Main illustration: Tim Gilligan
If you’ve ever looked at your diary, notebook, sticky notes and email inbox in the middle of a busy sales period and thought, “This isn’t working,” you’re not alone.
For years, I used to try to organize my thoughts and ideas without structure, missing sales opportunities and forecasts as a result. Then, I found the answer – the concept of a sales pipeline. I now had order where there had been chaos. I could take the initiative with existing opportunities, control the entire sales process and close more deals.
What is a sales pipeline?
Sales pipelines describe and visualize how close your prospects are to converting. Pipelines allow sales organizations to improve forecasting, optimize interactions, and identify bottlenecks in the sales funnel.
The best thing about a sales pipeline is that it’s easy to get started. Here are a few of the ideas that worked for me when building a pipeline.
4 steps to improve sales pipeline management
1. Decide what your ideal sales pipeline looks like
Let’s start by mapping out your pipeline so we can see how it looks. When you get those first ideas about people and companies that might need what you sell, you’re already taking the first steps in building a pipeline. You probably have more than one idea for prospects. Some of those will go all the way through and close; others won’t. But these conversations and how they progress will form your pipeline. You build a pipeline by creating a number of steps to go from that initial idea to a closed sale – these are your sales stages.
These might be:
- Targets – very early days, not yet contacted
- Contacted – you’ve called or emailed
- Meeting agreed – you’ve set an agenda and a date for the diary
- Proposal sent – you’ve submitted a formal proposal with a $ figure
- Close – now it’s time to get the signature on the bottom line
But that’s only part of it. It’s important to remember that your sales stages have to mirror the buying stages of your prospects or customers. You’ll see I included “Proposal sent” in the stages – that’s because typically one has to submit a fully costed proposal to customers as a requirement in their “buying cycle.” Everyone’s buying cycle is different, but trust me, it helps to have a good idea of your customers and how they like to buy.
An example of what your sales stages might look like
2. Calculate the “magic numbers”
The magic question is: how many deals do you need to add to your pipeline to meet your objectives? It would be great to win every deal you’ve submitted a proposal for, but this doesn’t happen. If you know how many deals you win on average, you can easily calculate the number of deals you need in each of the early stages. If you calculate your numbers, you’ll be able to see how your pipeline looks and what number of deals you need to be adding to the top of the pipeline to reach your goals.
We explain this a little bit more in the video below:
3. Build stage-to-stage momentum
Once you have your pipeline stages laid out, you have to keep deals on track. When you’re moving your deals stage-to-stage, what are the factors or variables that will help you advance your deal? It could be sending a written proposal, identifying the stakeholders or getting the budget approved – there’s an event at each stage that moves the deal along.
It’s a good habit to set yourself objectives for these key events. You can control the activities to keep the pipeline moving, not the results. Setting objectives for yourself that relate to how many proposals you send and new prospect conversations you have per day is the best guarantee that your deal flow doesn’t stall.
4. Find your routine to fill the pipeline
Activities that add new deals to your pipeline need to be part of your routine – daily or, depending on your business, weekly. Back in my days of active sales, I liked to start every day with a cup of coffee and that’s when I did calling and prospecting to find new deals. It worked for me because it was a habit. You might have to try out different ideas before you find a routine that suits you – a particular time of day, a day of the week or a regular slot in your diary when you can really focus on putting deals into the pipeline. When you keep that focus and habit for finding new targets, you don’t need to worry about your sales pipeline.
Pro tip #1: Do similar kinds of calls together with a team member. This introduces a competitive element and adds a bit of “peer pressure.”
Pro tip #2: Use sales management software, like Pipedrive. I’m confident it will help anyone close more deals.
In summary, set up your stages and do what it takes to move deals from one stage to the next; then, adopt a healthy approach to your pipeline management and building activities. It will help you meet your numbers. And that, in turn, will help you build a successful business.