Why is Sales Pipeline Management important?
Who wouldn’t be pleased to see a stuffed sales pipeline, rife with opportunity? Well, as much as we like to think we’re capable of doing several things at the same time, there’s only so much you can do with your hands full. And the same goes for your Sales Pipeline.
Ideally, prospects proceed smoothly through the sales funnel. From lead generation, to creating an opportunity. And ultimately at the end of the sales cycle into a won deal. But too many leads will have you focus too much on your Qualification process. Too many open opportunities make it difficult to nurture the highest potential. And too many late stage deals will lock your attention to driving them home, and forsaking the top of your sales funnel. Balancing between these requires a well defined sales process and the proper tools. So you can manage yourself, and your pipeline better.
Is your CRM a data warehouse or a data dump?
If the paragraph above tells us anything, it’s that our sales time is valuable. Data entry and CRM upkeep are often considered as low-priority and tedious tasks. Most sales people tend to spend as little time as possible on this. As a result, CRM is often filled with unsanitized data imports, multiple duplicate records, and incomplete data-sets. And you have probably heard the CRM related adage; “Garbage in, is garbage out”.
So let’s first take a look at our “garbage”. Here’s how this usually accumulates:
- Incorrect data entry and capturing processes.
- Improper training of CRM users.
- Using incorrect fields for storing specific data.
- No data quality management processes and reporting.
How to Get rid of Dirty Data
You should review your Leads, Contacts, Accounts and Opportunities for the following dirty data:
- Duplicate Data: Duplicates are the most common reason for data discrepancies. Duplicate leads, accounts, opportunities are usually created by users. These can be fixed by merging duplicates.
- Invalid Data: Data stored inside incorrect fields. This most often occurs in Custom Fields, where data validation is not enforced. This can cause errors in pipeline reports and forecasting.
- Inconsistent Data: When new fields are added over the years, you’ll often end up with older records that are missing information in these fields.
- Inaccurate Data: People change functions and phone numbers. Companies move to new locations. If you don’t keep this up to date, you’ll end up with a lot of garbage.
Make sure you’ve taken care to fix these potential data problems as much as possible. It will give you a more accurate overview of pipelines.
Now that we’ve “taken out the trash”, let’s review our pipeline step by step.
Cleaning Leads from your Sales Pipeline
Sales pipelines commonly become clogged at the top of the funnel, due to low quality leads. Low quality leads unnecessarily bog down your sales process and have a negative influence on your sales cycle time. When it comes to cleaning these up, the best approach is ‘zero-tolerance’.
Review your leads and ask yourself the following:
- Is this actually a qualified lead? It’s a yes or no question. Don’t settle for ‘maybe’.
- Have they ever been engaged by our communications?
- Realistically, is there a case? Are you able to move them forward within the next few weeks?
If you’re having difficulty determining whether a lead is qualified or not, you may have to review your lead qualification process. Is it unstructured, or too complicated?
If you can’t answer a solid ‘YES!’ to all of the above questions, it’s time to let them go. Cycle them back into the Nurturing pool or simply un-assign yourself as the owner. But they need to be removed from your lead pool. If you make it a routine for yourself to adamantly review your leads in this manner, they won’t bottleneck your pipeline in the future.
Cleaning Opportunities from your Sales Pipeline
Now to some this might sound insane, but you have to know when to “kill your darlings”. Some individuals might stuff their opportunity pipeline with whatever they can, while others sandbag as long as possible. But at the end of the day you will have to make a decision on what you can realistically pursue.
Why it’s important to review and remove opportunities from your Sales Pipeline
If your early stage pipeline is too crowded, you need to understand what’s happening in the background:
- You’re skewing Sales Cycle metrics like ‘Time to Close’, “Close Rate” & ‘Sales Velocity’.
- You’re inflating Sales Forecasts and many important Sales Management Metrics
- Even though you might be an effective Seller, your metrics will say the exact opposite.
By the time someone comes to ask questions about all of this, it’s already too late. So commit to regularly reviewing and your pipeline and keeping it clean.
How to Clean Stale Opportunities
Similarly to leads, review your opportunities one by one and ask yourself the following:
- When was the last meeting, and what did we agree. Did we ever get there?
- Are there any key objections which you can not tackle within the next 6 months?
- Have you uncovered and involved all key stakeholders?
- If you re-qualify them, would they still be qualified?
If the answers to those questions don’t create a positive outlook, then it’s time to move on. Close the opportunities for now and remove them from your pipeline. Create a task for yourself to check it out further down the line again. Maybe the prospect is ready to move forward again?
All clean! What’s next?
Now that we’ve cleaned up our pipeline, it’s time to get back to business. But how do we make sure we practice proper pipeline management? More about that in another post!