Pipeline management is a serious challenge for every sales leader. Anyone who leads a sales team grapples with the same problem. Forecasting is not easy. It’s not an exact science.
If sales forecasting were easy, or something an algorithm could nail down — even within the context of the multi-billion dollar CRM market — then no one would worry about it. Boards would have every reason for confidence in the figures sales leaders and managers generate. Pipeline management wouldn’t be a problem still in search of a solution.
Why is pipeline management such a challenge?
One of the main challenges many companies face is not having a steady stream of prospects flowing into the pipeline. If these prospects are sourced through outbound activities (calls, emails, LinkedIn messages), and there is not enough inbound and lead nurturing, then pipeline management is always going to be difficult.
When leads are hard to source, you need a way of nurturing those that aren’t ready. Chances are, a good 80% or more of leads, even if they’re qualified, aren’t going to be ready to purchase straight away. Even if it means waiting a few weeks, automated email marketing systems need to be in place to nurture them.
Otherwise, if leads aren’t nurtured, a pipeline can soon go flat. Equally, if there aren’t enough leads flowing into the pipeline, or too much time/effort is spent chasing current leads instead of generating new ones, a pipeline can stagnate.
However, those aren’t the only challenges that salespeople and managers face when it comes to pipeline management.
#1: Rose Tinted Forecasting
One of the most serious and common-place failings of sales teams and managers is the assumption that every, or nearly every, prospect is interested and qualified and ready to go-ahead.
Spoiler alert: they’re not! If only every prospect was, that would make forecasting and planning revenue (and for sales agents and managers, working out when commission/bonuses will be paid) so much easier.
And yet, too many salespeople view prospects through a rose tinted lens, assuming the most positive and timely outcome. So when a prospect takes longer to make a decision than expected, or falls out the pipeline altogether, this can cause forecasting problems for teams and managers.
Time and effort then needs to be spent scrambling to pull in new prospects, often putting agents and managers under pressure and making it harder to engage with new leads because there is an element of urgency.
#2: The Sales Trap
The flip-side of this is what sales expert, Colleen Francis calls the “sales trap”. Too much effort going into managing existing prospects, instead of making sure new leads were flowing into the pipeline.
A dry quarter could follow a busy one, which again means there is an unhealthy element of urgency when agents are trying to cultivate new leads. Making sure your pipeline is always healthy and growing is the most effective way to combat this.
#3: Poor Qualification Process
When leads aren’t properly qualified, sales reps can be placing leads in the pipeline that aren’t really there. Yes, a prospect might have expressed interest; but do they need the solution?
Does it solve their pain points? Do they need it in a relatively sensible (e.g. short-term) timescale? And do they have a budget?
The above, and any number of the following questions are well worth keeping in mind when qualifying leads:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What has prompted you to solve this problem?
- What happens if it isn’t solved?
- What kind of timescale are you looking to implement?
- Who needs to sign off on the budget?
- What do you personally gain or lose if this is solved, or isn’t solved?
- Based on what we’ve talked about so far, does our solution solve this problem for you?
Of course, there are numerous other questions that could be asked. It depends on what you need to know. But without this part of the sales process, for every lead, there is no way of accurately knowing whether a prospect is viable or not.
How to make pipeline management less of a challenge?
Firstly, documenting everything in a CRM or other relevant software makes pipeline management easier.
However, keeping accurate and timely records is only part of the challenge.
Sales agents need to approach forecasting with an enhanced sense of realism. Simply assuming or hoping that a lead is viable, qualified and definitely interested is not enough. Hoping for the best and doing whatever possible to avoid the worst, is not going to cut it. Not when the numbers are forecast and agents have to say whether a sale was won or lost.
So, having a more realistic and less rose tinted approach to the viability of prospects is important. Hence the qualification process that should be applied to every lead.
Time is another key factor in improving pipeline management. When sales agents using instant screen-sharing software, such as CrankWheel, leads can be given demos straight away instead of waiting for another call. Too often, leads who’ve had one call, been sent more information, and then are waiting for another, fall between the cracks or lose interest.
Instead, with CrankWheel, prospects can get a product/service demo straight away, thereby finding out what they need sooner and giving salespeople the chance to sell a solution more effectively. All of this saves time and money, and makes it easier and quicker to either qualify a lead, or close deals faster.