By: Lisa Rollison on December 23rd, 2020
Three Steps to Better Manage Your Sales Pipeline
Many years ago, when my husband and I lived in Washington, we took a road trip to the Olympic Peninsula for a day of exploring. This was before GPS-equipped cell phones, so we were relying on a paper map to navigate the hundreds of twisting roads in pursuit of a remote waterfall.
Confident in my role as navigator, I followed the highlighted road and deftly called out directions, comparing the twists, turns, and intersections on our route to the map.
The first indication that things were not what they seemed was when expected turns didn’t quite match up to the map. I assumed it was simply an issue of scale, so we pressed on. Then, I noticed we were heading downhill when we should have been heading uphill. Stubbornly, I continued giving directions, hoping that the next turn (and the ones after that) would magically put us right back on course. Then, the road started to narrow… and get rougher… and finally, it disappeared entirely.
I couldn’t deny it any more. We were lost. We never made it to the waterfall – rather, we spent the rest of the day solely focused on finding our way back to civilization.
Three Steps for Successfully Navigating Your Sales Pipeline
This long-forgotten memory bubbled to the surface while watching Nate Austin of Mytech present at this year’s IT Nation Connect, where I realized mapping out a trip is much like mapping out your sales processes. Nate spoke on pipeline management and effective forecasting for sales teams by covering three major topics:
1. Set team expectations of pipeline management.
When sales teams have clear expectations and alignment on opportunity management, they have defined processes and procedures that set them up for success. Salespeople (both green and seasoned) often get excited about opportunities, particularly if they have a limited pipeline. There is a lot of engagement with prospects right now, but we all know that engagement doesn’t always result in buying. Failure to properly qualify the opportunity and move through the sales process can result in going down a very long path that ultimately leads nowhere.
Qualifying New Projects
For projects with existing clients, it’s still important to qualify the client when engaging on projects. It is easy to get excited about an opportunity and put too much time and effort into something that may not be a good fit or properly qualified. In the current climate, many plans and IT roadmaps are in limbo. Sales leaders can help their teams identify buying signs and business drivers that signal if an opportunity is real.
Qualifying New Clients
For new clients, it’s important to qualify early or lose quickly. Don’t have your sales team waste time and resources on opportunities that aren’t a good fit – size, vertical, geographic area, etc. If you choose to conduct evaluations for free, make sure they meet your qualification criteria before agreeing to complete the evaluation. There is no sense in sinking time and technical resources on an opportunity that wouldn’t be a good fit anyway.
2. Define your sales process for clarity.
Nate shared the sales process that Mytech uses to keep the sales team on track and help the management team effectively forecast:
- Opportunity: Salesperson is exposed to a client or prospect who has a problem they are looking to solve
- Evaluation and Technical Discovery: Opportunity is moved to this stage when it is necessary to engage the technical team to complete an evaluation (for a prospect) or a technical discovery (for an existing client)
- Qualification: Work at a high level with the client/prospect to gain alignment on what they want/need and the associated budget
- Proposal: Complete the Scope of Work, compile the proposal and present to the client or prospect. Opportunities do not progress past this stage unless the client/prospect engages after the proposal has been presented
- Negotiation: More psychological than price. If the client/prospect is engaging after the proposal by asking clarifying questions, inquiring about payment terms, etc., then they are mentally interested in the proposal. This is an indicator that the opportunity is likely going to close. If the client or prospect is not engaging with the sales team, this is a red flag they may be engaging with someone else or have lost interest.
- Commitment: The client/prospect has approved the proposal and the opportunity is won
The foundation of pipeline management and effective forecasting is consistent execution by the team. No matter the current economic circumstances, it is important to stick to a clearly defined sales process. Like my overconfidence and stubbornness on the fateful road trip, not sticking to the sales process can lead you so far astray that there is no course correcting. Instead, you’ve spent the entire day just trying to get back to familiar ground.
3. Be specific in your pipeline stages to remove confusion.
Your sales pipeline stages should reflect your prospect’s buying process. A good rule of thumb is to set stages with the goal of increasing the buyer’s commitment level. In this blog, HubSpot recommends following these steps to implementing a clear and effective Sales Pipeline:
- Define the stages of your sales pipeline.
- Identify how many opportunities typically continue through each stage.
- Calculate the number of opportunities you need at each stage to hit your goals.
- Understand the commonalities between opportunities that convert at each stage.
- Create or adapt your sales process around this data.
Understand Buyer Behaviors
It’s important to understand buyer behaviors, no matter the current economic climate. Effective sales leaders are taking the time during one-on-ones to review revenue goal, deal strategizing, and coaching on what business owners are thinking about right now. By understanding the problems that are keeping clients and prospects awake at night, sales teams are equipped to be sensitive to current situations, connect on a human level, and recognize the technical opportunities to help.
Lisa Rollison is a Business Development Manager for the Unified Communications and IT business unit at GreatAmerica Financial Services. She creates, develops and grows relationships with technology providers. Lisa joined GreatAmerica in 2017 after nearly 20 years in consumer sales and management. She enjoys baking, volunteering, and spending time with her husband and two young sons.