Thursday, August 25, 2011

 

How to manage your sales pipeline in 15 minutes a day

Yes, it’s possible to have a healthy and active sales pipeline and still spend very little time managing it. Whether you’re running a business or managing a monthly sales quota, the last thing you want to do is spend hours a day managing your processes and forecasts. Your time is best spent with clients and prospects, in front of them, not in front of your spreadsheets or CRM software.

Fortunately, with the right preparation and systems, you can successfully manage your sales pipeline in 15 minutes a day or less. Here are six steps we encourage our clients to follow, and that I follow myself for our sales pipeline as well.

1. Start with clear definitions & next steps by stage
You absolutely must create and document clear, consistent definitions for each stage of the buying process for your customers. Ideally, you should identify and enumerate specific qualified lead stages, then a separate set of stages that reflect the process of buying once a prospect is qualified and in the near-term market to buy.

If you’re the only person selling for the organization, these definitions will still save you time by not having to think about how to categorize new prospects, or figure out next steps to move them forward. If you’re working in a larger organization where multiple individuals touch the sales process, these definitions will save you significant time and money (not to mention increase your ability to close) by ensuring consistency across the organization.

Click here for a sample template of lead and sales opportunity definitions you can customize and use for your business.

2. Use a consistent CRM tool (even if it’s Excel)
You can’t successfully and efficiently manage your sales pipeline in email or on Post-It notes. Your defined sales stages, and the prospects within them, need to be encapsulated in a clean customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Some businesses look to cloud-based tools such as Salesforce.com for this. If you want an online system but aren’t ready for Salesforce, you can try simpler and less expensive (but still good) systems such as PipelineDeals.com. Or, set up an Excel spreadsheet with enough fields to detail information about the company, engaged individuals, their stage in the sales process and specific next steps.

No matter what you use, make sure it’s easy and fast to update and accessible everywhere. That means a cloud-based system that’s available with any Web connection, or an Excel spreadsheet that’s based in the cloud and updatable from anywhere as well (using services such as Dropbox or Box.net).

3. Develop a discipline for adding new prospects daily
The single-most important component of a healthy sales pipeline is engaging and nurturing more prospects at the top of the funnel. The vast majority of these prospects aren’t going to be ready to buy, but it’s important that you find and engage with them early, so they know who you are, know what you do, and keep you top of mind for when they do have a need and want to buy.

Get in the habit of networking and adding daily. Look for new prospects via newspaper articles, press releases, LinkedIn Updates, etc. Have a set of pre-written email introductions and offers (an article you’ve written that could help them, for example), so that reaching out and engaging new prospects is fast and easy.

4. Conduct a weekly pipeline review for next steps
At least once a week, scan through your pipeline and look for prospects who you haven’t talked to lately. The hot prospects will automatically fill your time anyway – they’re engaged, asking questions, in your inbox and on your phone. But the prospects who have slowed down, or disappeared in the past few days or week, might need a follow-up.

As you identify follow up opportunities, you don’t need to do them all right away. Scheduled them out for the remainder of the week so you have a couple to do today, a couple more tomorrow, and so on.

If you need inspiration for ways to re-engage with prospects that have gone “dark”, check out a few recommendations here.

5. Schedule daily follow-up calls to past clients, partners and previously-lost prospects
In a world that’s obsessed with email and texting and Twitter, there’s something special about making a phone call. Taking the time to call a past client or partner, just to check in and see how they’re doing, all of a sudden stands out and is memorable.

Most of the time, you’re just leaving voicemails anyway. But with those 30-45 seconds, you make an impression that’s far more valuable than a quick email or text that’s easy to delete and gets lost with the rest.

6. Use your calendar for follow-up reminders
If a prospect isn’t ready and wants you to check back “next month” or “at the end of the summer”, set yourself a calendar reminder to do so…and forget about them! If they need you in the meantime, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, spend your time following up with other new or existing prospects who want or need your time and attention right now.

Systems for making yourself more efficient come in a variety of formats. Having consistent definitions makes you faster, because you don’t have to think about or recreate standards every time. An easy to use and accessible CRM system makes organization and updates quick. Even something as simple as a trusted calendar lets you set a next step and move on.

We could devote a whole series of blogs to effective sales pipeline management, but as with most things, the basics are what will give you momentum.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

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