10 tips for a healthy sales pipeline

Jo White posted in Sales May 8, 2019

A core feature of every CRM is a pipeline. It tracks each sale so you can clearly see the stage it’s at and the amount the sale is worth. It’s a key tool to forecast the month, to spot any stuck sales that need support and it’s a great motivational tool too. If one sale doesn’t cross the line, you can quickly see more opportunities coming through.

As with all CRM tools, the pipeline is only as good as the data in it. Too often monthly sales forecasts can be well above or far below actual sales due to poor pipeline management.

So here are 10 tips to manage your pipeline more effectively and accurately to help boost sales.

1. Match your pipeline to your sales process

Defining each key stage in your sales process is a natural place to start when setting up a pipeline in your CRM. It’s worth giving this some thought and selecting those key points of the process that signal the opportunity is getting closer to a sale.

You can even give each stage a probability percentage to show the chance of winning the opportunity. You may find in your business that once a proposal is sent it signals an 80% chance of winning or it may sit at 50%. Each stage and process will be unique to you, so it’s best to customize your pipeline instead of using the default setting in your CRM.

The more aligned the pipeline is to your process, the more people will use it and the more useful the data will be.

2. Define a sales lead with marketing

Before filling your pipeline, it’s important to define a sales lead so time isn’t wasted on leads that aren’t ready for sales nurturing.

If you have a marketing team, it’s important to agree the definition with them so your sales pipeline only focuses on sales ready leads. This keeps your pipleline focused on real opportunities that show genuine buying signals.

If marketing score their leads, it could be as easy as agreeing the score for a qualified sales lead or it could simply be based on the lead source. For example a sales qualified lead could be a:

  • booked product demo
  • delegate at an event
  • sample order.

Whereas these leads may be better placed with marketing until they show more specific buying signals:

  • sign up to a newsletter
  • brochure download
  • eBook form completed.

3. Fill the pipe

A healthy pipeline needs filling regularly. If you only focus on pushing opportunities through it and not filling it, you’ll soon be in trouble.

Marketing activity online, at events, PR and advertising will all complement your own lead generation activities such as networking, calling, working your patch.

There’s a constant juggle of generating leads and nurturing opportunities in the early days but as more sales come in, you’ll start to benefit from referrals and positive word of mouth so the pipeline should start to fill automatically.

4. Update your CRM as you go

With CRMs now available on your mobile device, it’s much easier to update sales opportunities on the go. Leaving all the admin to the end of the day or week can build up and become a headache, especially after a long week on the road.

It’s good to get in to the habit of updating the opportunity straight after the activity whether it’s a call or a meeting. Spending 5 minutes updating your pipeline in the car, on the metro or walking back to the office will help you keep your admin under control.

5. Be honest

While a full pipeline is lovely to look at and may make you feel good, if the data is unsubstantiated or out of date it’s worthless.

A cleaner, honest pipeline with fewer opportunities is far more useful as it highlights areas of support and success. When you spot a very long sales cycle for a particular industry or don’t see enough sales leads coming in, you can get teams together to think of ideas to improve the situation. You’ll only see these patterns if your pipeline data is accurate.

6. Listen to your gut

Sometimes after a meeting or a call, even though the sale is progressing well on paper you just get a gut feeling that it’s not going to go any further any time soon. This sense should be logged in the opportunity and the pipeline so the probability of the sale coming in is clear. You can add a note or better still highlight it as gone stale or on hold.

7. Reflect each week

Reviewing your whole pipeline each week and reflecting on what’s working and what’s not is a useful activity. It gives you the opportunity to address anything before month end and share best practice.

Some pipelines will automatically highlight opportunities that are going stale because there’s been no activity for a set number of days. This useful data focuses sales effort and sparks questions as to why an opportunity hasn’t returned the call, email or meeting request. The sooner you spot these triggers, the easier they can be fixed.

8. Repeat what works

You may find a specific follow up process works well for a certain industry or customer segment and increases your conversion rate. When you find what works, record it in your CRM and share it with the team. You can add a note or you could quickly write a list of time dependent tasks (we call them Tracks in Capsule) and apply them to every relevant opportunity. Test, learn and repeat.

9. Make the most of lost opportunities

Everyone loses a sales now and again but there are always lessons to be learned. It’s best not to just file an opportunity as lost and forget about it, find out why.

Most CRM’s will prompt a question when an opportunity is lost so you can report on the reasons. If price is a recurring reason, maybe the value of your product or service to the buyer needs to be clearer or maybe it’s worth reassessing the market to see where your price is positioned against competitors. Whatever the reasons you’ll be able to learn from them, change and lose less sales in the future.

10. Loop in marketing

We’ve mentioned marketing already as they can help define a lead so all opportunities in your pipeline are qualified. They can help you fill the pipleine too.

When you have a close relationship with marketing they can also help your opportunities move through the pipeline. Follow up activities can be boosted if for example you send relevant, helpful content at specific stages of the cycle.

Marketing can provide this content with product reviews, NPS scores, customer case studies, award wins, PR coverage and much more. All these marketing assets will help you to reach out and rekindle opportunities in your pipeline.

More than just a pipeline

The simple pipeline does more than just showcase a process or forecast sales, it has a profound impact across the business:

  • Marketing can calculate ROI for their leads.
  • Finance can forecast business growth.
  • Customer support can plan onboarding activities.
  • Operations can identify resource gaps.

So the more accurate your pipeline is, the better it is for your whole business as it’s a true reflection of business growth, opportunities and issues. When you manage your pipeline more effectively your sales will boom.

Why not check out Capsule’s pipeline by signing up to a 30 day free trail.

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