Would you like your sales pipeline to be optimized, or to operate in a more streamlined fashion? I am not referring to the number of prospects currently in the funnel, or even the number of deals being worked. I am asking whether you would like to guarantee that every prospect and every deal is moving swiftly through the pipeline in the smartest, most efficient, and most effective manner. If you are nodding “yes”, then you are my kind of manager – forward-thinking, and motivated toward finding a practical and sustainable solution.
Optimizing the pipeline is the essential key to unlocking productivity. In the dynamic and constantly evolving world of sales, that is the equivalent to finding “the holy grail” is it not?
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So how can you begin to approach the strategy of optimizing your pipeline? I suggest laser-focusing on the all-important follow-up process. That is because consistent,persistent, and expedient follow-up is what actually moves deals through the pipeline. This means no hesitations, no hindrances, and no hurdles. In a recent post, I described follow-up as the single most important element of sales for those precise reasons. In today’s post, I will reveal the steps you can take to transition from good to better, and eventually, from better to best.
Step One – Determine whether your pipeline is clogged.
The revenue pipeline includes several stages, beginning with lead generation. If you need to spike sales, it is only natural, and often expected, to look first at the top of the funnel, and specifically to lead gen’. This approach can be problematic however, and perhaps even counter-productive. Pouring more leads into the top of the funnel only generates less time to convert current prospects into opportunities, or to convert opportunities into closed deals.
Therefore, if time is money, thenless time is not an optimization option. So it is extremely important to assess the entire pipeline to determine the true cause of sub-optimal pipeline flow. Moving more leads into a clogged, time-limited pipeline is neither the best, nor the most sensible solution.
Here are the key signs that indicate you have a clogged pipeline:
1. The pipeline contains a high percentage of prospects-to-opportunities. This could be a sign that prospects are not being contacted soon – or often – enough. It could also be a sign that too many low-quality prospects have diluted the funnel, which results in not only obstructing the ‘flow’, but the inadequate allocation of time for high-quality prospects.
2. The percentage of prospects that convert to opportunities is dropping.
3. Opportunities in the forecast are not consistently moving up in the calendar from 90 to 60 days or from 60 days to 30 days. In other words, deals slip repeatedly.
Step Two – Identify what is keeping reps from being more effective.
Here are a few questions you can ask to determine what is slowing the sales process down:
1. Do you know which types of prospect companies or people have the highest propensity to purchase? Or which have the highest propensity to purchase sooner and/or in greater amounts?
2. Do reps know the best way to prioritize prospect follow-up? Is there a repeatable process or set of criterion that reps can refer to when making those decisions?
3. Do reps have marketing materials that speak to different types of buyers in a way that will resonate most?
4. Do reps have access to a knowledge-base of questions to ask, points to make, or testimonies to reference, that are applicable to specific buyer interests?
Step 3 – Pinpoint where the inefficiencies are coming from
Reps have a finite amount of time to sell. They juggle hundreds of follow-up activities required to move each and every lead through the pipeline follow-up process, and ultimately – hopefully -out the other end of the funnel as a closed deal. If a rep’s time is maxed out, or even worse, being stalled by obstacles, the direct result is reflected in not only the quantity of contacts, but in the quality of those interactions with prospects they do manage to handle.
Here are some key signs that indicate unnecessary productivity inefficiencies.
1. The lead list is not auto-prioritized to ensure that the most valuable Leads are contacted first.
2. Reps must click through too many CRM screens in order to gain the needed insight to adequately prepare for each call.
3. Reps waste time needlessly, because of the difficulty finding the right proposal or marketing materials, or they must construct their own.
4. The approval process for quote, proposal review, and authorization is not built-in to our CRM system (or any automated system).
These three steps are a good, goal-oriented platform to start with if you are seeking methods to optimize your pipeline. Next week, I will be writing in more detail about the specific capabilities reps need in order to manage their pipeline follow-up better.