How to Build a Sustainable Sales Pipeline

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The sales pipeline is a collection of opportunities with an established need for the product based on some verified activities. It’s typically visualized in CRM as part of the sales funnel. Stages of representation may vary from company to company and sometimes even product to product. The stages, however, are usually pretty standard:

  1. Discover
  2. Prospecting (finding and converting leads)
  3. Qualifying (evaluating needs and assessing the potential of a customer to buy)
  4. Negotiation (trying to close the deal with the prospect by finding common ground, specifying requirements and getting approval from managers)
  5. Closed Won (the deal has been finalised and is closed. The client committed to pay for the product or service.)
  6. Closed Lost (the deal has not been closed due to various reasons such as unavailability of funds, lack of interest, etc.)

A good sales pipeline helps you ensure that your team is focusing on only those opportunities that present real chances to convert into leads and subsequently into sales. If it gets bloated with low priority deals, they might never close deals, dragging down the performance of your sales team. To build a sustainable pipeline, you need to define what needs to be in it and make sure that only relevant opportunities are moving up in the process (i.e., progressing through each stage).

Tidy Data Collection

To ensure that all data you collect is useful, start by defining how it should look once collected. If you can’t decide on one standard for your data collection from the beginning, your sales team will have to put in extra effort during filtering to find matching opportunities requiring certain actions which slows down their analytics work. In order to keep things simple and save time while processing large amounts of data, prioritize by assigning colours or numbers based on priorities going from the highest (1) to lowest (4).

For example, you could define that those opportunities which are ready for sales call should be coloured as green and those who aren’t should be red. Similarly, those opportunities assigned as number 1 should be processed by the sales first and only after they confirm whether their needs have been met or not should other numbers move up in line. You can also further personalize filters by adding more criteria such as region, product owner etc., but make sure not to overburden your team with additional tasks since this will lead to a decrease in overall productivity.

Don’t Be Too Flexible

Flexibility sounds great when things need to change but it shouldn’t come at the cost of analysing time-sensitive data. For example, if you need to change the stage of an opportunity that was mis-categorized in the pipeline, don’t change its colour or number unless it’s absolutely necessary since it would only serve to make things more complex for no reason. If there is a possibility of changing stages (i.e., moving an opportunity from Green 2 up to Green 1), do so when appropriate but make sure not to overdo it because otherwise your sales team will get confused with irrelevant information flooding their dashboards and they’ll begin skipping some deals just because they’re too busy maintaining their models rather than focusing on opportunities that require attention.

Target Acquisition Stage

Not all deals are created equal. Some might be quick movers requiring immediate attention while others might take weeks or months to close. In order to avoid losing sales as a result of mistakes, it is important that all sales team members have access to accurate data and can prioritize their work accordingly. Once you have defined the stages of your sales pipeline, you should also define how many opportunities from each stage should be present at any given moment. This way no one will ever miss a key deal because they were stuck in a long queue by mistake which could ultimately lead to loss of customers.

Stick To One Stage Per Deal

One issue companies often face is trying to keep track of multiple stages per opportunity since it sounds like a good idea on paper but quickly becomes unmanageable in practice due to lack of time and fewer resources. You will only confuse your sales team with too much information flooding their dashboards and they won’t be able to prioritize if there are more different opportunities popping up all the time. Sales people should always have a single product that is moving towards closure in order to optimise efforts while maintaining high quality of work, otherwise it will lead to waste of time and resources which might affect revenue negatively in the future.

Avoid Redundancy

The last thing you want is for an opportunity to move between stages just because someone made a typo when entering data, so double check everyone’s work before pushing deals forward. If your company still has several departments working on parts of one pipeline (i.e., one department deals with the first stage and another deals with the following stages), make sure to update both departments on the progress since this will prevent them from duplicating their efforts and wasting resources.

For example, your marketing department creates a list of leads that they found on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter, while sales teams filter those according to their needs and add them into the sales pipeline. Once it happens, you can assign numbers 1-4 or colours green-red depending on what works best for you, but stick with one method at a time so no one gets confused.

Target Acquisition Stage:

Leads that came in via marketing should be filtered by sales and only those who have already expressed interest in buying or using your product should move forward.

Each deal within each stage should have its number or colour assigned to easily distinguish between them.

This will tell you how many new deals are coming in per day, what are their closing dates and who the major players are behind each sale. If something looks off, investigate it further by looking for gaps between stage closure rates since every industry is different and some might be more complicated than others.

Sustainable pipeline stages:

Cold/Warm Lead – Pre-Sales Decision Maker – Post Decision Maker – Negotiation Stage 1 – Negotiation Stage 2

A sustainable sales pipeline will help your company stay afloat while allowing executives to see trends emerging without having too much information on your hands at any given moment which can lead to making rash choices due to lack of knowledge.

The sales team will also have an easier time prioritizing their efforts and focusing on the most promising deals since they will be informed about what stage each opportunity is at.

However, it doesn’t mean that the salespeople should ignore everything else happening around them if they are interested in knowing more, so try looking for metrics by looking at how your overall company is performing to see if you need to take any additional actions.

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