It's great if you can fill the top of the funnel, but you won't get far if your sales pipeline is a leaky bucket.
This article is designed to help you identify ways to improve the way you engage with prospects in your sales pipeline stages.
Here’s what we are going to cover:
- Building a standard sales pipeline and ways to customize it
- The importance of defining sales pipeline stages
- 18 ways to improve conversion from stage to stage
- Software to visualize stages
- Management best practices
A sales pipeline is a visual representation of where sales prospects are in the buying process. Sales pipeline stages represent the various points a buyer may be in the buying process.
A C-suite executive, sales manager or sales director typically creates the sales stages. As salespeople work leads through the process it may be altered over time to fit the needs of new prospects.
In case you’re new to sales pipeline management, let’s quickly define traditional sales pipeline stages before getting into the tactics.
Standardizing Your Sales Pipeline Stages
There are a handful of typical stages that most sales organizations use to build an effective sales pipeline. Here are a few generic examples:
- Qualification – A lead becomes a qualified opportunity based on defined factors.
- Evaluation - A vendor trials or evaluates your software against competitors
- Proposal – An opportunity is educated and ready to receive a proposal.
- Closed Won – An opportunity has made a purchase.
Based on your product/service, you may add additional stages to your pipeline if you find recurring patterns that your customer must experience as a part of the buying process.
Why your pipeline stages must be defined
If your sales cycle doesn't have defined stages, you are likely losing more business than you know. Creating a defined structure is essential. Here's why:
- It makes it easier for sales reps to get organized and know what they need to do next to influence a sale in their favor.
- Accurate forecasting allows you to see how close you are to your quotas at any point in time...assuming your team updates Salesforce!
- You’ll always be able to see the weak and strong points in your pipeline whether it’s at the top of the funnel, or the bottom.
- You will be able to quickly identify gaps and bottlenecks in your process by measuring conversion drop offs.
As you can see, defining sales stages is essential!
18 tactics to improve conversion across your sales pipeline stages
Now that your pipeline is built and your team is moving prospects through it, you can use these tactics for improving the success rate of each stage and, ultimately, your entire sales process.
1. Align sales stages to the customer's buying process.
Are you working your prospects through the stages that you think they should go through or the ones they need to go through?
2. Define strict exit criteria.
Moving a opportunities from stage to stage shouldn't be based on gut feeling. Properly document what it takes to consider a stage complete, and make a checklist.
3. Improve qualification standards.
Are your qualified leads really sales qualified, or are they just sniffing around wasting your sales peoples time? Typically SQLs are ready for actionable conversations whereas MQLs might just be interested but will require quite a bit more education before they are ready to consider a purchase. Try to nurture MQLs more thoroughly before assigning them to a sales process.
4. Carve out dedicated time to monitor metrics.
Establishing and tracking metrics breeds consistency in your process. When your sales management practices are consistent, you find more ways to improve.
5. Automate inspection for stuck deals.
Use software like Troops.ai to identify opportunities that won't progress. Determine a cut-off point for stuck deals to help you conserve resources.
6. Score leads as they progress through the pipeline.
An opportunity who has interacted with your company 20 times has different needs (and potential) than one who has only interacted with you twice. Assigning a score or rating to leads based on their history with you allows you to know how to best approach them. Once they reach a certain score, you will be able to send your team a salesforce lead notification in Slack!
7. Encourage communication within your sales team so people can help each other out.
8. Run contests and offer recognition for success.
Every sales organization praises the rep who closes the most deals in a month. Get more creative and have a contest for every stage in the process. When your reps see that they have more than one opportunity to receive recognition for their efforts, they’ll put in even more. You can recognize successes like:
- # opportunities created
- Highest ASP
- Most revenue booked
9. Perform sales call coaching.
Have a dedicated sales manager, executive or consultant listen to individual sales calls. Use synchronous or asynchronous sales coaching methods to further refine your approach.
10. Monitor sales stage conversion rates.
Don't just pay attention to how many opportunities are in each stage, but measure the percentage of leads that move from stage to stage. A low conversion rate may point to a weakness.
11. Hold regular training.
Training not only offers your reps the tools they need to succeed - it also helps to reinforce their understanding of your team's process, grow their skills, and offers an opportunity for feedback about each stage of the sales cycle.
12. Automate Non-Selling Tasks
13. Rethink incentives.
What is motivating your team? If you change your incentive structure will it help them focus on something more important?
14. Create proposals that wow the whole company.
Do your reps create proposals designed for the main account contact or for the whole company? There may be a hidden decision maker, so make sure your proposals speak to everyone involved.
15. Re-engage closed lost opportunities.
Boomerang deals happen all the time due to timing, personnel, and a host of other factors. Drop your Salesforce closed lost deals them into nurture track or automate tasks to reach back out in 60 days to re-engage them.
16. Mix in additional contact mediums.
Have you been relying exclusively on calls and emails? Try engaging on LinkedIn or Twitter occasionally when a deal has stalled. That extra bit of personal interaction can mean a lot to some prospects.
17. Create compelling events.
Compelling events can be huge for speeding up a sales cycle or inspiring urgency. One example is adding an expiry date on your proposal. Sometimes the fear of losing is what makes potential customers act faster.
18. Leverage executive engagement on stuck deals
If a deal isn’t moving, have your manager reach out on your behalf to ask for feedback - or leverage your c suite if the deal size warrants it.
Final thoughts for managers and executives
Don’t just define sales pipeline stages and assume your sales process is going to run itself.
Some teams experience the growing pains of new structure, and they resist. Here are the three most important things to quietly observe.
- Is a particular rep struggling with one stage? Deconstruct key activities within that stage further to identify the problem, and implement appropriate changes or trainings, if needed.
- Is your team collectively working together to progress opportunities? Too many "cowboy" sales reps create a pool of ad hoc tactics, negating all of your efforts to add structure.
- How can you adjust stages to make the buying and selling process even easier? Every month, ask yourself how your sales process can be better and implement some quick tests to see what works and what doesn’t.
Implement some of these tactics and your sales and marketing team should be well on its way to record revenue growth!