Sales Pipeline Management: 11 Ways to Manage Your Pipeline

Read our article to learn a step-by-step approach to sales pipeline management so that it consistently turns valuable leads into customers.

Sales pipeline management is the act of moving leads and prospects through your pipeline effectively and efficiently via dedicated analysis, maintenance, and optimization activities. Amongst its many advantages, consistent pipeline management enables sales teams to spot bottlenecks, find opportunities, predict potential revenue slumps, and strategize accordingly. There are various specific strategies salespeople can employ to manage their pipeline effectively.

Special thanks to Salesforce Essentials for sponsoring this article. Salesforce Essentials is a leading small business CRM that allows you to effectively manage your sales pipeline. We've provided Salesforce examples throughout to help you learn and implement the top pipeline management activities. Visit their website to see how it can help with a 14-day free trial:

How Sales Pipeline Management Works

A salesperson begins the pipeline management process by conducting an initial pipeline evaluation to ensure their current sales pipeline, lead sources, and CRM software are up to date and effective. From there, they can begin enacting a sequence of pipeline management activities like monitoring certain metrics and holding pipeline reviews. This should help increase pipeline health and help you focus on leads and prospects most likely to close.

There are a menu of sales pipeline management activities that you can either choose from or follow in a sequential order to ensure your pipeline is as effective as possible. Below is the full pipeline management process in order:

  1. Set Individual Pipeline Goals: Identify revenue targets and the number of opportunities needed in the pipeline to hit your quota. 
  2. Choose the Right Software: Pick a CRM that supports both general pipeline management as well as any industry- or business-specific needs. 
  3. Check Your Pipeline Stages: Make sure your pipeline’s stages reflect your sales process and that each one is necessary to nurture and close.  
  4. Ensure You Have the Right Lead Sources: Check that leads entering your pipeline are qualified to your desired level. 
  5. Monitor Key Pipeline Metrics: Track metrics like “average deal size” and others that help you measure your pipeline’s effectiveness and set smart sales goals. 
  6. Conduct Consistent Pipeline Reviews: Hold meetings in which managers help reps move tricky deals along and inspect pipelines. 
  7. Mine Your Pipeline for New Opportunities: Run reports to collect late-stage deals and find what they have in common, with an eye for new markets to enter. 
  8. Clean Out Dead Deals: Clean your pipelines of deals that have been stagnant or silent for too long, or ones unlikely to actually close. 
  9. Learn to Use Pipeline Software Effectively: Use best practices for pipeline management and hold yourself accountable for enacting them. 
  10. Leverage Pipeline Automation in Your CRM: Take advantage of the automation features your CRM offers to save time on pipeline management.
  11. Keep Marketing and Sales Aligned: Ensure marketing is made aware of any updates you’ve made to your sales process so they can support you accordingly.

Next, we'll cover each of these pipeline management activities in depth. We recommend following them step by step as we have laid them out because each practice builds upon the one before it or uses information shared in an earlier section. That said, you can also succeed by picking individual practices and employing them at any time.

1. Set Individual Pipeline Goals

After learning your monthly or quarterly revenue quota, it’s important to set pipeline metrics you can use to gauge what you have to do to succeed. You should know how many dollars and opportunities you need in your pipeline over a stated time period to hit your quota — these numbers should be personalized rather than company-wide. 

Here’s are how to calculate individualized pipeline goals:   

  • Potential Revenue = Rep $ goal / rep win rate. So if you need $500,000 in revenue to hit quota, and your win rate is 50%, you need $1,000,000 in pipeline over that period. 
  • Number of Opportunities = The revenue number calculated above / rep average deal size. So if you need $1,000,000 in pipeline and you have an average deal size of $50,000, you need 20 opportunities in the pipeline. 

Armed with these pipeline numbers and goals, you can make informed choices about which activities to prioritize. For instance, if the number of opportunities seems high, you might need to do more prospecting. And, because these pipeline goals are personalized, you'll trust the number’s accuracy, whereas if you were given an average required number of opportunities, you might be skeptical since it was based on the entire sales team’s win rates and deal sizes.

Many CRMs such as Salesforce Essentials let you set revenue, opportunity, or activity goals directly in the software. Then, the CRM can automatically pull the required pipeline data to track your progress against the stated goal. This ensures you're always on top of your numbers in an effort to hit your quota. We discuss CRMs next.

Salesforce Essentials Goal-Setting Example
Salesforce Essentials Goal-Setting Example

2. Choose the Right Software

Sales pipeline software is essential for managing your pipeline effectively and easily. For many, this will be a CRM with deal or opportunity management features. These CRMs enable you to build out your pipeline stages and then track each prospect throughout the sales process. They also help check pipeline metrics, spot stagnant deals, pull reports, and more. However, with many software options available, it's crucial to use one that fits your specific needs.

Here are some of the best CRMs for sales pipeline management: 

Salesforce Essentials

Zoho CRM

Freshsales

Pipedrive

HubSpot CRM

Salesforce Essentials is a leading CRM known for its advanced reporting and sales features. It lets you track early-stage leads and open opportunities in separate pipelines for easy management, and you can customize pipeline reports and dashboards to suit your needs. Pricing is $25 per user, per month, but they have a free 14-day trial.

Opportunity sales pipeline example

Zoho CRM is a top CRM known for both its sales and marketing features. Not only can you manage your pipeline, but you can also manage things like social media lead generation. It offers highly customized pipelines and has a free starting price.

zoho crm pipeline

Freshsales is a robust CRM offering advanced sales pipeline automations and forecasting. It is comparable to Salesforce and best for companies with more complex sales processes, like B2B firms. Starting price is free, but the tier can be limited.

freshsales sales pipeline

Pipedrive is an easy-to-use sales pipeline software that's intuitive and perfect for those needing a simple yet effective management system. It may lack some advanced pipeline features compared to others, but excels in streamlining the pipeline management process. This is best for smaller teams or individuals wanting a highly-visual pipeline tool with a $14.90 starting price and free trial.

pipedrive sales pipeline

HubSpot CRM is one of the best pipeline software offering both sales and marketing features. The software offers a free tier that is one of the most robust options available for the price, and premium tiers with advanced pipeline features. If you need a free solution, this is for you.

HubSpot CRM sales pipeline

It’s important to select a CRM that fits your business's specific needs. Often, the best way to learn more about your current or another CRM and its pipeline functions is by getting on the phone with a customer service rep, explaining your goals, and asking them to show you a live demo. If you want deeper evaluations of the above tools or more CRM recommendations, check out our guide of the best sales pipeline software, where we highlight each CRM’s use case, cost, features, and more.

3. Check Your Pipeline Stages

Before you can start reaping the benefits of pipeline management, ensure that you’ve built the best pipeline possible for your business. Your pipeline should reflect the steps of your sales process, and its sequential stages should represent the most impactful benchmarks and sales activities necessary to move a lead from cold prospect to closed opportunity. 

Below is a sequential process you can follow to verify that the stages you set up are effective: 

  • Evaluate Pipeline Stages: Make sure there aren’t any stages that seem vague and could be split up into 2–3 stages. Check that no two leads in different points of the buyer’s journey occupy the same stage. 
  • Check Stage Transition Benchmarks: Ensure that you've set clear conditions that leads must meet to enter each stage. In other words, do you and your team know exactly when they’re allowed to move a lead from the “demo scheduled” stage to the next one? 
  • Look Over Each Stage’s Sales Activities: Verify that you’ve defined high-value activities in each stage that move deals forward. For instance, follow-ups should be included in almost every stage. 

With a healthy pipeline that includes the stages, activities, and required benchmarks necessary to close deals, you'll be able to effectively track opportunities across your entire sales process. From there, you can track your lead sources and determine which ones move through your pipeline best, which we discuss next.

bookmarks

Additional Reading:

If you need help setting up your sales pipeline stages and then evaluate the activities and benchmarks at each stage, check out our article on the sales pipeline. In the article, we walk you through the steps of creating and analyzing your sales pipeline and its stages.

4. Ensure You Have the Right Lead Sources

Take a good, hard look at the tributaries bringing leads into your pipeline. New leads entering it should be high quality and fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) if you want to see results. Bad leads rarely get out of the first stage and will prevent salespeople from focusing on more profitable ones. That’s also true if the contact data is unreliable. So, evaluate with scrutiny. 

Here are a few things to do when evaluating your lead sources: 

  • Make Sure Leads Match Your ICP: Ensure that inbound lead generation is focused on leads that fit your ICP. If it's attracting leads that are unlikely to close, hold a meeting with marketing to discuss diverting those efforts elsewhere.  
  • Check the Data Accuracy of Purchased Leads: If you’re buying leads, make sure their data integrity is reputable. Perhaps track how many emails bounce when sent to these leads. If it’s often, consider another vendor. 
  • Investigate Your Qualification Rate: Run a CRM pipeline report to see how often a lead in the sales qualification stage makes it to the next. If it’s below 50% of the time, consider raising your standards for entrance into the pipeline. 
  • Tighten Your Lead Qualification Process: Make sure you have a way of qualifying leads before giving them to the sales team. Many companies do this with lead scoring
  • Consider Other Untapped Sources: Explore avenues like social media or referrals that could help keep your pipeline full, especially if it lacks top-of-funnel leads. 

Fine-tuning your lead sources successfully can require regular cooperation with the marketing department, but the payoff is worth it. With a CRM like Salesforce Essentials, you can track leads using a lead source report (below), which will help you assess where the highest quality and total number of leads are coming from.

Salesforce Essentials Lead Source Report Example
Salesforce Essentials Lead Source Report Example

5. Monitor Key Pipeline Metrics

There are some pipeline metrics that all businesses should report on if they want to consistently measure the effectiveness of their sales process, locate its weak points, and find ways to improve it. Most salespeople will run pipeline reports in their CRM and select certain fields that they want calculated in a report, like “win rate” and “average deal size." 

Below are five pipeline metrics to regularly track: 

  • Average Deal Size: You can calculate the average deal size of teams or individuals. The benchmark helps you determine if a deal is larger than normal and requires special tactics, or if it's too small and not worth much of your time. 
  • Win Rate: This calculates the likelihood that you or your sales team will close a deal that enters the pipeline. Comparing its value over time is a way to measure your progress. 
  • Average Sales Cycle Length: This measures the number of days it takes on average for a deal to go from the first stage in your pipeline to a close. Knowing this metric helps you choose a duration that means a deal is dead, which we discuss next later on. 
  • Pipeline Stage Conversion Rate: Each of your pipeline stages has a different likelihood of moving a lead to the next stage. This metric helps you find stages where many leads drop out. You can then focus on fixing that associated part of your sales process.
  • Average Days in Stage: This tells you the duration a lead stays in each stage, and it can clue you into stages that are bottlenecks in your process. 
  • MQL to SQL Conversion Rate: This tracks the rate at which marketing qualified leads (MQLs) become sales qualified leads (SQLs). If it’s below the industry benchmark of 13%, you might want to reevaluate your lead generation process. 

In many CRMs, you can set up recurring reporting that you can review consistently as well as sales dashboards for at-a-glance data in real-time. To do this, first choose your desired CRM metrics, then use a tool like Salesforce Essentials to build recurring CRM reports with those metrics, and then include snapshots of your reports in a CRM dashboard that lets you drill down into each granular report. Below is a dashboard snapshot example of key metrics.

Salesforce Essentials Pipeline Metrics Example
Salesforce Essentials Pipeline Metrics Example

6. Conduct Consistent Pipeline Reviews

Pipeline reviews are weekly or bi-weekly meetings between managers and their sales teams to examine individual and team-wide pipelines. Their main function is to help salespeople strategize about how to move their deals along. The basic format is that salespeople speak about a few deals and list problems they're having with them. The managers and other reps, some of whom are more experienced, then provide ideas for strategies the rep can employ. 

Here are four types of deals to look for during a review, and actions to take when you spot one:

  • Stagnant Deals: Opportunities that have been in a stage for more days than average in that stage. Managers should advise reps on methods and company resources they can use to move the deal forward. 
  • Must-Win Deals: These are deals that will contribute most to the growth and success of a salesperson. Working the deal might teach them a new skill or bring them over quota. Managers should pick one of these for each rep and help the rep along each stage. 
  • Outlier Deals: These are opportunities that are 2–3 times larger than a rep’s average deal size. They might require more activity and different processes than might be listed in your pipeline. So keep an eye on these, and managers should remind reps about extra steps. 
  • Misaligned Deals: These are stalled deals that are in the wrong stage of the pipeline because a rep misjudged the opportunity or missed a step. Check the lead behavior on the account to see which stage they actually belong in and move them. 

There are some other conversations managers might want to initiate during a pipeline review. Is the sales team happy with the leads entering their pipeline? Do reps need marketing support or a fresh perspective on any of their deals? Most of all, if you’re a manager, tell your team this is a meeting where sharing struggles is encouraged. That way, salespeople will air more grievances or problems that you can then help resolve.

7. Mine Your Pipeline for New Opportunities

There’s a special procedure that can clue you into opportunities for your business to enter new markets or customer types. This process is called pipeline mining. It relies on pulling reports of the deals you’ve won, or almost won, over the past 3-12 months, and comparing these customers to find commonalities that may update or expand your target audience.

Here is the three-step method for mining your pipeline for new sales opportunities:

  • Pull a Report of All Late-Stage Deals: Closed/won deals and the deals lost in the second-to-last stage are both likely to be ideal customers. This can be deals from the last quarter, year, or since the start of a big industry-shifting event like COVID-19.  
  • Find Commonalities Between Those Customers: Now start analyzing these ideal customers and seeing what they have in common. What's their industry? What was their budget? What was their main pain point? This can open your eyes to new opportunities. 
  • Google These Customers’ Competitors: As a final step, search for these companies’ competitors, since they’re also likely ideal customers. Write down their information. 

After you’ve done all this, you should have some new markets and specific companies to reach out to. Add the specific competitors to the prospecting stage (or equivalent) of your pipeline and start hitting them with emails and phone calls. And get a team started on analyzing the other markets that this process has revealed to you as opportunities for entry. Below is an opportunities audit report from Salesforce Essentials.

Salesforce Essentials Opportunity Audit Example
Salesforce Essentials Opportunity Audit Example

8. Clean Out Dead Deals

Pipeline maintenance is crucial; you want a pipeline that is up-to-date and free of dead deals, or else your forecasts will be off the mark and your confidence too high. Dead deals are deals that have been stagnant in one stage for too long and have gone silent. Most companies define "too long" in a stage as equal to their average sales cycle length. 

You can search for dead deals during pipeline reviews, which we discussed previously. But, you can also automate their removal in many pipeline software tools, which offer salespeople the ability to create time limits or conditions that if met deem a deal dead. Salespeople have the unfortunate habit of keeping deals in their pipelines that have no right to be there. So it's important to check that impulse with routine checkups.

9. Learn to Use Pipeline Software Effectively

Lighten your load of pipeline maintenance by learning the best practices for using your pipeline software on a daily basis. This prevents big future overhauls. First, it’s of vital importance that you know the conditions a deal must meet to enter into each stage of the pipeline. This keeps you from inappropriately moving deals along and skipping crucial steps. If you’re a sales manager, think of this section as ways to manage your team’s pipeline usage.  

Below are some best practices to use and update the pipeline correctly:

  • Focus on the Best Leads: Reps should spend their time on the leads likeliest to close. Figure out a way for these reps to easily identify these deals, whether it’s a manual or automated lead scoring system. 
  • Follow Up on Deals Regularly: Sellers should know the importance of continuing to follow up with prospects in all stages, not just the early ones. 
  • Learn the Pipeline Software: It’s crucial to fully understand how to use the software. Otherwise, you or your team might be discouraged from using all its features.
  • Monitor Personal Pipeline Metrics: Build an individual dashboard that displays your pipeline goals, quota attainment, calls made, meetings held, and more. 
  • Track All Activity in the CRM: Your CRM likely lets you track various actions like phone calls made, emails sent, and demos held. 
  • Set Reminders for Preventative Maintenance: Perhaps weekly on a set day or time, clean out dead deals and do other easy cleanup work. 

When you know how to effectively manage your own pipeline, it means there will be less to clean up in the future and fewer discussions about maintenance in meetings, meaning you and your manager will have more time to focus on high-value work.

10. Leverage Pipeline Automation in Your CRM

Find ways to automate administrative pipeline tasks. For instance, pipeline software can often email leads stuck in a stage or auto-send teamwide notifications when a deal moves to the closed/won stage. It could even be set up to regularly run and send pipeline reports to specific members of your team. Overall, automation will save you time on pipeline management tasks. 

Here are some automation features to set up or look for in a CRM: 

  • Automated Reporting: Choose metrics you want included in a pipeline report, the frequency you want it sent out, and the recipients. This speeds up reporting. 
  • Auto-Reminders: CRMs can automatically send reminders for you to follow up or attend a meeting. This ensures you stay on track. 
  • Automated Email Sends: If a deal meets certain conditions, an automated follow-up email can be sent to nudge them through the pipeline. 
  • Dead Deal Notifications: After a certain duration of inactivity, the CRM can notify you that a deal is considered dead and worth removing. 
  • Auto-Task Assignments: CRMs can automatically send you next steps so that you follow the sales process and do each activity in each stage. 

Automation not only lightens your workload but also standardizes the way you and the rest of your team use the pipeline, ensuring that you’re all complying with best practices. For those reasons, it’s worth asking your current CRM vendor what automation features they offer, and, if it’s not up to par, looking for a new one. For a complete list of possible automations, check our article on CRM automation. Below, we provide a task reminder automation example from Salesforce Essentials.

Salesforce Essentials Auto-Task Reminder Example
Salesforce Essentials Auto-Task Reminder Example

11. Keep Marketing & Sales Aligned

Set up monthly meetings with marketing heads to go over any changes you’ve made to the pipeline or sales process. Marketing should understand the stages of your pipeline and your goals. This allows them to create content that’s associated with each stage and to design a lead generation process that brings leads who are adequately qualified to enter the pipeline.

For example, if you’ve added an objection handling stage to the pipeline, marketing needs to know. Now they can create some articles dealing with the common objections prospects make. Reps can send it to prospects as one of the stage’s recommended actions. To learn more about forming this coalition, read SuperOffice’s article on how to align marketing and sales.

Bottom Line: Sales Pipeline Management

Sales pipeline management is the recurring process of keeping your pipeline clean and healthy. It involves activities like holding pipeline reviews, running pipeline-specific reports, and mining your pipeline for hidden opportunities. Before you begin running the maintenance and analysis methods described in this post, revisit your pipeline stages, lead sources, and software to ensure they’re optimized.

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