How to Improve Sales Performance with Pipeline Management

There’s no silver bullet for learning how to improve sales performance.  

improve sales performance with pipeline managementAs Vantage Point Performance Partner Jason Jordan puts it, there are many ways to improve performance the key is identifying what moves the needle most and focusing your efforts on it.

According to data from a Vantage Point webcast, pipeline management makes a big difference. Of 62 large B2B companies surveyed, those that felt they were ineffective at pipeline management had below-average year-over-year growth. But companies that felt they were effective at pipeline management had above-average growth growth was 15 percent higher than companies that were ineffective.

Jason shared more data and strategies for better pipeline management. Find the full webcast here, and follow along with our highlights.

The State of Sales Pipeline Management

Jason’s data comes from a survey Vantage Point conducted with the Sales Management Association. They looked at how often sales managers were meeting with reps to discuss sales pipeline:

  • 5 percent met several times a week.
  • 51 percent met weekly.
  • 16 percent met several times a month.
  • 17 percent met monthly.

The study also found that the average duration of a pipeline meeting is 53 minutes.

People spend a lot of time on sales pipelines, Jason says. For a sales manager who’s meeting weekly for an hour with each of his ten reps, that’s 40 hours a month spent going over pipelines.

“There is a huge commitment of organizations to getting this stuff right,” Jason says in the webcast.

When asked what the main reasons for pipeline management were, here’s how the companies surveyed ranked them:

  1. Ensure forecast accuracy
  2. Review rep performance
  3. Review rep activities
  4. Help close deals
  5. ID process bottlenecks
  6. ID skill deficits

But Jason argues there’s a clear distinction between forecasting and pipeline management. Forecasting, he says, is developing a vision of what’s coming in the future. But pipeline management consists of rep performance, pursuing deals and developing sales capabilities.

“If you can separate these two activities, you’ll do both of them better,” Jason says. “… Pipeline management is about changing management and sales rep behaviors so that those active deals in the pipeline become more likely to be won and less likely to be lost. Sales forecasting is about predicting tomorrow. I sometimes say pipeline management is a heads down activity and sales forecasting is a heads up activity with your eyes to the horizon.”

How To Improve Sales Performance? Better Pipeline Management

To improve sales pipeline management, Jason outlined three critical strategies:

  1. Have a clearly defined sales process: “It seems almost so basic that you’d ignore it. But when we look at sales processes that people have embedded in their technology people literally take what’s in the CRM tool and that becomes their sales process. You have a lead, and a qualified opportunity and a proposal goes out and then you win or lose. If you have a really well-defined sales process that actually mirrors the way customers buy, and if the stages are well-communicated everyone understands what goes into each of those stages you can do a pretty good job of managing your sales pipeline. If you just leave it to chance and just leave it to the salesperson’s interpretation as to where they are in the process and where things go in the pipeline, then you’re off to a pretty bad start.
  2. Spend more than 3 hours a month per rep on the sales pipeline: “The observation here is not that you just need to spend more time with it, but that if you spend a lot of time with the sales pipeline, chances are that you’re getting past just the scrubbing of the data and the updating of the system. You’re starting to actually have in-depth conversations about deals, and how to win them and how to pursue them.
  3. Train managers on pipeline management: “In our perspective, training goes beyond just logging into the system and creating reports. They’re trained on the process. They’re trained on what to do during those three, four, five hours a month when they’re sitting down and having conversations with the reps about the sales pipeline.”

These are just three strategies for how to improve sales performance with better pipeline management. Jason also talked about what most C-level executives think is the most important job of a sales manager: sales forecasting. Watch the full webcast to find out what he says.  

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