Does the word ‘sales pipeline’ send a shiver down your spine? Do you see your pipeline as a necessary evil, or worse, an excuse for your sales leader to grill you? It doesn’t have to be this way. When you take some time to understand how your pipeline works, you can start to manipulate it in ways that bring in deals. Here are 5 facts about your B2B pipeline that you need to know.
1 – Your pipeline represents your buyer’s journey
It’s rare that a lead becomes a customer after just one contact from a salesperson. This is why we have B2B sales pipelines. They define the buyer’s journey from lead to prospect to customer and beyond.
Does your pipeline accurately portray your buyer’s journey? While every organisation sells differently, some stages of the buyer’s journey should be common to all.
- Awareness – the buyer realises they have a problem that needs solving
- Consideration – the buyer looks at different ways to solve their problem
- Decision – the buyer has decided the way to solve their problem and will choose between individual solutions (vendors)
Once you understand the journey your buyer is embarking upon, you can start to control their journey. You can devise new ways to move your buyer from one stage to the next. You can formulate strategies to make the process quicker, smoother and more reliable.
2 – Your pipeline has an ideal size
If your pipeline is too full, you won’t be able to manage it all. If your pipeline is too small, you won’t make target. The trick is to get it just right. There is an ideal size for your B2B pipeline, all you have to do is work out what it is.
Start with your quota, then work backwards to calculate how many prospects you need at each stage of your pipeline to hit it. You’ll need to know the average length of your sales cycle, your average deal size and your conversion rates at each stage of your pipeline. However, armed with these figures, you’ll be able to work out how big your pipeline needs to be.
When you know your ideal pipeline size, you can prioritise more effectively. You can make sure you’re bringing enough leads in at the start of your pipeline, moving them through and closing enough at the end.
3 – Your pipeline requires regular maintenance
A full B2B pipeline isn’t necessarily an effective one. Often prospects will be in your pipeline, but they are not actually potential customers. When you are honest with yourself, you know they’re not going to buy. You’re just keeping them in your pipeline because you’re hoping something will change.
Make sure you clean your pipeline regularly. Flush out those prospects who are not going to buy. Enforce strict criteria to these prospects. How long have they been in your pipeline in relation to your average sales cycle length? Are they returning your calls? Do you have buy-in from the economic buyer? If a prospect fails these tests, remove them from your pipeline.
You can avoid these problems at an early stage by targeting better at the start of the sales process. Build an ideal buyer persona and use high-quality data to make sure everyone you are contacting matches this persona. That way, you know everyone you contact has a reason to become a customer.
4 – You can automate much of your pipeline
Technology is there to help you make sense of your pipeline. Automation takes care of many of the manual tasks involved with running a pipeline. Software helps you prioritise which prospects you need to touch to achieve a smooth-running pipeline. Use them.
Whether it’s a CRM, automated email software or specialist pipeline systems, let tech take care of as much as possible. You need to do the job you are trained to do, that humans still do best, selling.
An example would be automated email software that sends targeted emails to leads at defined stages of your pipeline. The software tracks all the prospect’s interactions with the emails, helping you know which prospects are ready to buy.
5 – ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.’
That’s a quote attributed to the pioneering American management consultant, Peter Drucker. He may have said it more than 40 years ago, but it’s still true today and applies perfectly to B2B sales pipeline. The better your tracking and analysis, the more you can find ways to improve.
Use your internal business data to stay on top of your metrics and make adjustments when necessary. For example, if your average deal size decreases, you will need to bring more prospects into your pipeline to make quota.
Use your software to track all your prospects’ interactions with your brand, whether they’re phone conversations, email clicks, product demos or anything else. These interactions help you judge how close a prospect is to moving on to the next pipeline stage.
Finally, look for ways to track activity that is more subjective. For example, record your cold calls. Listen back to them with your sales leader and look for phrases that work well, as well as ones that don’t.
Small improvements can make a big difference in sales, but unless you monitor everything, you will not find them.
If you want to move your sales process into the age of automation, it’s time to talk to Cognism. Click here or call us on +44 203 858 0822.