s sales managers conduct review meetings on the sales pipeline many times every month

From the above stats, it’s clear that even if sales managers put in the effort to manage their sales pipelines, the results don’t show forth the effort.

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Let’s have a look at how you can manage a sales pipeline that not only helps your remote sales team; rather it will also reflect the effort in the results.

Following up is the most critical factor in closing

To manage the sales pipeline well, you need to pay heed to improve your process of following up with your prospects. 

Since it takes more than 8 calls to close a deal now (which is more than double of what used to be 10 years ago, i.e. 3.68 calls to close a deal), if you don’t follow up, you hand the deal to your competitor.

However, not many follow up. 

According to Super Office, only 2.4% of the organizations follow up.

It’s because following up is the third most challenging factor for your sales team.

The best way to overcome the challenge of following up is to set up reminders that would help you remember to follow up with your prospects. 

Use 80-20 Rule

The 80-20 rule states that 80% of revenue comes from 20% of leads.

You need to apply the same rule while looking at the high-value and low-value leads.

Since it takes a similar amount of time to close each deal, if you focus on the 20% of the deals that would generate 80% of revenue, you won’t squander your time, effort, money into low-value deals.

As a result, your whole sales process and sales pipeline will improve.

Work on Your Sales Cycle

You need to keep your sales cycle shorter.

The research says that 75% of sales in the B2B domain take around 4 months to close; whereas, 18% of all B2B deals take 12 months to close.

For a deal, the sales cycle of 4 months to 12 months is a lot of time.

And that’s why, as per the report of CSO Insights, 27% of all the salespeople said that a long cycle acts as a barrier to the sales effectiveness.

To shorten your sales cycle, you need to be ultraclear on the type of leads you’d like to generate for your business. If you focus on the right qualifying methods (for that you need to be crystal clear on your target audience), you’d have to spend less time closing deals.

Be Clear on Your Pipeline KPIs & Control them Closely

The most important KPIs for your sales pipeline is –

  • Number of prospects attracted to your sales funnel
  • Number of qualified leads you generate, and
  • The number of close deals you get out of every campaign

Of course, there are other factors that may decide the outcome you’re trying to reach, but the above three tops the lot.

If you’re not attracting enough prospects to your sales funnel, how many would you qualify as your valuable leads? And how would that affect your number of closed deals?

Along with looking at the quantity, it’s also important that you use the right filers to qualify your prospects – 

  • Set your own filters (be crystal clear on the target audience)
  • Narrow down your marketing initiative for your niche (if it’s for everybody, it’s for nobody)
  • Address the challenges of your ideal customers and show them how your products/services solve their struggles, etc.

Improve the Overall Sales Calls

Though it seems obvious, if we can improve the sales calls, we would be able to improve the conversion ratio.

For example, if you’re calling your prospects for setting up a meeting the words you use, the way you introduce yourself, the way you carry out the call, the tone of your voice, and the way you handle questions have a lot to do with whether you’ll close the deal or not.

But how would you monitor your sales calls and improve upon them?

Use a comprehensive & affordable tool such as GetRafiki or a more expensive tool Gong.io to monitor, analyze, and improve your sales calls.

Content is the New Magnet

No matter how underrated the content marketing initiatives look like for the founders, without producing more and more effective content, it’s impossible to attract a good pool of prospects.

The idea is to out-educate your competitors.

The question you should be asking is what kind of content you should create at every stage of the sales funnel instead of questioning whether to create content at all!

Here’s how many times you should blog as per HubSpot for organic traffic and brand awareness.

Conclusion

Managing a sales pipeline isn’t the task of a faint-hearted.

You need to constantly monitor, analyze, course-correct, and see whether your remote sales team is feeding the pipeline well.

As a sales leader, it isn’t an easy job.

However, if you tap into the right aspects, managing the sales pipeline will become a process instead of a tedious chore.

Before you ever focus on the sales pipeline, it’s important that you pay equal attention to the sales funnel. Since the sales pipeline is the way you approach the stages of the sales funnel, you need to first build the foundation. 

And then use the above six core steps in managing your sales pipeline.

⋙ Checkout how Rafiki helps SDR's to convert more leads

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