Effective sales pipeline management goes well beyond filling your pipeline with new leads.
Done well, sales pipeline management lets you take control of your sales opportunities. It makes it easier to keep your contacts and prospects organized, define and discuss your sales goals and processes, and measure your results along the way.
To help you make the most out of every sales opportunity, we’ve put together this guide on how to fill, organize, and manage your sales pipeline from start to finish.
9 Ways to Improve Your Sales Pipeline Management
1. Develop and Define Your Pipeline Stages
Your sales pipeline is a step-by-step visualization of your sales process. Though steps may vary depending on your business and your goals, a standard five-step pipeline involves contacting prospects, qualifying your leads, scheduling and conducting a sales demo, submitting a proposal, and closing the deal.
Setting up your pipeline with each of these steps in your CRM's funnel tracking software allows you to see your sales potential at a glance. It provides you with a visual representation of your sales funnel from start to finish, which means you’re able to quickly review your team’s opportunities and see exactly how many leads are at each stage.
This is valuable for a range of reasons: it helps you forecast more accurately, set realistic sales quotas, and monitor the number of leads you need to keep your pipeline full of potential.
Before we dive further into sales pipeline management, let’s take a moment to explore what each of these stages encompasses (and what it takes to move leads from one step to the next).
Keep in mind that each stage of the customer journey should align with a specific decision-making step or activity that moves the prospect closer towards making a purchase – whether that’s agreeing to a meeting, submitting a proposal, or signing off on the final deal.
Pipeline Stage 1: Initial Contact
When leads first enter your pipeline, they’re just that – leads. They may or may not turn into paying clients down the road, but it all starts with opening up the lines of communication.
So, whether you enter contacts manually, upload in bulk, or use a tool like Zapier to automatically create leads in Propeller, the first step is getting your contacts into your CRM so you can track their movement through your pipeline.
Once you have a list of prospects in your CRM, it’s time to make contact. This typically involves cold emailing and cold calling to find out which leads are interested in what your business has to offer.
If you’re calling, you can take notes in Propeller so the prospect’s information is all in one place and you know where to look if you need to reference the conversation later on.
If you’re using cold email to reach out, you can create, execute, and track your entire campaign using the Propeller CRM campaign management system – all directly from Gmail.
Pipeline Stage 2: Lead Qualification
Once you’ve made contact, you need to decide which leads are most worth pursuing.
Lead qualification or discovery involves finding out how likely a lead is to make a purchase. For instance, are they actively searching for a solution like yours? Are they cautious or eager to learn more? Are they waiting on budget approval? Or just browsing?
Leads that express interest in speaking to a sales rep – perhaps by responding to your email with a question or spending considerable time on your pricing page – are considered sales-qualified leads (SQLs).
Pipeline Stage 3: Meeting
Once a lead becomes an SQL, they’re ready to hear more about your product or service.
This is the perfect time to schedule a meeting or sales demo to talk to prospects one-on-one about how your solution fits their needs. Whether it’s done over the phone, via video call, or in-person, conducting a winning sales demo requires tailoring your presentation to the individual you’re pitching to.
Pipeline Stage 4: Proposal
By this stage, you should have a better idea of what each opportunity looks like and how much potential revenue they represent. Leads at the proposal stage have either received a written proposal or offer, or you’re currently drawing one up to send over.
Pipeline Stage 5: Closing
Most sales opportunities require a number of follow-ups before they close. In fact, most sales take at least five follow-ups – which means opportunities can get held up at this stage if you’re not persistent.
If the deal goes well, the paperwork is signed, and you’ve got yourself a new customer, congratulations! You can move your opportunity to the closed-won stage. If, however, the sale falls through, you should move the opportunity to closed-lost to clear out dead leads from your pipeline.
2. Bring in a Steady Stream of Quality Leads
Once you’ve set up your pipeline in Propeller CRM, there are a quite few things you can do to optimize your sale processes – like brushing up on your sales prospecting techniques and enlisting the right prospecting tools.
Improving your lead generation strategies and seeking out sources of recurring revenue are the best ways to ensure you’ve always got fresh opportunities in the pipeline. After all, the more qualified leads you have on the table, the more opportunities you have to grow your business.
The only guaranteed way to keep your pipeline full? Get serious about prospecting – and to do it on a consistent basis. Lucky for you, we’ve already written a few guides to help you master this crucial aspect of sales pipeline management.
3. Categorize and Prioritize Your List
As new prospects enter the pipeline and closed deals exit, it’s important to have a good understanding of which open opportunities are most worthy of your attention.
Reviewing and organizing leads by how likely they are to make a purchase allows you to identify which high-priority opportunities your team should prioritize. This involves creating a lead scoring model that your sales reps can use to identify high-value sales opportunities that are most likely to close.
So, if you haven’t already, develop a lead scoring system that makes sense for your business model. Lead scoring allows you to identify leads that are ready to buy – or at least those that are ready to speak to a quota-carrying sales rep.
For example, the BANT framework is a popular approach that scores leads based on their budget, authority to make a buying decision, need for your solution, and timing. This model can provide a solid basis for your own lead scoring system if you don’t yet have one in place.
Whether you develop your own lead scoring criteria or use a standard approach like the BANT model, leads should be rated based on demographic factors as well as sales-related activities. For example, a sales lead might gain points for visiting your pricing page but lose points for not having authority to pull the trigger on a purchase.
4. Keep Tabs on Deals that Are Stalled
Different deals move through your pipeline at different speeds. Generally speaking, the faster a lead moves through your pipeline, the more likely it is to close successful. So, you want to increase sales velocity whenever possible by building momentum to keep things moving forward.
But even if you do everything right, some opportunities are bound to get stuck. Maybe it’s a certain stage in the pipeline slowing things down or simply a lack of action items for the lead to complete.
When you spot sluggish or stalled opportunities, make an effort to connect with and motivate those prospects to get the deal back in motion. Use follow-up emails or phone calls with paused leads to see if you can generate some new momentum. To make things simpler, you can schedule automatic follow-up reminders using your CRM.
You can also use Propeller's lead tracking software to keep tabs on opportunities that stall. Keeping a close eye on your pipeline allows you to pinpoint the spots in your pipeline where bottlenecks are most likely to occur to see if there’s something you can change to keep things in motion.
Why do leads sometimes get stuck at certain stages? This can happen for a variety of reasons: perhaps there’s a lot of back and forth on proposal details; perhaps the prospect is waiting for approval from a committee; or perhaps they’re still shopping around for other solutions.
Whatever the case, it’s always a good idea to add activity attributes so you can see exactly how long leads remain in each stage and how long it’s been since you made contact with them.
Keeping an eye on the last activity date will help you identify any bottlenecks and hopefully inspire your team to brainstorm ideas to optimize the sales process.
5. Take the Time to Clean Up Regularly
You don’t want your pipeline to get bogged down with deals that aren’t likely to close. Not only does keeping deadweight in your pipeline throw off your sales forecasting, but it also takes energy away from deals that are more likely to go through.
Though it can be tough to shut down potential business, there’s value in being able to recognize when an opportunity just isn’t going to work. In these cases, you can either double down on bringing the deal back to life (see above) or make the decision to remove it from your pipeline altogether.
Clearing out the pipes ensures your healthy deals can keep moving at a steady pace. The longer any deal sits in your pipeline, the less likely it is to close – so it’s crucial to tidy up on a regular basis.
Consider scheduling it into your calendar so you remember to do it every day. Otherwise, the number of dead or stalled deals will build up – and you’ll risk rotting your pipeline from the inside out.
6. Show Your Team the Value of Sales Pipeline Management
Sales pipeline management is beneficial on an organizational level, but it can also give your reps the data, confidence, and edge they need to meet their individual sales targets.
The only problem is, it can be hard for reps to see the value of pipeline management when they’re focused on their day-to-day details. You can combat this by training your reps on the role of pipeline management in your overall sales strategy and outlining the actions that need to take place at stage of the pipeline.
It might also help to let your reps know that better sales pipeline management can lead to higher payouts – especially since companies that spend three or more hours per month on pipeline management experience 11% higher revenue growth, according to a B2B survey by the Sales Management Association.
7. Help Reps Make the Most of Your CRM
As with any new technology or tool, it’s important to spend some time onboarding your reps when you first introduce a CRM tool.
Help them understand the benefits of having a sales tracking system and motivate them to integrate the CRM into their daily sales activities. Otherwise, you might struggle to get everyone your team using it consistently – which means you won’t receive the full benefits of using the platform.
Once you’ve set up your pipeline in Propeller CRM, there are a few ways your reps can use the platform to optimize their sales process even further. This includes:
- Automating repetitive tasks (like follow-up emails and data entry) to save time.
- Setting reminders so you never miss an opportunity to follow-up.
- Creating a weighted sales pipeline for better forecasting.
- Communicating expectations and action items for each step.
- Tracking sales metrics so you can analyze, reflect, and improve.
8. Hold Pipeline Review Meetings
Schedule sales pipeline management review meetings every couple of weeks to discuss the health of your pipeline. This can be separate from any forecasting meetings but should cover whether there are enough incoming sales-qualified leads for your reps to make their upcoming targets.
These meetings give you an opportunity to check in with your team (including sales reps, marketing team, and account managers), find out if anyone has questions, suggestions, or requests related to how the pipeline is being managed.
9. Measure Relevant Pipeline Metrics
Taking full control of your pipeline requires an in-depth understanding of various sales metrics.
The more information you collect, the more value from your team can derive from your CRM and your sales pipeline management strategies. The analytics dashboard in your CRM can help you make sense of all the data – which, in turn, allows you improve your forecasting, makes it easier to source sales-ready leads, and helps optimize your sales process by highlighting high-value activities.
By tracking and reporting the right sales metrics, you can determine whether your current sales processes are sustainable long-term. Some of the most common sales metrics to track include:
- Time spent selling
- Lead response time
- Opportunity win rate
- Average deal size
- Pipeline length
- Sales pipeline coverage ratio (SPC)
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
- Customer lifetime value (CLV)
- Monthly new leads
- Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)
- Leads by source
Tracking these metrics in sales pipeline reports will give you the power to reflect on your existing sales processes, iterate, and optimize until you’ve found the most efficient, effective way to sell your product or service.
Take Control of Your Sales Opportunities
From improving lead quality to optimizing your sales funnel to helping your reps meet their quotas, sales pipeline management can help you get more value out of your sales opportunities and sales processes.
Using a tool like Propeller CRM makes it easy to visualize every stage of your sales funnel, so you can optimize your sales processes and close more deals in less time. Want to see how Propeller can streamline your pipeline management from start to finish?