In many articles, books, seminars and webcasts over the last few years, the “sales process”—also known as pipeline management—has been repeatedly emphasized. Pipeline management, using flexible pipeline management software, means isolating each of the necessary steps in a sales cycle, and establishing them and making sure they are followed.
What may not be clear until you take a closer look is the fact that accurate and effective pipeline management is essential to the attainment of long-term company goals. For that reason, pipeline management might also be called “opportunity management.”
Pipeline Management Software helps You to Achieve Your Priorities
A recent report, the Growth Team Membership Sales Leadership Priorities Report 2013, listed these as the priorities for companies in 2013:
- Aligning sales process with customers’ decision-making
- Understanding customer needs
- Devising effective customer strategies
- Enhancing sales productivity (focusing on the highest-value activities)
- Defining and implementing metrics (e.g. retention, profitability) to evaluate critical sales activities
- Ensuring accurate reporting of forecasted sales opportunities in the pipeline
It is interesting to note that none of these are possible without flexible, intelligent pipeline management software. The first priority sets the stage; it is making sure a pipeline is wholly accurate. But the remainder of these priorities can only take when that is done.
The next priority on the list, that of understanding customer needs, not only comes from interacting with customers and documenting the results, it comes about through having a pipeline clearly and accurately laid out, and carefully analyzing it. From where do leads come, and why? What are the common customer issues stated in the first interviews? How are customers reacting to your product or service? How often must customer service or support become involved, and what are the results? Answers to these and similar questions will all be available in a properly executed pipeline, and will lead to a full understanding of customer needs.
From this understanding comes the devising of effective strategies—both for existing customers and for prospects. Based on pipeline data, you now have a sharp idea of elements such as what will obtain response, what features should be promoted, which prospects or customers should be approached as priorities, and who in the company you should speak with.
Productivity and Measure
Probably the most obvious of these priorities as they relate to pipeline management software is that of enhancing productivity—focusing on the highest-value activities. With a pipeline realistically reflecting the sales process steps, it will be abundantly clear which activities should be engaged in, and in what order. With a well-done pipeline a salesperson can quickly and easily put together the “to-do-list” for each day, and his or her manager will have confidence that the correct tasks are being accomplished.
Likewise the next priority—defining and implementing metrics to evaluate critical sales activities—is established with relative ease when a standard report can be run based on each of the steps throughout the sales pipeline management stages.
It is only with solid and realistic pipeline management software in place that accurate sales forecasting can occur. With each potential sale properly evaluated and rated at each step, and with closing ratios isolated and understood, analysis can be undertaken to show the potential result of all the leads and sales within a pipeline. Stepping further back, analysis can demonstrate how many leads need to be obtained up the line to accomplish a certain level of sales. An entire enterprise can be shown what needs to occur for the company to meet their goals.
All of this planning and implementation will not be possible without a flexible, intuitive CRM customer relationship management. With such a program sales reps can easily name, accomplish and report on priorities; sales management can readily view and evaluate sales reps’ progress; and management and finance can accurate assess and forecast sales.
You and everyone else in the company are working hard to ensure your company goals are met. Take the one step that will provide the rocket fuel for attainment of those goals: effective pipeline management.
Stay tuned for more articles in this series on effective pipeline management.