You’re not a newbie. You don’t need another Pipeline 101 article.
But if you’re like 44% of business leaders, you might think that your company isn’t doing their very best when it comes to managing your sales pipeline. And you know there has got to be a better way than playing zookeeper with your team, just to make sure they are managing and updating their deals.
We wrote this guide for you.
If you’re just getting started and looking to learn the basics on what a sales pipeline is, this article probably isn’t for you.
BUT, if you already have foundational knowledge and are now looking to optimize management of your sales team and take your organization to the next level then you have come to the right place!
Good pipeline management begins with the end in mind...which usually means revenue!
Pipeline management enables sales teams and individual sales professionals to effectively keep track of opportunities and ultimately answer the question - are we going to hit our number?
By knowing exactly where deals stand both in the CRM (and in reality) and making sure there are enough REAL deals in process to hit your goals, you can effectively manage your sales performance to hit those goals.
But in order to qualify and win each of those opportunities, you’ve got to be proactive and set up the right infrastructure and break down the barriers to help your salespeople do what they need to do.
Let’s also be clear that managing the sales pipeline is very different from generating prospects for that pipeline.
Pipeline management is all about helping your reps shepherherd those prospects through the pipeline by leveraging the very best in deal management strategies. The other role that pipeline management plays is that it ultimately surfaces your team's opportunities for growth.
Where do reps need to be coached?
Where does the sales process need to be improved?
How can we improve our messaging and talk tracks?
As part of the process that we will walk through in this article, you will see how these elements of your GTM engine are naturally intertwined with the process of sales pipeline management.
As stated earlier, the reason that sales pipeline management is so important is that it helps companies win new business and ultimately answer this question: are we in a position to hit our number? Aka forecasting.
To do this, you need the view of the future to be as clear and accurate as possible. This involves accurate placement of prospects in the pipeline, ongoing relationship management with key stakeholders, precise calculation of deal velocity, and proper tracking and recording of this and other key information like opportunity dollar values.
This is definitely an art and a science because the reality is, just because your rep forecasted a certain deal or put it in a certain stage in the CRM, doesn’t mean that this is congruent with how the prospect feels! This is where manager inspection comes into play which we will be discussing in more depth shortly.
The forecast review process is important for a successful pipeline review, but it’s important to note these reviews are two very different things.
At this point, hopefully you have a fair understanding of sales pipeline management and why it’s important. Let’s dive into how to actually improve how the pipeline is managed, which is probably why you came to this article in the first place!
To move the needle on pipeline management, you need to shine a light on where the struggle is real. Every rep struggles. That’s just a fact. Teasing out each struggle and really putting rubber to road on fixing it will move that needle.
Let’s look in depth at some of the common places rep struggle which ultimately injure the pipeline management process.
Find me a sales leader, and I’ll find you someone who finds the data in their CRM suspect.
Sales reps like selling. They don’t like the administrative burden of putting the data into the CRM. However, it’s absolutely imperative for companies to have this data, so that they can ultimately understand how the market is responding to your solution.
There are a number of things a leader should seek to understand to optimize the data management process:
Start with “what” you want to capture and then move on to the “how”. My advice would be to stick to the “need to haves” and then layer on the “nice to haves” over time.
From a workflow perspective, think about the natural rhythms and behaviors for your team and adapt to them vs. asking people to change behaviors to get the data you need.
Some operations and leadership make claims like “I want my team living in Salesforce” - do you though? Or do you just care that you have the data that you need to make decisions, influence deals, and coach effectively?
You will face less friction and get more of what you want, by adapting to the existing workflows of your team. At Troops, we know a lot of reps and teams live in Slack, so giving them intelligent prompts when they need to make updates where they already are has proven to be wildly successful.
Ever thought or asked any of the following:
You’re not alone. Many reps haven’t learned, mastered, or bought-in and committed to the sales process. Why? Because there are too many barriers in the way to effectively execute on what they know they need to be doing.
Too often, the sales process focuses too hard on selling when it should be focused on the customer journey. The sales process, and therefore the management of the pipeline must be customer centric.
So what do most companies do? They spend a small fortune rolling out a new sales model.
In speaking with our customers and others in the industry, we’ve learned that getting sales teams to effectively adopt the new sales methodology like MEDDIC once it’s rolled out is one of the biggest challenges sales leaders struggle to overcome.
Good news though. Whether your sales process is brand new or many years old, there are ways to make adopting or mastering the sales process easier for teams and leaders alike.
Proper documentation, proactive prompts, frequent inspections, leadership oversight, and automated workflows help ease some of the most common pitfalls that get in the way of mastering the sales process.
Of course, your process and the metrics you use will be unique to your business and your buyers. But the decision making model will always be a repeatable process that involves constant communication and staying on top of the next steps with all the conversations reps are having.
“We need more pipeline.”
Sometimes this is true...but sometimes more sales pipeline might actually be hurting you because reps are spread too thin.
The best companies realize for each market segment there is a certain number of deals a rep can work effectively before the efficacy starts to fall off.
You need to really understand two things here:
The math might not be perfect in the beginning if you are an early stage company, but understanding this “sales math” will be critical as you look to master pipeline management.
This is where you’ll need to look at conversion rates and coverage across your org in its entirety, but also zooming in on the rep and segment level to really be able to holistically answer this question.
Your reps are out there working hard. But are they working hard on the right deals?
The number one productivity killer for reps, is spending time on bad deals.
Every hour a rep spends on a deal that’s unlikely to convert, is an hour that he or she could have used to engagecrush another more qualified account that would close right now if they received immediate attention.
Knowing where to focus is “make or break” kind of stuff.
And you can’t know where to focus unless you have great visibility into actual Sales Activity.
This is where establishing rigorous qualification criteria like MEDDIC and then putting into your CRM like Salesforce is so immensely helpful. Managers’ should be able to go into any deal at a certain stage and know “the story of the deal” based on the information documented in these fields.
Friction happens when a bunch of blindspots keep you from understanding which deals you reps are working on and how they’re engaging with those prospects. Getting a handle on the frequency of contact, type of engagement, and the quality of prospect response is a must.
Part of this is cultural too. Reps spend time on bad deals when there is a scarcity mindset. There’s not enough so why would I want to give up what I have! This mentality can be a killer for sales pipeline management.
Instead, you must indoctrinate your team that disqualifying a deal is a win because it means you can spend time on ones that are likely to close.
Sales management teams that are trained in sales pipeline management report 23% greater revenue growth than those that don’t, according to Forbes.
Make it easy for reps by proper training, documentation, and cultural alignment so reps spend time most effectively.
Enlisting help from the right people throughout your business to push a deal across the finish line should be easy. But sometimes it’s the simple things that become the most complex. And for most organizations, this is one of those simple things.
There is friction in the team aspect of pipeline management when sellers:
The pipeline could be so much smoother if only you could properly leverage the collective brain power of the right people and then drive communication efficiency to improve win rates and accelerate your sales cycles.
This is why you must be very thoughtful about thinking through the information flow around your deals. We recommend using Salesforce workflows and automation to ensure information is captured and distributed to the right people, at the right time so everyone is one the same page.
The first step to accomplishing those objectives is establishing a pipeline review cadence.
When you’re getting started, you need to find a way to keep everyone accountable.
A very simple and effective way to obtain leverage is to get a review on the calendar. It should be a regular occurrence for both the sales team and each individual sales rep. By putting the review on the calendar, the right people will be present for the review and they can come prepared.
Set expectations about what you want to cover in the review. Be clear about the research or pipeline data everyone should have at the ready. Ideally you have a team and individual dashboard that everyone has access to at all times. Having a review makes sure that PEOPLE ACTUALLY LOOK AT IT.
When you conduct the meeting, remember that your sales teams just want to get selling. Meetings and admin tasks typically slow them down. Adopt a brisk pace and maintain a focus on that road to revenue by providing actionable solutions for your reps to get them closer to their goals.
For any type of analysis, whether it’s big picture or laser focused, selecting and reviewing the right metrics are key to a successful outcome.
Once you’ve started to look at metrics, some leaders and operations groups can “over-metric” meaning they get excited about looking at and analyzing everything. We do not recommend this as it can be an immense distraction.
Metrics should be informed by the questions you are trying to answer at that point in time, otherwise your analysis will be in vain. For example:
By understanding where your metrics are underperforming or stagnant, you’ll be able to identify areas that need attention and where your time can be well spent.
One way that I’ve seen a number of teams operate is by building out a growth model to understand which metrics represent the biggest point of leverage in your team hitting your number. I.E. If we increase our win rate by 1% or decrease our sales cycle by 10 days which is going to have a bigger impact on our bottom line?
When you’re setting goals, you obviously want to have a revenue number to hit, but I also like doing this exercise in order to drive more focus on the activities and sub-goals that will result in the ultimate outcome.
“Garbage in, garbage out.”
Sadly, this phrase has become somewhat synonymous with the world of CRM data and analysis.
The bottom line is before you can optimize your pipeline, you need to know you’re dealing with solid data.
Now the manager’s job is not to update the data themselves, but to put systems in place for the reps to make sure they end up getting the data.
These system can include:
The main miss I see here is more related to the “quality” of information. Sure, reps can put data in, but if that data isn’t good, how do you know whether a deal is actually qualified? And I’m not just talking about things like close dates and amounts, I’m talking about detailed information like what is the business case that is driving the deal?
The manager's job is to inspect this information regularly, train the reps on what good looks like, and keep them accountable going forward. A big part of this is having a more regular cadence of review, which is why we think mediums like Slack and Microsoft Teams are such an excellent place for sharing and reviewing this information.
When data is accurate, it becomes easier to see how you can improve the results of your sales pipeline metrics by moving deals from one stage to the next more efficiently. And when management and deal teams understand what’s really happening within your most important POCs, they can coach and influence deals effectively to drive deal values and volume.
Every season, just like you update your wardrobe, you should be purging your pipeline. And just like with your closet, you know which items have run their course.
Purging prospects that have become stuck allow you to unleash more energy for and have better visibility into high potential leads.
One easy way to do this is to layer in sales automation that forces the issue. Like if a deal has been in a certain stage for a certain period of time, they either need to close it out or have a dedicated next step on the calendar in the future.
Implementing these SLAs throughout the entire funnel and then layering on the automation that automatically prompts a rep to make updates is very helpful.
Every first meeting a rep has is probably costing you $700 or more. If you really believe discovery is important, it needs to be a focus throughout a rep’s tenure, not just a step in their onboarding process. And yes, this applies even when they have deals close to the pin.
To do this, you need a scalable way to understand what’s happening on your team’s calls. And you need to be able to coach your team in real-time vs. one-off meetings that happen at arbitrary intervals.
This is how you really drive accountability and unlock the performance you’re looking for.
Ideally reps are managing things perfectly themselves, but you know that realistically that isn’t happening.
Therefore, you need to make sure you have the proper coaching structure setup. We recommend a structure where reps can have dedicated coaching time with their manager. Call recording software like Gong and Chorus can be leveraged to break down the game tape on 1 or 2 calls.
But this begs the question, what about all the other calls!?!?!? Obviously this is only a fraction of your team’s time.
This is why implementing real-time coaching is also valuable. For real-time coaching, you need real-time information sharing and collaboration. This is why messaging interfaces like Slack and MS Teams are so effective.
We recommend setting up channels for each different part of the sales process as well as each stage with exit criteria for managers to easily inspect and coach to the different elements.
For extra credit, store “coaching notes” on the opportunity in Salesforce so that you have a running log of manager feedback. As this gets updated, reps get notified immediately.
Troops can help your organization with all 5 of these activities. Find out more about how we aid and guide productive behavior with timely prompts and alerts to capture information and drive revenue producing activity. Check out our Deal Rooms, which function as a “deal hub” for everything related to an opportunity in the pipeline.
The responsibility of revenue operations is to empower revenue teams with processes, technology, and systems to hit their numbers.
From driving operational efficiency to aligning sales, marketing and customer success operations across the full customer life cycle, it’s the job of revenue operations to break down silos between departments and get everyone laser focused on that road to revenue we talked about earlier.
There is a lot of talk about revenue ops these days. And most of that talk centers on how bad most companies’ data is. But what does that really mean?
Having the right data is critical when it comes to forecasting. When it comes to sales and revenue operations, sales managers need to understand the implications bad data has on both sides of an inaccurate forecast.
The forecasting responsibility of every rev ops department is to be the partner to the sales leader to drive towards more predictability.
The first way to do this is by making the rep user experience easy – make it easy to update and input the data needed. This can take the form of everything from how Salesforce is designed to deploying adjacent tools that make data management easier.
Rev ops also plays a role in the inspection process.
Managers should be going in deal by deal and understanding the “story of the deal” based on qualitative information, including rep feedback.
Where ops can play a role is on the quantitative side. Lots of times, this means creating internal CRM scores and algorithms that try to predict a deal’s likelihood to close. These numbers are never perfect, but they serve as a system of checks and balances that can be calibrated with manager input to arrive at an ongoing best guess.
A question that rev ops deals with every day is this:
What’s the right amount of data to ask for without making your reps do too much?
We want our sales reps to update CRM with just enough data so management has an accurate view of what’s really going to close. Enough information so the CFO and the CEO can trust the forecasts they receive.
One company we know asks their reps to input 20+ questions before moving the deal to the next stage. While this might sound too “in the weeds” to most folks, this company is actually doing quite well. So this balancing act is going to be different for every organization.
Validation rules are a popular way to “enforce” data management, however they also come with a cost. By mandating fields must be filled out, you get the information. However, this usually means reps dump in bad info just to complete the task and move on.
Again, this is why if you choose to do this, practices like layering in the real-time inspection and coaching become critical
Keeping everyone focused on revenue is one responsibility of rev ops. Communicating critical data that contributes to effective financial planning and forecasting is another.
Since we at Troops specialize in revenue communications, our CRO Roque Versace finds this question to be one worth asking in order to identify the first piece of critical data everyone will want:
"If a rep is on their first sales call, what is the one must-have piece of information you’d tell them to get in order to see if this deal is worth more time?"
You’d be surprised how many sales managers don’t have an answer for that question.
Every revenue operations leader should be:
Many companies are great at “capturing”, but most fall short on sharing and leveraging this important information.
If these answers live in some Salesforce record no one ever looks at, what good is that? So you need to ask yourself, where does everyone in my company spend time and consume information? For most companies this is Slack, MS Teams, or Email.
You have a CRM...great. But odds are if you are like most companies, you have far from perfect data and far from a seamless experience for your team with just a CRM alone.
This is why you likely need to enhance their experience further by making it easy for reps to collect and communicate this kind of critical information.
Growth is exciting, but growing teams, plus more sales calls, plus mounting email alerts equals a problem. Communicating key business information, particularly Salesforce data, quickly becomes incredibly cluttered and inefficient.
Sales teams can receive 100+ CRM emails a week for meeting and opportunity notifications. Important changes and updates can be missed or ignored. Kudos and shout-outs begin clogging up inboxes.
Every company in a modern sales organization should be using technology that automatically logs emails and meetings from your calendar. There is no shortage of companies that due this and this is table stakes for your organization.
Calls and Emails being auto-tracked are step one and really table stakes. When it comes to deal management, what matters much more is whether the qualitative inputs from the reps head into the CRM.
There are a number of different products in the market which include easier views for updating like Troops Action Grid. These products can be an excellent place to begin.
We recommend making it as easy as possible for rep users to update on demand. This happens with proactive signals that guide your reps by reminding them about the fields that need to be completed for particular types of sales.
Get reps thinking about what they need to learn before going into sales calls. Then, give them the ability to update deal information easily, without having to log into Salesforce every time.
How? We believe this is most successful when you meet reps within their existing workflow...in all the places they work.
We have found that many teams today have a Slack or Microsoft Teams window on their phone or computer open all day so we think this is a great place to engage your team with these timely alerts.
With Troops, reminders can go out to sales reps in Slack or Teams at key moments during the day. For example, you can send an alert before a meeting begins that reminds sales reps about crucial information they need to learn while in that meeting. This helps ensure the meeting’s objectives are clear and fresh in your reps’ minds as they enter each conversation.
Troops takes this tactic a step further with contextual sales process alerts. These Slack notifications prompt sales reps to quickly fill out sales process fields (for example, objections, economic buyer, pain, champion, competitors, etc.).
This information prompts sales reps to think deeply about the health of their opportunities and what challenges stand in the way of closing. It also gives sales management much-needed context behind forecast categories, close dates, amounts, and other information you need for sales forecasting.
Here’s what this might look like. Immediately after a meeting a rep gets pinged to update their most important fields related to their sales process:
This same logic can apply throughout any part of the funnel. Maybe it makes sense to establish more data fields for inbound prospects, like where they heard about you or what made them interested. This can be highly insightful feedback for your marketing team. After all, they came to you, right? They can’t live without your product or service. So here, you can ask for more information.
You won’t be able to get away with as many qualifying questions for most outbound sales.
Again, the average first meeting for a B2B SaaS company today costs over $700. For many enterprise companies, that number can be much higher.
Is the first discovery meeting important? Of course it is. It sets the tone for the entire sales cycle and can be a gaping pitfall where prospects drop off if your reps aren’t handling this meeting correctly.
One thing we’ve seen at Troops is, despite the importance of this call, the rigor around executing and improving first meetings often doesn’t quite measure up.
Reps receive training during onboarding, but once they reach a certain level of proficiency, the reps are the only people, in many cases, identifying which calls they might need help or which calls to bring to the next coaching session.
This is where call recording software or conversational intelligence is very valuable and helpful.
The challenge really becomes a scale issue. Maybe managers review a call recording with reps. They review and coach on probably 1-2 calls a week until they feel like the rep is doing a decent job on their initial calls. Usually they’ll start with a focus on discovery, and then move on to other types of calls.
This is helpful, don’t get me wrong. The manager gets some insight. The rep can recall critical information they may otherwise have missed.
But what if you could immediately understand after a call whether your reps were doing what they’re supposed to, at scale, and quickly coach them up as needed?
The key to conversation intelligence is to have a real-time feed of the discovery outcomes that your management can monitor, across all devices.
At Troops, we like the idea of doing this in Slack because it’s real-time, collaborative, and your team is probably already working there. It’s also really nice that you can do everything on your phone. With Troops, you can send a signal to a manager every morning with a list of calls from the previous day whose disposition was “Demo Scheduled”, and include a link to the call recording.
Sales and content enablement is quickly becoming a priority for many organizations:
When reps understand the right content to send for prospects in various parts of the funnel, you can accelerate the pipeline by motivating the right behavior in minutes rather than days.
This way, you understand what prospects are looking for. From there, you hone content and conversations that effectively engage the prospect in the right way. When reps are armed with the right content, sales can move faster through the funnel.
Why? Because reps will have better conversations and be viewed more as trusted advisors which will then enable them to nurture longer-term relationships with both your prospects and your customers.
But for sales enablement to really work, the placement of prospects within the funnel needs to be accurate.
Understanding which stage a buyer is currently in can be a subjective process. With so many sales calls now taking place digitally rather than in-person, sales teams must replace in-person tactics to identify cues with digital tactics. So the right tools and the right innovations will enable you to thrive as the new normal continues to evolve.
According to Harvard Business Review, the majority of executives see spending time with customers as a way to stay abreast of the market and as part of their job. But according to another recent survey, 63% of executives believe that their organization is ineffective at pipeline management.
So what insights can we glean from these two pieces of information?
I think we can say that by going wide at accounts we can make sure reps gather the appropriate perspective and drive relationship building across all stakeholders.
At the very least, it’s safe to say that by getting involved with strategically identified prospects, executives can have a significant impact to improve the sales pipeline that they tend to view in a rather negative light.
And through this involvement, the executives gain increased visibility that can guide better decision making and accelerate that journey on the road to more revenue that we keep talking about.
Placing a heightened focus on being customer-centric should not just be something executives talk about. They need to walk the walk. This kind of executive-level commitment is an essential driver of conversion rates and revenue.
The responsibility for gaining that executive level support lies on the shoulders of the rep. The C-Suite at your company is focused on hiring, improving culture, and making sure money is in the bank...probably more so than that deal you really want to put in the quarter.
Therefore, you must coach and train your team on when and how they can enlist executive support. This can happen via structured processes like deal support requests in Salesforce, or certain prompts or automations when a deal of a certain size reaches a certain stage (or hasn’t moved).
The other approach is more “executive opt-in”. Rather than putting all the emphasis on a rep, you can make consuming deal updates and information much more transparent for upper management within Slack or Microsoft Teams.
We’ve shared this in the past in our CRM + Messaging study, but companies are using Slack and MS Teams for account collaboration at 4X the rate they are using chatter.
By focusing on proactive communication and operating in a collaborative manner with Deal Rooms, key players, including executive level influencers, can have a 360-degree view of your key accounts—from warm lead to renewal.
This way, executives can monitor your top accounts every step of the way.
To effectively enlist executive-level support for individual sales as well as sales pipeline management, you’ve got to level up the visibility for those individuals. Deal Rooms do exactly that by:
We promised this wouldn’t be a Sales Pipeline 101 article. So there’s no way we’re going to start a beginner course on the sales cycle now.
What we are going to talk about is the importance of getting each stage of the sales process defined accurately for your unique business model and the unique buying journey of your particular buyers.
Because without the right stages, you simply won’t be able to track progress or forecast accurately. And if you don’t have properly defined stages, you are likely losing more business than you know.
Here’s what I want you to do. Every month, ask yourself these questions:
Your goal is to minimize the friction for both prospects and your sellers.
Think about what works and what doesn’t and do the work to make improvements.
Defining pipeline stages accurately is essential. And here’s why:
Another question we often get is…
What about exit criteria?
Exit criteria should be strictly defined if you want your different stages to operate efficiently.
Moving an opportunity from one stage to another should be totally objective. No subjective analysis involving feelings or gut instincts.
Precisely document exactly what’s required for a stage to be considered complete, make a checklist, and ensure it’s deployed and utilized.
Manage the crap out of your sales pipeline – figuratively and literally – and you'll accelerate revenue growth. Guaranteed.
It’s all about revenue, but there are other benefits that result from a well managed pipeline.
The peace of mind from knowing your pipeline is accurate and tightly dialed into your workforce and workflows, will pay big dividends the next time you face a disruption.
Whether it’s a disruption in your industry or from a competitor or simply a strategic internal shift, you’ll be that much more prepared to deal with the situation at hand, forecast appropriately, and go from there. So if you’re interested in knowing what’s happening in real time, finding coachable moments, and getting the revenue visibility you need to inform strategic decisions, let’s talk.