The sales pipeline is a visual tool sales teams use to see what stage in the buyer’s journey a lead is at before they finalize a purchase. People don’t just express interest in a product or service and magically end up with that product or service. They go to the store or website, they speak to an agent or employee, they take some time to explore other options and do additional research, they look to social media for reviews, they follow up or receive a follow up from an agent, decide if/how they want to make a purchase, and then finalize that purchase.
If a first-time lead was just deemed qualified by marketing, and a sales agent handles that lead as if they’ve been through the process before, they leave open the possibility of alienating the lead and prolonging the journey more than it needs to be. The objective is to get a lead through the pipeline as quickly as possible. Too much time in the pipeline gives the lead the opportunity to second guess whether or not they need to actually make a purchase or if they can get a better deal elsewhere. Your agents need to work fast to convert the lead into a customer.
In order to do that, we’re going to break down five ways to improve your sales pipeline management to speed up the buyer’s journey, improve the overall experience, and ensure the leads you target feel inclined to come back.
Weed out weak leads immediately
Sales is a numbers game. The more leads you bring in, the higher the odds of finding leads who are ready to make a purchase and remain a customer. Customer retention is key for successful sales strategies because it typically costs less to maintain a strong customer base than to constantly invest in finding new leads.
To determine who your weak leads are, start monitoring the channels you acquire your leads from and monitor how they move from stage to stage. Next, tell your agents to pay close attention to how responsive they are to their pitches and follow-ups. If they don’t seem enthusiastic and your agents aren’t confident they’ll make it through the pipeline, those leads should be eliminated -- especially if another agent or manager agrees with your assessment.
Sometimes all it takes is a little nurturing to get a lead to commit to a purchase, but if there’s very little chance of success and you’re investing too much time and energy into the lead, you’re not spending enough time with the other qualified leads who have a better chance. In most cases, it’s better to cut ties quickly and move on. You’ll never convert every lead your marketing team qualifies, so don’t be afraid to wait for the right ones.
Another thing to remember when managing your pipeline is that it’s not always the customer’s or agent’s fault for an abandoned purchase. Sometimes the process itself is too complicated. You have to be able to look back at your pipeline stages and determine what’s necessary and what isn’t.
One way to fix an over complicated pipeline is to have someone else look at it. Maybe the marketing team will have some input on what it would take for a lead to finalize a purchase. After all, they’re the ones breaking down customers into segments and deeming the leads qualified to advance to the pipeline. It’s more than likely they would know what motivates these leads to reach out or move forward with a purchase.
If you’re an agent, take a note of all the steps you take when working with a lead. Are multiple follow-ups necessary? Do leads really need to speak to another agent? Is that agent even good at closing? Eliminate excess to move leads through the pipeline quickly.
Use sales CRM software
Most, if not all, sales CRM software comes with a sales pipeline feature. If your business isn’t using the software because you’re not sure what the average ROI is, every dollar spent on CRM implementation returns as much as $8.71 in sales revenue. CRM software isn’t just for larger businesses and enterprises, either. There are tons of sales automation providers that cater specifically to small businesses.
What the software will do for your business is gather data for powerful, in-depth reports, automate much of the sales process to speed things up further, and use that data to build a sales pipeline that aligns with your current business strategies. This process is usually automated, but agents and managers can customize the pipeline to best fit their needs. The good thing about sales CRM software is that it can be easily accessible.
If you’re out of the office and in an important meeting with a client, you can access that pipeline via a mobile app and offer more transparency regarding your projections and what the lead can expect during the sales process. Plus, being able to make changes to the pipeline on the go can help agents keep the pipeline updated in real time to ensure the most up-to-date information is accessible to agents at all times. When it comes to the sales pipeline, context is everything.
Predictive analytics and machine learning technology
AI is the future in business. There’s no need to worry about it taking over. The way businesses are using it is to enhance the experience of the agent so they, in turn, can offer a better, more personalized customer experience. AI will help showcase patterns in customer behavior that can make sales pipelines more adaptable to the customer’s needs.
What’s great about AI is that the longer you use it, the smarter it gets. You might notice this already when you first try to search for something on Google or Amazon and the search results are all over the place. However, when you start to search more, it becomes easier and easier to find what you’re looking for. The same thing can happen with the sales pipeline.
The sales pipeline has to constantly be monitored and updated in order to function properly. Not doing so can leave agents with outdated information that can turn a potential conversion into an abandoned purchase. AI will eliminate this risk by highlighting patterns that can be turned into stages while eliminating stages that only prolong the length of time a lead is moving through each stage.
Leave room for growth
We’ve been hinting towards this the entire time, but it’s probably the most important way to improve your sales pipeline management. Keeping a sales pipeline static is not an effective approach to optimizing the buyer’s journey. If you’re not allowing room to add stages, remove stages, change directions, or reevaluate your approaches, you’re putting your needs ahead of the lead’s.
The more adaptable you make your sales pipeline without making significant, repeated changes to your sales strategy, the more likely you’ll be able to get leads through the pipeline. Leads are looking for positive experiences throughout each stage. Bottlenecks usually occur when something unplanned occurs that forces either the agent or lead to step back and look at what needs to change in order to keep moving forward.
Using sales CRM software or adopting AI into your sales strategy can allow for growth to take place in your pipeline. Both will allow you to adjust your strategy without you needing to lift a finger. You can also make sure you’re reevaluating your current business strategies on a regular basis to ensure the sales process is up-to-date and optimized for maximum growth, adjusting the pipeline wherever necessary.
The Final Word
Knowing that the sales pipeline is a visual tool that represents the current sales strategy and not a set-in-stone guideline agents must follow is a great way to improve your sales pipeline management. Pipelines work best when the best, most current data is being used as a guide for building specific stages that cater to the buyer’s personal needs.
Context is everything when it comes to a pipeline. Agents need it to determine what stage a lead is in and what could be holding up the process. When you’re aware of potential bottlenecks before they occur, you can adjust on the fly and ensure a quicker path to finalizing a purchase. By weeding out weak leads early in the process, simplifying your journey, using AI and CRM software for added context, and leaving room for growth in your pipeline, you can ensure your sales pipeline will put the needs of the customer first without having to stray too far away from your own business’ goals and mission.
About the author:
Reuben Yonatan is the founder and CEO of GetVoIP -- trusted VoIP comparison resource that helps companies understand and choose a business communication solution for their specific needs. Reuben assists SMBs align business strategy with culture and improve overall corporate infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter @ReubenYonatan