Everyone knows what a sales pipeline is, and can visualize a funnel or some other image that shows how a business is using a mix of salesmanship and software to move a person or company from lead to prospect to opportunity to quote to customer.
In our opinion, the main reason we use the word “pipeline” is that most sales processes are pretty leaky. They’re rife with issues and missed opportunities that result in prospects leaking out of the pipeline.
Is your sales pipeline leaky? How do you know? How can it be fixed? Here are a few ways to identify and repair leaks in your sales pipeline.
Not enough leads in the pipeline?
First, a disclaimer: “not enough” is never about quantity, because anyone with $100 to spend can get a list of 10,000 terrible leads: it’s always about lead quality. And your quality control process has to begin before a lead even enters your pipeline.
Ask critical questions of any lead re: timeframe, budget, and decision-making authority before moving them into the official pipeline. For example, someone at an event taking candy from your bowl and letting you scan their badge is likely not ready to enter your pipeline. But someone who has a budget, a time table, and can sign a sales quote most certainly is.
In fact, adding the candy-grabbing “looky-loos” to your CRM system can hinder your ability to effectively manage your pipeline as you’re creating an unpredictable and unrefinable garbage in/garbage out scenario. But if you get in the practice of adding only quality and qualified leads to your sales pipeline, you create a more predictable sales process and can more easily address leaks that may occur down the line.
Not enough movement in the pipeline?
Once you’ve fixed the front-end and your pipeline is populated with quality leads only, it’s time to monitor movement. How quickly does the qualified lead express interest in a webinar or another further qualifying event? How soon do they ask for a sales quote? Is every rep moving opportunities through your pipeline at the same pace?
Having sales analytics and reporting at every step and for every rep is crucial to improving pipeline movement as it enables you to spot events you can make into trends. E.g., if you see that leads who get an email three days after a webinar move more quickly into the opportunity stage, then by all means ensure that email is sent everytime.
Sales pipeline analytics will also give you baseline numbers you can test against. Using the previous example, once you have proven that an email sent three days after a webinar helps sales, you can test if one sent two days and then another five helps even more.
Because it’s not just customers that should be moving in your sales pipeline: the processes and promotions and pitches you present therein should be moving as well, always testing, always optimizing, always moving forward.
Not enough buyers in the pipeline
The final and most important stage in every pipeline: when an opportunity becomes customer by actually buying something. This part of the process is usually when the sales proposal is sent (and where quoting software can make a huge difference).
Because even the most qualified lead going through your most up-to-date and optimized pipeline can stall at the sales quote step. One reason is that it’s sometimes at this stage, after a rep sends a proposal, that the rep may take his or her foot off the gas: “I sent the quote: nothing I can do now except wait.”
But if you’re using configure, price, quote software to automate your sales proposal process, a foot stays on the gas regardless. Plus, you’ll get additional insights re: movement in this most critical part of your pipeline as you’ll be able to track quotes at a granular level: sent on this date; replied to on that date; followed up on this date; signed on that one.
And while quoting software may not be able to help with leaks in your sales pipeline at the front end (it can’t necessarily ID unqualified leads), it’s a business-critical component in plugging leaks during the quoting process. For the business that may not know exactly where to begin in fixing a leaky sales pipeline, improving this last step is perhaps the best place to start.