Effective Pipeline Management

Today we feature a post from a guest blogger, David Nicholson of Nicholson Consulting in the UK.  David is an accomplished sales director who delivers strategies for sales and sales leadership.

What is effective pipeline management?

We all know what a sales pipeline is and how to interrogate the data, but how many of us actively manage the sales pipeline to extract meaningful and insightful data from which to understand and influence business performance?

Effective pipeline management is essential to achieving outstanding sales performance

Business applications such as CRM help capture, structure and align your pipeline with your sales process and enable content push to assist your sales teams in the field – BUT a CRM tool will not govern the quality and integrity of the pipeline data input – this demands a behavioural shift within your sales and marketing organisation which, like all change initiatives relies upon effective coaching and reinforcement

The illustration below shows the relationship between sales pipeline Inputs and Outputs – the critical element to effective output management is the pipeline Insights, how they reflect leading performance indicators and the action taken to influence performance output.

Lets first consider the outputs and what they mean to your business.

Outputs

Performance & Predictability – you should be able to predict your sales performance with reasonable accuracy from your pipeline, both short and medium term – enabling you to proactively influence the projected output.

Resource & Workflow – accurately predicting which orders will convert is paramount to sizing your business appropriately to successfully fulfil and satisfy customer demand while managing cost and precious resources.

Coaching – an essential ingredient of outstanding sales performance is the effective and consistent coaching of your sales teams. The leading performance indicators accessible from your pipeline enable continual performance development of individual and team.

Trending – mapping your sales pipeline over time to your strategy and segmentation will unearth invaluable insight supporting future execution – product, market and regional adoption and performance, commercial and life-cycle values influence your competitive strategies.

Performance impacting outputs can only be mined from accurate and meaningful pipeline Input – the integrity of the pipeline data is vital to the analysis and credibility of your data insights.

Inputs

Pipeline input sources vary greatly from sales to customer enquiry to marketing generated lead with each presenting many permutations – not least the individual responsible for gathering, understanding and content recording.

Data integrity – to generate credible pipeline insights you must ensure the integrity of the input is appropriate to the output demand. For reasons outlined above, it is not practical to simply rely upon data entry without process and reinforcement – the content will be incomplete and inaccurate and not therefore credible.

Alignment – your pipeline must be aligned with your sales process and CRM tool to reflect the status and maturity of each individual recorded opportunity – from suspect to qualification to understanding, monetising and validation through to negotiation and close.

Reinforcement – as mentioned at the beginning of this post, change is a behavioural shift requiring consistent positive reinforcement to encourage adoption. Your sales managers should be coaching performance improvement ~70% of their time including the importance and use of CRM/pipeline to accurately record and share content. Sales enablement should embed and push relevant content through CRM to reflect and assist each opportunity relevant to its pipeline stage and progression through the sales process encouraging reciprocal quality content population. Regular pipeline reviews should be conducted to validate and develop prospects through the sales process aligned funnel.

Control – plan your content appetite carefully as often less is more and demanding too much content from field based sales teams will impact sales performance and data integrity – control the information needed and content input with verifiable outcomes for each stage of your pipeline/sales process, removing subjectivity and reinforcing sales methodology adoption.

Insights

When your pipeline content is accurate, consistent and mapped to a sales process you can extract credible insightful data from which to analyse and make decisions.

Volume/Value – retrospectively calculate the ‘pipeline conversion to win’ ratio per individual/team to understand the theoretical pipeline value needed to convert a required value (accuracy is increased by (a) data integrity) and (b) time measured). Look for volume exceptions adversely challenging conversion ratios ie) single large or high volume of low-value opportunities attracting risk or resourcing demands respectively.

Additions – visualise your sales pipeline as a funnel – whilst converting opportunities to real won business is ultimately the sales objective, you must ensure closure focus does not result in a lack of new opportunities being added into the top of the funnel. The impact of pipeline deficiency can be devastating to your business in many ways.

Maturity – understanding the relative maturity of your pipeline through sales process alignment offers pipeline health insight but also greater performance predictability, lead generation demand and sales funnel trending.

Distribution – track the distribution of your pipeline content across the funnel stages to better manage precious resources involved in the sales process.

Velocity – often overlooked, but is an essential metric to track pipeline performance – benchmark your pipeline velocity with best practice to expose exceptions and development areas.

Conversion – this essential leading performance indicator predicts the theoretical pipeline value needed to meet the sales targets. It also exposes sales efficiency and effectiveness metrics uncovering individual development and training needs.

There are many more pipeline insight metrics including product mix, activity and engagement levels which should be tailored to your business and sales strategy.

 

This post was first published on www.nicholsonconsulting.uk and LinkedIn and is republished here with permission from the author.

Managing Change = Empowering Users

Change is good.  We all know that, but whether we actually do anything about it is, of course, a different matter entirely.

When I first became a CRM consultant, back in the heady days of the Millenium, everyone was too concerned about the end of civilisation as we knew it – caused simply by pre-millenial developers not using four digits to signify what year it was.  My fellow consultants and I could talk until we were blue in the face about sales opportunity automation, and how much more efficient it would make an organization, but it frequently didn’t register against the perceived larger problem.

That millenium bug problem, by and large, failed to materialize.  Planes did not fall from the sky.  Systems did not stop (well, not all of them).  But the challenge of getting John, frequent sales over-achiever, to stop writing in his notebook and start updating CRM, remained.

This is all change management.  In the end, John started using CRM to update his opportunities, not because it benefitted his manager, but because he could see the personal benefits it would bring him and how it would make him a more successful salesperson.

In my view, this is how change management can be effective.  We all know which problems we have in our working lives, and we’d love to these to be solved.  Anyone responsible for managing a change in process needs to include users/staff.  Benefits to the business can be enhanced if the user community is on board.  Solving individuals’ problems can be rewarding to the business, as the efficiencies of those individuals scale up to benefit the business as a whole.

In John’s case, using CRM, he could start to see which type of deals he won more of and why.  He started to repeat the techniques used in the winning deals on those where he’d been less successful, and in turn, increase the win rate of his pipeline.  By using CRM for himself, his managers received the benefit of being able to look at the overall state of the pipeline and make decisions based on accurate projections.  Which is what they were hoping to be able to do in the first place.

Wind forward fifteen years.  CRM is mainstream.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM is one of the market leaders (it wasn’t even around when I started working with CRM) with an eco-system of partners and solution providers that spans the globe, providing every type of accelerator possible.  Sales force automation is a given, but there are still challenges to overcome.

We’re in an ‘always on’ society and the sales person of today is required to provide the latest information on their deals live, as it happens.  There is more data to manage, and our insatiable appetite for it means businesses ask their sales teams to provide more and more.  How does a salesperson cope with these extra demands?

Well, one of the many benefits of CRM SalesFlow is the use of a single screen, a board, to display all deals within each sales stage lane that is defined in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  The user can choose how the board is displayed, whether each lead or opportunity should be colored depending on its age, value and so on.  They can choose how much or how little information is displayed, how totals should appear or even, (let’s assume that John is still over-achieving and simply has too many to view,) use a filter to only show certain types of deal.

The user is in control.  He or she gets to manage their workload in a way that suits them, highlight areas they wish to concern themselves with, identifiy issues before they become problems.  In short, CRM SalesFlow allows the salesperson to work smarter and help them achieve more.  Which organization doesn’t want that?

In my experience, the best way to start managing change, particularly for the sales team, is to show them how a change can be beneficial to them.  That’s why there’s a whole section on this website on the benefits of CRM SalesFlow to the sales user.  If you’re trialling CRM SalesFlow, get your team to review the solution – give us feedback if there are further benefits we could include.

We’ve created a SlideShare as a summary of CRM SalesFlow – so feel free to share with your team!