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Keeping your sales pipeline in good shape…

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Managing sales. All-important but often overlooked. Yet today, a truly worrying number of sales managers are so used to managing their business on their own that they neglect to put into place a sales funnel or pipeline.

You must have a sales funnel, right? If you are a funnel person, your game is the numbers game. Hitting the phones, making 100 calls to book 10 meetings to close 1 sale. So your funnel would go from 100 to 10 to 1. The law of averages would tell us that the more calls you make, the more sales you close. Sales funnels are often heavily based on activity rates. Do more and get more.

Sales pipeline

From the top of your sales funnel to the bottom, you should be tracking the cycle of every prospect through to close. From the hundreds (or thousands) of companies you are targeting through to getting the deal over the line, every deal should be tracked, cost, and analyzed. This way, you can identify exactly how much each customer costs for you to close, the percentage of business you close, and the effectiveness of your selling technique.

Sales pipelines however are a process game. Everyone’s sales process and strategies will be slightly different. From qualifying the lead to closing the deal, the stages in between will vary from salesperson to salesperson, from business to business, but the ultimate aim will remain the same.

In B2B sales operations, the sales funnel often feeds the sales pipeline. With the funnel focusing on transforming suspects into prospects, the pipeline focuses on qualifying out the prospect and closing the sale.

Both a funnel and a pipeline will help to keep your sales team on the straight and narrow with clear insight for management into the performance of the sales department.

Not only will these documents give your sales team greater confidence but also operations staff can plan accurately for future demand based on your figures. As a manager, you can also understand the areas where your sales team may be falling short. Are they getting to the latter stages of the sales process but failing to close off the deal? Are they steadily increasing their conversion rates? This inside track will only help your business to optimize the way you sell and deal with customers and prospects.

So, how do you improve the performance of your sales pipeline?

Simply put, a sales pipeline collates the amount of business you expect (or attempt) to close in a given month, quarter, or year.

These valuable documents track all of the business your sales force has pursued in the past, is pursuing today, and hopes to close in the future. With this information positioned in front of you, you should be able to track the % of sales that you close, and the number of lost opportunities and you can forecast with much better accuracy.

While meeting your numbers is important every month, you need to be sure you aren’t clogging your pipeline with endless opportunities and neglecting the actual opportunities that are open to you.

Building a tight pipeline that works with you, not against you, to hit your number is easily achievable, but you need a clean pipeline that documents each of your prospects, from that first call through to close.

Give every call and discussion a next step.

Despite our best efforts to become superhero salespeople, we are only human and we do, from time to time, forget things. Every interaction with your prospects and with your customers should be logged and recorded. Knowing where you are and where you are going next with every prospect will keep you on the straight road to success.

Lose the dead weight.

How many of the leads in your pipeline are stubborn little beggars that pass you from pillar to post, never really making a decision? I’d hazard a guess at around 10-15%. The time will come when you need to remove them from your active pipeline. But don’t jump ship with them altogether, schedule a call out of courtesy in 30 days' time but don’t waste your time and effort with a lead that will probably never go anywhere.

It is not all about the endgame.

The pressure to meet daily, weekly, monthly, or even quarterly targets is incredible. That is part and parcel of being a salesperson. But are you focusing too much on the back end of your pipeline and closing the deal? The initial steps to bring new leads into the pipeline and nurture them through to close are just as important. Without a long-term focus, your pipeline will be suffering.

Keeping both your pipeline and your funnel healthy will only serve to put you in a strong position as a salesperson. Take the time to review your pipeline; spending a few hours tidying it up will help you and your sales in the long run.

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