As your organization continues to grow, it becomes much harder to manage sales pipelines and tends to reflect in the overall sales performance. Stagnated sales, losing deals that you could have won due to lack of visibility into your sales process, and missing your forecasted targets—for instance—are some of the most common issues that most B2B sales teams suffer from.
And if there’s one thing that can help sales teams fix these problems in one fell swoop, it’s managing their pipeline effectively. If you aren’t performing pipeline management optimally, you probably are letting deals slip through the cracks and underachieving your sales goals.
In this post, we will cover the following:
- What is pipeline management?
- Why is pipeline management important?
- What to look for in pipeline management software?
- How better pipeline management gives you clarity during pipeline reviews?
Let’s start by understanding the basics of pipeline management. Most sales managers are already familiar with the concept, but it’s still worth revisiting the fundamentals once in a while because everything in sales goes back to mastering the basics.
What is pipeline management and why is it important?
B2B sales is a complex web of identifying your ideal buyers, understanding their psychology, managing leads, multi-threading sales relationships, and creating scalable systems to build a predictable revenue engine. It’s a chaotic mix of managing people, processes, and technologies.
Pipeline management helps you find a method in such madness—a process that lets you make sense of the chaos. It provides insights you can apply to your sales processes and visibility to track, analyze, and organize the opportunities in your pipeline.
As an operational process for the sales team, pipeline management lets you manage deals from their genesis through the entire sales cycle. It can give you a retrospective view of your entire pipeline while also allowing you to commit to deals based on specific parameters.
If you have—let’s say—$100K collectively in your pipeline, you can look at the deal health of certain accounts and deduce your ‘best case’ deals to $80K. Or you can go deeper and commit to $50K based on your confidence about the deals in the pipe.
Retrospective visibility helps sales leaders estimate new sales, set new revenue targets, allocate the right budget, and assign resources for the sales team to achieve the forecasted numbers. All this to say, running pipeline management essentially impacts your marketing, budgeting, staffing, and pricing decisions.
If your CRM lets you capture lead data and manage customer interactions, pipeline management enables you to turn the data into actionable insights. When you establish a scientific way to manage your pipeline, you will be able to:
- Get an overview of customer interactions across phone, meetings, and email
- Understand the health status of specific deals
- Identify deals to include in your forecast
- Identify at-risk deals
Pipeline management is micro in its approach and macro in the benefits it offers. For instance, effective pipeline management requires you to run regular pipeline reviews across all stages of the sales cycle and every sales rep. This helps the sales leaders and managers get a granular view of all the deals in the pipeline, analyze the weak spots, and offer coaching insights to improve sales performance.
Pipeline management also ties into the big picture of RevOps. It helps sales managers establish a single source of truth, forecast accurate goals, and keep a close tab on all processes that impact the company’s revenue.
The problem when sales teams do a poor job of managing their pipeline—or not doing pipeline management at all—is that they usually work with half-baked, incomplete data sets. Most B2B sales reps still rely on the primitive style of updating their CRM through manual data entry. Unfortunately, this often leads to inaccurate, contextless, and unintelligible data that does more harm than good—and prevents you from closing deals that you could have easily won.
Pipeline management capabilities to look for
When you don’t have a software for pipeline management, you often rely on outdated spreadsheets, which might have several versions, and sometimes on your reps’ verbal reports during pipeline reviews to make key decisions.
Using an all-in-one conversation and revenue intelligence platform like Avoma helps because it automates your end-to-end conversation workflows. It records, transcribes, and takes notes for all your calls and meetings. In addition, it also updates your CRM with all the conversation notes, thus eliminating the time-intensive manual data entry and giving you conversation and revenue insights.
4 core pipeline management capabilities
There are four core areas where the pipeline management capabilities of a revenue intelligence software might help you manage your pipeline better.
Without timely and accurate data, there’s no sales pipeline visibility. You need all your pipeline questions answered in one place with a real-time view of deals across the pipeline stages. You can run better pipeline reviews and forecasting meetings with clarity on where each deal stands.
Once you have the overview of your pipeline, you need to be able to deep dive into each account for deeper revenue insights. For example, let’s say you have an ongoing deal. You need intelligence on your deals, such as—when was the latest engagement on a deal, was it via email or call or a meeting, who are the decision-makers involved from the prospect’s side as well as from your organization, and so on and so forth.
Understand deal risks for timely action
The core point of pipeline management is to ensure that you don’t let deals slip through the cracks. And that means you need to be able to instantly zoom in on the deals that need attention. Your pipeline management software must grade all your deals based on various parameters ranging from buyer engagement to seller inactivity and give you deal health alerts.
Workflows for execution
Execution sets the pulse for your entire organization. You can get any number of insights and intelligence but what matters is—how you put the intelligence to use. Therefore, you need to choose a platform that not only offers intelligence but also enables end-to-end execution workflows.
For instance, knowing the deals across the stages of the pipeline and understanding the risks alone isn’t enough. You need a workflow for constant coaching and feedback loops so that you can help your reps close these gaps.
You need to check if the pipeline management software you choose allows for setting detailed and objective parameters to evaluate the meetings of your reps so that they can improve on future meetings.
That said, you need to enable workflows across the conversation lifecycle to create an environment of high-quality execution where no one drops the ball.
Here is how Avoma empowers you across the stages of the conversation lifecycle, from scheduling meetings/calls to giving you conversation and revenue insights and then closing the loop with collaborative and feedback workflows.
Once you have the pipeline management model set in motion, you must regularly run pipeline reviews to flag and de-risk endangered deals, get close-to-accurate forecasting numbers, and build up your sales team’s confidence to meet their pipeline goals.
Running pipeline reviews and leveraging data from your pipeline
At Avoma, when a rep commits a deal, we ask:
- Why are we committing this deal?
- What day are you committing it on?
- Why that day? What’s gonna be the price of that deal? Why is that the price?
- Who are the people involved in the deal from the prospect’s side as well as our side?
- What are the indicators that your customer has given?
It’s important because as a sales leader, you don’t want to just grab those metrics because they’re part of the reporting process on a weekly or monthly basis.
A sales pipeline review's actual value is in understanding the story behind every deal in the pipeline and what is needed to advance those deals to closure. In fact, it is particularly beneficial for the reps in the early days of their career to get a holistic perspective.
Nathan Hymas, our VP of Sales, shares a detailed perspective on effectively running pipeline reviews.
Key pointers to remember while doing pipeline reviews
1. Be agenda-driven
Ensure that everyone comes prepared in the meeting and not just with the mindset to update the deal status. Regularly occurring, long-drawn meetings can become an abomination for top-performing sales teams if they lack a clear agenda. This is true even for weekly pipeline reviews if you don’t keep it under check.
As a sales leader, it’s your job to make sure that everyone in your sales team comes prepared to pipeline review meetings. They shouldn’t join a meeting with the mindset to update the deal status, but with the intention to exchange context-rich information, offer practical value to the team, and take tactical action items to apply to the current deals in their pipeline.
Having a clearly-defined meeting agenda, and following it to the T, can help you avoid this problem to a great extent. At Avoma—for example—we religiously create and use pre-define agenda templates for each purpose-driven meeting such as demo and discovery calls, 1:1s, pipeline reviews, and so on.
Here’s a look at the actual agenda template that the sales team at Avoma uses to run their weekly pipeline reviews:
This can be a standard set of agendas that everyone in the team can take turns going around and sharing updates. It enables your rep to prepare themselves well for the next review meeting and ask for concrete feedback from the manager. From the leader’s POV, it’s much easier to get a holistic view of all deals in the pipeline, analyze the collective outcome, and create a good sales forecast.
2. Focus on high-signal conversations
Like we alluded to earlier, sales meetings can be a huge time-suck if you aren’t making the most out of them. Every minute that you waste on pointless non-sales activities is actually a quantifiable, monetizable time that you could have spent on improving the likelihood of closing more deals.
As a side note—of course, there are important non-sales activities like planning, researching, networking, training, or coaching. But if your review meetings keep running into the pattern of engaging in sales conversations that don’t yield positive, tangible outcomes—you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
Instead, focus on having high-quality sales conversations that help you surface real issues that need everyone’s attention and build your team’s confidence in the pipeline that they are working on closing.
Here are a few tips on how to carry out high-signal, high-quality conversations during your review meetings:
- Listen intently: Listen with a genuine sense of curiosity and not with the urgency to pontificate your thoughts in the conversation.
- Get to the point: Be brief—don’t over-explain yourself. Don’t bury the lead behind too much information that others don’t need to know.
- Spare the technicalities: Stay out of the weeds and avoid the temptation to specify people’s names, dates, and other petty details that don't add value to the conversation.
- Don’t repeat yourself: Most people have the habit of filling their screen time by stating and rephrasing the same thing over and again. Avoid.
- Discourage multi-tasking: Your pipeline review might run for just 15 minutes each week. Make it count. Don’t get bogged down with checking emails or responding to Slack notifications.
Frankly speaking, these are small details that most sales managers gloss over because they aren’t specifically trained on how to run pipeline reviews. The majority of sales managers are former AEs who were promoted to manage a sales team based on their good performance. But with a little bit of practice, all sales teams can have focused, high signal:noise review meeting sessions.
3. Suggest ideas based on the deal type
Pipeline reviews are not limited to sharing deal updates or discussing bottlenecks. Like we discussed earlier, talking about deal statuses and challenges is a waste of everyone’s time if there aren’t actionable insights coming out of these meetings. At heart, the goal of pipeline review meetings is to unblock the sales team’s potential to achieve the target in front of them.
Structure the meeting so that you can help the reps identify the gaps in their processes, interpret various data points, and deduce the right insights. In short, assist the reps in making progress in their sales process.
But there’s one danger you should avoid when suggesting ideas: don’t prescribe standard boilerplate feedback to every rep. It’s a mistake we see far too often among many sales teams who we regularly interact with when they are evaluating Avoma for improving their sales operations. A lot of sales managers apply the same coaching standards to all reps.
Offering the same coaching advice to all reps is like watering all your house plants the same way and expecting all of them to grow roses.
- Nate Hymas, VP of Sales, Avoma
Instead, you should take time to understand the type of deal that a rep is handling and the nuances of the account before offering a solution. Don’t hesitate to push back the rep to dig for more information about the prospects and ask pointed questions if you can’t offer a suggestion right away. Outline actionable steps to approach the deal only when you have better context about the type of deal that they are managing and the gap that’s stalling the deal.
Finally, reduce the number of tools you use and improve efficiency
Pipeline reviews are valuable and help you identify areas of improvement where your reps need to be coached. But the whole process becomes inefficient if you are using multiple tools across the lifecycle for scheduling meetings, note-taking, conversation intelligence, pipeline management, revenue intelligence, and more.
And that is why we at Avoma have taken an all-in-one approach to offer capabilities and workflows across the conversation lifecycle.
We hope you found this blog post useful!