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Building a strong sales pipeline process in five simple steps

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Successful companies are investing significant investment in both time and budget to transform their sales teams and make them run like well-oiled machines. They know that time is money, and if their salespeople can make more sales in the same 8-hour day, everyone wins.

Running a SME or a sales team brings with it huge responsibility to deliver consistent success, and it goes without saying that a strong sales pipeline is vital to the long-term health of just about every business. Building a pipeline is a tried and tested method for identifying and tracking multiple prospects through the sales process, from initial contact to qualified lead to purchase. Almost every organisation adopts a formal approach, often with the support of technology tools such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programmes. 

A strong sales pipeline should be important to more people than just the sales specialists. Other teams should take a keen interest in a robust, well-thought out process, given it can improve operational capability and help unify strategy. For example, the marketing team might find a strong sales pipeline process vital in designing their overall strategy, producing targeted collateral to attract new, qualified leads or when widening their target markets. Similarly, engineering and design teams may find data about prospects and customers extremely useful when creating new products.

For every stakeholder, a well implemented and managed pipeline brings value and predictability to sales efforts, helps the business to deliver more accurate forecasting, and helps improve efficiency.

But in practical terms, how do businesses build and manage a strong sales pipeline process? Laying some solid foundations can help transform sales from an informal and responsive set of activities into a well-rehearsed, highly proactive and disciplined strategy. Here are five initiatives to follow:

Consider customer relationship management (CRM)

Many experienced salespeople will testify to the value that a CRM solution can bring to the sales process. Any organisation that keeps track of sales leads via spreadsheets should seriously consider the wide variety of CRM tools and services out there. There are specialist products geared towards SMEs, while others are designed for specific markets or industries. Either way, there is no lack of choice and software vendors often use the ‘as-a-service’ model, so customers pay on a monthly basis with no major upfront cost.

Also, remember that everything in your business needs to integrate with your CRM. Because when it does, you eliminate the need to enter information into multiple systems.  No more duplicate data entry. Being able to access your CRM from anywhere (at any time) is vital to keeping up with your business demands.

Identify and adopt best practice

Understanding the approach of everyone in the sales team can help business leaders to identify who has the most effective and efficient strategy.  To this end, we recommend creating a path for sales reps to follow. Give them the steps and framework for success. This includes powerful branding elements that keep you front and centre with your customers, and also means developing and delivering approved templates, as well as a checklist of actions to guide the quote from start to finish.  It’s surprising how many organisations don’t manage to put a best practice strategy in place, but if there is a sales specialist who closes more deals because they have a better understanding of customer needs, it’s a huge missed opportunity if the rest of the team doesn’t follow that example.

Set sales standards

Setting agreed sales standards that meet the needs of the business is only useful if they are closely monitored to encourage a “hyper-focus” on pipeline ratios and management. These will vary from business to business but will be guided by overall objectives and strategy. For example, if each sales rep is tasked with 25 calls per day and two onsite appointments, then there should be a step-by-step process for making that happen. A set of clearly defined goals makes it easier for the sales team to hit revenue goals and drive company growth.

Build standards into the pipeline process

By embracing sales standards, businesses can avoid the problems of activities or deals that get lost in the pipeline. Building them into the pipeline process ensures transparency and a level playing field for everyone involved in sales.

Ensure the sales process is guided by focus and discipline

Arguably the most important point about building a pipeline process is the need to remain as disciplined as possible. A pipeline is a way to keep track of and manage sales prospects and guide them through the sales lifecycle, but it must meet organisational needs, structure, objectives and goals. Discipline means avoiding the temptation to fill up the pipeline with unqualified contacts that don’t fall into target markets. It might give a more optimistic ‘at a glance’ view but can be dangerously misleading and risks wasting resources that could be used developing qualified leads into deals. A disciplined process also means the sales teams must log all activities as they happen so the sales team and management alike can understand where each prospect sits in the pipeline and which deals can be closed.

Despite being a prerequisite for business success, many organisations struggle to master an approach to sales that can consistently deliver. But focusing on the process can help build a culture where sales success is more predictable and significant to the business as a whole.

With the right tools, you can conquer any sales workflow obstacles. By improving sales team processes and visibility to opportunities, you’ll be able to more effectively delegate and follow up on leads. And, you’ll be able to drive accountability to goals. In business, visibility is the first step toward profitability. Empower your team with the insights they need to achieve the goals you set.

Ultimately the good news is that you don’t have to be a multimillion-pound company to run a powerful sales machine. There are plenty of ways to achieve sales transformation. It’s all about defining best practices and holding accountability to them.

Gregg Lalle, Vice President, International Sales, ConnectWise