Sales pipelines are a crucial element of any business that sells products or services — which is most businesses. Some use simple spreadsheets, while others use sales enablement apps to help them gain leads and manage the process. However, far too many businesses find the sales process to be too long. Here’s why.
What Is a Sales Pipeline?
The sales pipeline is simply a visual way to track the sales process from lead to customer. It can be organised in multiple ways, and leads are moved through the pipeline depending on how they move through the sales process.
A sales pipeline is thus a simplified way to track the steps your leads take, ensuring accountability and breaking down each level of the sales process. This is particularly important for sales teams that have multiple people accountable for different stages of the process.
The Importance of a Sales Pipeline
A sales pipeline delivers accountability. It helps your team to understand exactly what they need to do to close a deal and deliberate at each stage. Your sales process must be built around a sales pipeline, otherwise it’s often unclear who needs to do what next.
The less time your prospects spend in the sales pipeline, the better, in most cases. After all, the old cliche is true: time is money. You want to move your prospects through the sales pipeline as quickly as you can so that then you can move on to new prospects and ensure a steady flow of business.
Traditional Sales Pipeline
Typically, the traditional sales pipeline involves some sort of prospecting, lead generation, qualification, contact, nurturing, conversion and onboarding. There are numerous different ways of doing it and of visualising it, of course.
At Wildix, we usually divide the roles in a traditional fashion. Marketing, in conjunction with sales, provides leads and focuses on lead generation. Our business development representatives qualify those leads and ensure they are suitable for moving to the next stage. Then our partner sales team nurture and grow those leads to hopefully become the next generation of partner. Finally, our partner development representatives take on-boarded partners and help them grow their businesses and answer any queries they might have.
The Need for Efficiency For Sales Enablement
Efficiency is essential — after all, if you can solve a customer’s issues faster than the competition, you are much more likely to close the deal. Especially if it’s a critical pain point that the customer is experiencing. Some people use powerful software such as a sales enablement app to help them close deals faster. But in most cases, these systems don’t actually solve the key issue that businesses face: The inability to get hold of key decision-makers.
This is down to communication.
And when you can demonstrate that your communication system is efficient enough that you use it to gain powerful results, you meet your customers’ expectations to improve their own sales processes.
Why Invest in Shortening the Sales Pipeline?
As we said earlier, efficiency when it comes to sales enablement is critical to solving your customers’ problems fast.
There are some instances where speed is essential, but in most cases, the customer will be aware of this and therefore be highly amenable to getting everyone in the right place fast.
One of our partners had a customer who had been abandoned by their supplier — everything just stopped working instantly. The customer called on a Friday, and the partner had a Wildix solution up and running by the following Tuesday. In this case, need drove the sales cycle, rendering it incredibly short.
But for prospects where the need isn’t so critical, there is often a lack of urgency. Shortening your sales cycle can result in the following:
Faster Revenue Recognition
Revenue is everything to a business, and a lack of revenue affects how much profit you can make — after all many costs are fixed. Using the appropriate sales enablement solutions and shortening your sales pipeline can help you turn over more money more quickly.
Similarly, that faster turnover often means fewer meetings, making your sales staff more efficient. Losing two or three meetings because your staff is getting everyone in the same place and has all the information in front of them means they don’t have to prepare for or attend those extra meetings.
More revenue equals better profits, in most cases.
Improved Customer Experience
As a communications vendor, we rely on showing how efficient our sales cycle can be to demonstrate the effectiveness of our key solutions, notably x-bees, our sales communication channel. For those who have yet to experience it, it improves the customer experience by helping us get all the decision-makers together and helping us get stickier customer communications that prospects can’t ignore. This form of digital sales enablement lets us:
- Keep track of all outreach, from visitor to customer, through SSO
- Automatically log all info in CRM
- Keep a full history of previous interactions
Overall, this results in a much faster sales pipeline and it shows how efficient we can be compared to other vendors. For our partners, x-bees provide similar benefits — after all, they are partly sales organisations.
For example, if a customer fills out a chat widget with a query, you can identify what they bought previously from their SSO, whether Google or MS365. From there, you can help them in whatever manner suits them: text, audio or video. Because everything is logged, x-bees enables better responsiveness from customer services and from sales reps.
This means a good communications system helps build loyalty and opportunities through responsiveness. Sales enablement software and good sales processes ensure that any issues that arise can quickly be solved. Again, if you can do this faster than your rivals, primarily by building good sales pipelines and involving all relevant teams, you can bring your customers to the conversion point much sooner. This will be a major plus point for many prospects.
Enhanced Sales Productivity
A good sales pipeline also helps you focus on qualified leads. Most sales organisations don’t always get suitable leads from their activities and need to qualify them. This takes time and effort. A good sales pipeline eliminates unqualified leads quickly and also helps identify the difference between unqualified and disinterested. This step is crucial because a disinterested lead may become a converted lead later. An unqualified lead likely won’t — although there are exceptions.
Your sales process and your sales enablement systems need to identify the difference between the two and quickly.
Methods of doing that include qualification calls (sometimes called discovery calls), forms and clear positioning from marketing. Positioning is often overlooked in the rush to get qualified leads, but it’s critical, primarily because it helps unqualified prospects self-select out of the process earlier.
Equally important is CRM software such as Salesforce, a sales enablement app that lets you track each lead from the moment they enter the pipeline until they’re closed: closed-lost or closed-won.
In conjunction with a communications system such as x-bees, each time they interact with you is logged automatically with your CRM, whether it’s contacting you via a widget or directly through the app. This allows you to better build scores on prospects, identifying whether prospects are close to the point of conversion.
All of this frees up resources and ensures your sales teams can focus on the leads that are most profitable.
With great efficiency comes a competitive advantage. Those who manage to close deals faster (while maintaining accuracy and not sacrificing the after-sales process!) will gradually outmaneuver their competition.
How to Shorten the Sales Pipeline
Shortening the sales pipeline can simply involve getting the right tools in the right places. However, sometimes it needs overarching changes that require a complete mindset adjustment.
Bottlenecks can be caused by many reasons. It can sometimes simply be to the wrong staff in the wrong place — if you have a shortage of sales staff to progress the lead, it can be hard to alter that without hiring new staff. However, sometimes it can be a problem with process. If, for example, you find low-quality leads making it to your main hunters, you have an issue with the qualification process.
However, you might find that there are deviations from your established pipeline, and that causes the deal to stall — as those taking over the deal have to work out what has happened so far. Typically, this is caused by poor communication, whether from management or from sales staff.
Overall, careful analysis of your sales pipeline and what actually happens — not just what is supposed to happen — can help drive efficiencies. It can also help to define what sales enablement solutions you might need.
Leveraging a Sales Enablement App
Naturally, sales enablement software usually comes at a cost, but CRM systems can be easy to set up and return your investment very quickly. Examples include Salesforce, Zoho, HubSpot and Monday.com.
Leveraging technology may also include improving your overall communication system. We mentioned x-bees earlier, but there’s a reason why we push it as a sales enablement communications tool. It helps makes your leads sticky, whether they come through your website or through another channel. This technology can be extremely useful, and it provides automatic logging to your CRM. As a result, there’s less data entry and a better focus on achieving results.
Choosing what sales enablement technology you use, however, is a major choice, and your sales teams have to be trained on the software and are committed to using it properly. Digital sales enablement can vastly improve efficiency.
Part of your sales enablement solution must involve enhanced communication. It doesn’t matter how streamlined your sales pipeline is if it’s not accompanied by good internal and external communication. This involves customer engagement, especially with existing customers.
That’s because existing customers can be a key part of your sales pipeline as they require different technologies or simply need to expand. This is especially the case for B2B sales — these relationships are often built up over years, and an expanding company will need plenty of support from technological partners.
So improving your overall communication and streamlining it not only helps with new sales from your sales pipeline but also leverages existing customers.
Continuous Improvement and Monitoring
Ultimately, this results in continuous improvement and monitoring. As you build your sales pipeline and modify it, you’ll discover techniques that work and those that don’t. For example, over the past 20 years, there’s been huge resistance to cold calling — now, if your leads aren’t at least a little bit warm, it’s unlikely that they will be receptive to buying from you.
Tracking your KPIs in particular will help you decide whether you are using your sales enablement apps to their fullest and also identify weak points in your current sales cycle as they occur. This is especially important with deciding where to focus your marketing efforts to bring leads into the pipeline.
Potential Challenges and How to Overcome Them
There are always challenges to establishing a new sales pipeline process. It doesn’t matter the quality of your sales enablement software, the eagerness of your head of sales or the passion that the people have within the company unless these challenges are resolved.
Resistance to Change
Resistance to change is perhaps the most difficult of issues to face. In general, there will be a portion of sales staff who fear struggling with the new systems — especially if it involves a completely different focus as to how to sell.
For example, a lot of companies start off by focusing on the features of their software — primarily because they’re easy to define. However, you might decide to move to a more value-focused proposition that looks at what the key problem is you need to solve and how you can solve it (while ensuring that the decision-makers within your prospect get credit!). Making this change can be extremely difficult, and it requires a complete mindset adjustment from the sales teams.
Providing plenty of training and support can help dramatically decrease objections, as can providing a solid rationale for the change. This can include showing how digital sales enablement technology makes the process easier, allowing them to focus less on admin and more on selling and showing how they make more money by doing so.
Ultimately, it’s essential that you get the right people in the right place and ensure that they are actively working towards a shorter sales pipeline.
None of this should come as a hit to overall sales — and ideally, your sales should go up after making these changes. However, there will be a small adjustment process as you introduce various tools and processes to make the sales pipeline shorter. As you go along, you need to make sure this shortening doesn’t lead to oversights and that you balance speed with overall value delivery.
Again, regular reviews of the sales pipeline and how each stage is affected by the alterations can help you maintain quality overall.
Effective Sales Enablement Through Pipelines
Ultimately, your sales enablement solutions must complement your sales pipeline and deliver a return on investment. This can be achieved through:
- Identifying opportunities to shorten the sales pipeline
- Getting the right people in the right place
- Delivering mindset adjustments
- Assisting through appropriate training
- Providing continuous assessment of the pipeline
With careful consideration, substantial process improvements and the right sales enablement app, you can ensure your sales pipeline continues to flow, keeping you competitive and revenue coming in.
For more insight on the value of partnerships, subscribe to receive our magazine for free!