6 Minutes

Sales Pipeline Management: 9 Best Practices to Boost Revenue

October 21, 2021

B2B Sales are the beating heart of your company, and sales pipeline management is how you determine and maintain the health of that heart. The sales pipeline controls the tempo of the sales team, detailed information about each of your prospects, and the conversion rate. An optimized sales pipeline is achieved by understanding the components of the sales pipeline, how to create one, and finally, expertly managing the pipeline. 

We will cover all of these topics as well as give you some best practices for managing your sales pipeline so that you can boost revenue― in fact, a Harvard Business Review study quotes that companies with optimized sales pipelines increase their growth by 15%. 

What is a Sales Pipeline?

The sales pipeline reveals where the prospect is within the sales funnel. This information provides salespeople with the action items to help the prospect move from a lead to a customer. The pipeline consists of seven stages:

  • Lead Generation: using targeted ads and marketing campaigns, salespeople capture names, email addresses, and other relevant information.
  • Lead Nurturing: engage prospects by offering relevant content via email.
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): successfully nurtured leads are identified as an MQL, this is a list of prospects who are likely to become customers.
  • Ecosystem Qualified Lead (EQL): leads that are sourced from the partner ecosystem are identified as an EQL, similarly to MQL this is a list of prospects who have the greatest likelihood of becoming a customer. 
  • Sales Accepted Lead: An MQL is determined to have met set criteria and is classified as a sales accepted lead to be inspected by the sales team.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): The sales team reviews the prospect’s information and classifies them as a likely customer.
  • Closed Deal: The lead becomes a customer through a successful purchase.
  • Post-Sale: This describes all interactions after the initial sale― including billing, returns or exchanges, and customer support.

Sales Pipeline vs. Sales Funnel: What is the difference?

The sales pipeline is often used as a synonym for sales funnel― the terms are related but refer to different things. Let’s clarify these terms before we get more specific about managing the B2B sales pipeline.

A sales funnel is a visualization of the open sales opportunities and helps the company hone in on those opportunities.

The sales pipeline targets the specific sales actions at each stage of the sales funnel. Unlike the sales funnel, the pipeline is action-oriented with pre-identified processes for the sales team.

A successful business aligns to specific goals with clear metrics and a system for achieving those goals. By intentionally creating and managing your sales pipeline, your company will experience improved morale, shortened B2B sales cycles, and increased percentages of closed deals.

Sales Funnel vs Sale Pipeline infographic by Reveal

How to Build a Sales Pipeline

The goal of a sales pipeline is a smooth flow of steps to the point where salespeople confidently know what to do at each stage without concentrated thought.

Building a successful pipeline consists of six steps, with most of the steps focusing on crafting a quality lead pool. The remaining steps determine how to systemize prospect progression.

Steps to Build a Sales Pipeline by Reveal

Create an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Successful marketing and sales require an understanding of the target demographic. By creating an ICP, your team has the opportunity to step into the client’s shoes, understand their needs, and what will allow them to recognize you as the solution.

Identify Target Companies

In B2B sales, your ICP will allow you to focus on specific businesses rather than individual consumers. Create a list of the companies that fall into your ICP and prepare to make contact.

Conduct Thorough Research

The required research here is to gather the relevant contact names and information of your targeted companies. There are typically two options to generate this information-- purchasing the information or producing it yourself. 

Purchasing the information saves time, but it is not always accurate information. Producing a list has the opposite trade-off― it’s much more time-consuming but has much higher quality information. 

Once you have access to the data, you can also use a Contact Data Enrichment tool to fill in the gaps.

Make Contact with Targets

Plan on emailing or meeting in person with these contacts about three times a month. This part can be made more effective by using cold email tools, rather than spending too much time on manual work.

Create a Routine

Ensure that your sales staff focuses on relationship building by providing value and moving the prospect to the next phase of the sale pipeline. Again, the more you define what this looks like, the more successfully the sales staff will replicate your vision.

Optimize as You Build Momentum

Every company matures with age. You will undoubtedly have several iterations of your sales pipeline, and that’s a great sign. When sales hit a snag, you’ll be able to identify the problem and adapt to the market, allowing momentum to carry you forward smoothly.

What is Sales Pipeline Management?

You can measure the success of your B2B sales pipeline by the data it provides― do you know what stage each of your prospective clients is in? What action will move the prospect to the next step? Do you have enough work in the pipeline to meet goals? Does your sales team know these answers?

If you are not getting the answers to the questions above, your pipeline is not working for you. However, you will get your pipeline back on track with a few of our best practices.

Best practice to manage your sales pipeline

Once you have constructed your sales pipeline, the next step is to ensure that it flows as intended. An optimized pipeline requires regular review of metrics and processes, as well as conferences with the marketing and sales team. 

Sales Pipeline Best Practice:

  1. Focus on High-Quality Leads

If your sales all follow a similar time frame, you probably aren’t taking advantage of the lowest hanging fruit. Having a variety of time in closing scales indicates that some sales are closing faster than others. While this may seem obvious, it’s worth talking about the implications of the sale.

Sales fall along a spectrum― some can be hard-won while others seem effortless. If everything takes the same amount of time, you aren’t benefitting from short turn-around sales. Recalibrating your pipeline will help you identify the low-hanging fruit, allowing you to focus time and energy on the right people.

  1. Don’t Waste Time on Dead Leads

The corollary to focusing on the highest-probability leads is to let go of the dead leads. While it can be hard to let go of a client relationship, the time you’ve spent nurturing an uninterested prospect is a sunk cost. The best way to minimize lost time and money is to identify these leads early and move on. In fact, according to Ruler Analytics, unqualified leads were the number one contributor to a long sale cycle.

  1. Remember to Monitor Pipeline Metrics

Reviewing your pipeline metrics every week will allow you to adapt in real-time. Important metrics include:

  • Number of orders
  • Average order size
  • Closing ratio, or the percentage of orders you successfully close
  • Sales velocity, or the average amount of time from start to closing the order

These metrics will indicate both the health of the sales pipeline and how well the sales team is implementing the company system.

  1. Continue to Review Your Process

The way we make sales evolves as technology, world events, and social norms change. These changes can happen slowly or overnight, as was the case with COVID19. Set the expectation that the way your company pursues sales is continuously subject to change. 

You can feel confident that you are improving the right areas as you analyze the data. For example, if you see a dip in sales, can you identify any blockages in the pipeline that seem to halt momentum? 

Ask your sales team for their input since they are the ones guiding clients from “lead” to “customer”. They may have great insight into removing obstacles and speeding the process while continuing quality care. Systematic fine-tuning will keep momentum flowing, encourage sales staff, and increase revenue.

  1. Update Your Pipeline Data Regularly

A sales pipeline is anything but idle― data is constantly changing through added leads, prospects moving from one step to the next, deal closing. Therefore, it is vital to keep your pipeline data accurate, avoiding lost sales through mismanaged data. 

Having salespeople keep accurate records can be like pulling teeth. However, finding ways to incentivize client communication notes and move them to the correct pipeline phase will pay off.

  1. Keep the Sales Cycle Short

B2B sales cycles are classically long and grinding. Such a long process lowers the morale of the sales team and wears on prospective clients as well.

The problem of a long sales cycle is apparent― the more time that passes between contact and closed deal, the higher the probability that the client gets cold feet or gives their business to someone else.

There are many tactics to shortening the sales cycle. One is to prepare thoroughly before the first contact. Spending more time on the front end of the deal demonstrates to the client that you understand their need and have a concrete plan to fill it. You can also touch base more frequently and provide special offers like webinars, ebooks, or other helpful content.

  1. Create a Standardized Sales Process

While every client will be unique, they all fall under the umbrella of your ICP. Companies with a standardized sales process report 18% growth over companies without a defined sales process. So, instead of allowing the sales team to customize their contact with each prospect, research your client base, then work with the sales team to create a standardized sales process.

Make sure that part of the sales process is a healthy follow-up regime. Simply requiring a minimum of five follow-ups will give your company a tremendous competitive edge since 44% of salespeople only follow up once!

  1. Use a CRM to Manage Your Sales

Many startups begin with a simple excel spreadsheet to track clients and sales. However, as your business grows, a more comprehensive and dynamic solution will help you eliminate waste and prevent losing business under a pile of data. 

There are many options of CRM software available today. Examples include SalesForce, Monday, and HubSpot.

  1. Deliver Value Throughout the Sales Cycle

Every industry can benefit from thought leadership. This content marketing strategy promotes a two-way relationship between the client and the business providing the product or service. Clients tend to trust companies that freely offer data-driven information. 

Provide extra value through digital content― seminars, ebooks, case studies, blog posts, articles, demos, kill sheets, and more! Making this content available not only encourages leads to buy but can generate new leads who come across your website or platform.

Not sure what content to offer? If you listen closely to what your prospects say in sales meetings, they will identify topics and content forms of interest.

Managing your sales pipeline is critical, and there are so many factors to take into account. While the actual steps are simple, finding the right system for your company at its current stage can take many hours away from other essential responsibilities.

Creating an efficient sales pipeline management system can take a lot of time and focus. If you are in B2B tech and want to connect with another B2B tech professional to learn best practices and exchange thoughts about pipeline, join The Society. Reveal's free community of Partnership, Marketing, and Sales leaders. 

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