Pipeline Management (part 1)

This feature is designed to stimulate thought and offer practical advice on best practice. It covers some of the key operational elements of building and running sales and marketing functions.

At a time when few businesses have money to burn where is there scope to improve productivity or to ‘raise your game’ in sales and marketing?

In the first advisory we explored sales qualification. In this, we examine the need to influence future sales performance – specifically pipeline management. We identify specific challenges and offer ideas as to how to address them.

“I’m too busy ….”

Recognise the phrase? We’ve all heard it and probably said it ourselves: “I’m too busy worrying about this month/this quarter/a big deal to spend time on my sales pipeline”.

The pressure on sales professionals to meet their numbers – to deliver their quota – can be huge. Failure to meet their numbers can ultimately mean that they lose their job. Whether it’s because they’re busy trying to close deals to meet their number, or because they have a single huge transaction in their sights, sales people tend not to be as disciplined as they should in managing their pipeline.

What is a sales pipeline and why is it important?

Most business people understand that a pipeline is simply a view of all sales opportunities currently in play.

For clarity, the extent to which pipeline management is relevant in your business depends upon what you’re selling and to whom. In many B2C or low-transaction-value B2B environments you may have little interaction with your customers before they buy; making it hard or impossible to log and track individual potential deals before they happen.

Hence, businesses generally running high-value, discreet transactions through a structured sales process lasting weeks or months are those most in need of focus on a sales pipeline. For these businesses an accurate pipeline of well qualified deals offers the best insight to the future performance of the sales organisation. Paying attention to this ‘leading indicator’ of your business can add value in a number of ways:

  • If (and only if) the opportunities in your pipeline are well qualified, with accurate data about their value and close date, you can use your pipeline as the basis of your sales forecast; to accurately predict what business will close in a given time frame.
  • Depending upon the average length of your sales cycle, spotting weakness in your pipeline early enough may allow you to modify your sales and marketing plans in order to avoid poor sales performance next month or next quarter.
  • By building a pipeline plan to deliver a particular volume and quality of leads in relation to your sales quota, you have the very best chance of consistently meeting your sales goals. For a variety of reasons, few businesses do this well. But those that do reap rewards.
  • By analysing the pipeline by product or service composition, geography, partner, deal size, or any one of numerous other deal attributes, businesses can gain early insight to the effectiveness of particular marketing initiatives or promotions. Or perhaps gauge the effectiveness of resources newly focused on particular aspects of demand generation – for example, an external telemarketing agency.

We will explore these areas further in forthcoming blogs. However, before any business can consistently gain benefit from its pipeline measurement it is imperative that opportunities are well qualified; with accurate data about their value and predicted close date.

‘Well qualified’ in this context is partly a function of having a clear qualification methodology, as discussed in earlier blogs, but this is not the whole story. Only when you understand your own sales cycle can you hope to assess the maturity or ‘sales stage’ of a particular deal.

ProAptivity specialise in the deployment of CRM solutions into small and medium size businesses. They are the Northern Ireland solutions partner for Maximizer CRM which offers both on-premise and on demand solutions with full Mobile CRM capabilities. For more information contact 028 90735630

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