How to Improve Sales Pipeline: 5 Best Practices for Sales Pipeline Growth

Picture of Dan Bruce
Product Marketing Manager, Lead to Revenue

When you’re looking at your sales, and wondering how to improve sales pipeline growth, there are five best practices we’ve identified that you can start doing today. 

Let’s start out by talking about sales pipeline, and answering a simple question, what is sales pipeline?

Sales pipeline is a snapshot view of where open sales opportunities are in your sales funnel at any given time. Sales pipeline is split into stages that represent how far along a buyer is in your sales process. Sales reps use these sales pipeline stages to manage open sales opportunities through the sales funnel while sales leadership and operations use them to monitor and report on sales pipeline performance.

Having your sales pipeline setup and used consistently helps your business manage sales opportunities through the sales process, sell in a consistent way, and forecast current and future sales in an accurate way.

In this blog post we’re going to walk through five best practices to help you answer:

  1. How to pick sales pipeline stages

  2. How to measure sales pipeline

  3. How to reduce sales pipeline risk

  4. How to improve sales rep efficiency

  5. How to nurture sales leads back into sales pipeline

1. Rethink your CRM sales pipeline stages

To even start thinking about how to improve sales pipeline growth, you need to make sure that your sales pipeline stages are designed for sales reps, sales leadership, and sales operations to use effectively.

When it comes down to it, you need to design your CRM sales pipeline stages with one thing in mind: sales pipeline stages are for sales reps to communicate internally about their sales pipeline in a consistent way. This needs to take priority over everything else because if your sales pipeline stages aren’t being used by sales reps, it doesn’t matter if you have world-class reporting because everything will be wrong anyway.

There is no best set of sales pipeline stages that every company can use. It’s entirely dependent on your business. To figure out what’s right for you, you need to interview your sales reps to understand your sales motion. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do we do when we find a qualified sales lead to start working?
  • What happens next? And after that? After that?
  • What signals do we have to know they’re moving forward in the sales process?

From here, you can create the sales pipeline stages you need and identify clear entrance and exit criteria for each stage.

2. Improve the way you measure sales pipeline

According to research done by Forbes and the Sales Management Association, 63 percent of executives said that their organizations were ineffective at managing their sales pipelines.

We have a quote that we come back to often at Lead to Revenue. It’s by Peter Drucker:
What gets measured gets managed.

By measuring what is happening to sales pipeline each day, week, and month – you’ll improve sales pipeline management. So, the next question: how to measure sales pipeline? 

At the end of the day, you measure sales pipeline by if it’s growing or shrinking. But the more important questions come after. Why is sales pipeline growing? Or why is sales pipeline shrinking? 

Is sales pipeline growing because:

  • Sales opportunities are being pulled into the current month/quarter?
  • Deal sizes of current sales opportunities are increasing?
  • New sales opportunities have been created and are scheduled to close this month/quarter?

Or is sales pipeline shrinking because:

  • Sales opportunities are being pushed out into future months/quarters?
  • Deal sizes of current sales opportunities have decreased?
  • Sales opportunities have been closed won this quarter?
  • Sales opportunities have been closed lost this quarter?

Like we said in the intro to this blog, sales pipeline is a snapshot view at any given time, which means that it changes every day. Having the visibility to see what’s impacting the growth or decline of sales pipeline each day, week, and month – you’ll be able to identify areas of improvement and be able to manage sales reps more effectively to improve sales pipeline.

3. Pressure test your sales pipeline to find and eliminate sales pipeline risk

Pressure testing your sales pipeline is a great exercise for sales managers and sales reps to perform in good times and bad. The idea is to poke every sales opportunity in your sales pipeline and put them into one of these four categories:

  1. What’s dead

  2. What’s at risk

  3. What’s stalled

  4. What’s still moving forward

Once you’ve put each sales opportunity into a bucket, you’ll have a clear idea of where sales pipeline risk exists, and where you need to focus your efforts. 

But facing your sales pipeline head-on is scary. It starts with closing out all the sales opportunities that, in reality, haven’t been alive for weeks or months and should be closed-lost. When you do this, your sales pipeline coverage number will take a hit. But remember, you weren’t going to win those deals anyways – they were just clogging up your pipeline.

Next is identifying the sales opportunities that are at risk or stalled so sales reps can focus on getting them back on track. There are many indicators to tell you if a sales opportunity is at risk, but the biggest indicators we’ve seen are sales activity and the age of the sales opportunity. 

If there hasn’t been any activity on the opportunity recently, say the past 14-days, that is a pretty good indicator that it could be at risk. Similarly, if the age of the opportunity is far beyond your historical average either in its current stage or overall, that is a great indicator of a stalled sales opportunity. 

There are over 30 indicators we’ve got listed out in detail in our free Deal Health System eBook.

4. Track the health of sales opportunities to help sales reps develop better habits

One way to improve sales pipeline growth is to be more efficient with what you have. The best way to do this is to keep your sales reps accountable to their sales opportunities so they can build and maintain a sales pipeline full of healthy deals.  

As a business, there are a number of indicators you can track on each open sales opportunity to tell if it is healthy or not, but here are the top five that every company should be tracking today:

  1. The age of the sales opportunity

  2. The most recent sales activity

  3. If there is a next step on the sales opportunity or not

  4. If there is a close date set on the sales opportunity

  5. How many contacts there are associated with the sales opportunity

Once you’re tracking the health of your sales opportunities, you need to keep sales reps accountable to taking the action necessary to keep deals healthy, and to do that you need to make the indicators above visible and actionable. And to make bigger changes, quicker, we recommend setting up alerts based on your indicators that encourage and remind sales reps to take action before the sales opportunity is lost. 

For a list of 20+ indicators with full definitions, examples, and why you should be using indicator alerts – check out our free Deal Health System eBook. 

5. Rethink how to nurture sales leads

When people think about nurture, they often think about nurturing marketing leads with things like a weekly/monthly newsletter, but there is an entirely different stream of qualified sales leads that can be nurtured so you can have a continuous stream of qualified leads back being fed back into sales pipeline. 

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When thinking about what success looks like for marketing leads, it’s getting them educated about the value of your business and excited enough to show a buying signal. But when you’re thinking about how to nurture sales leads, and moving them back into the sales funnel, it’s about timing and overcoming their objections. 

To get those qualified sales leads recycled and back into the sales funnel, it’s important to nurture sales leads in a 1:1, task-driven way that run off of specific nurture reasons – like when a lead wants to re-engage on a specific time frame or if they have a specific objection they need to overcome.

Having clear, defined sales nurture reasons means you can design sales nurture programs that your sales team can use to remove objections and keep qualified sales lead warm until they are ready to buy. 

How to measure sales nurture programs

Marketing nurture programs are typically measured with tactical metrics like open-rates, click-through rates, and sometimes form fills. When we’re talking about how to nurture sales leads, the goal is to drive leads to a sales-ready state again, and so that’s what you should measure. 

To be more specific, the best way to measure sales nurture programs is to track how many leads went through the program and were re-assigned to a sales rep to be worked. Beyond that, you can measure how long they were in sales nurture before reactivating and how many nurture attempts it took.

Improving sales pipeline growth can be done in a number of different ways – from setting up your systems better to allow sales reps to be more effective, to improving the efficiency of your current sales pipeline, to rethinking how you nurture sales leads so you have more volume in your sales funnel.

Picture of Dan Bruce
Product Marketing Manager, Lead to Revenue

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