One of the most important benefits of any CRM solution is enabling a Sales Rep to track their pipeline.  Sadly, this is also one of the areas that many organizations tend to make overly complicated and so painful that reps often revert back to using a legal pad.  This article will provide some tips for using your CRM solution to track your pipeline – and why this is important – regardless of the condition of your CRM solution.

Why Manage Your Pipeline in CRM

There are a number of reasons why you should manage your pipeline in CRM – ranging from the obvious to the subtle.  Here are three of the more important reasons.

  • Minding the Gaps: Every Sales Rep has lost at least one sale through forgetfulness.  They have a great meeting with the prospect, deliver a slam-dunk pitch and proposal, and are told that they won’t be ready to move forward for 3 more months.  Six months later, the rep suddenly remembers the deal and calls the prospect, only to find that their competition had followed-up regularly and were there when the prospect was ready to move forward.  By tracking your pipeline, you’re a lot less likely to forget about that important deal.

  • Meeting Your Goals: Taking just a few minutes to track each opportunity means you’re better able to keep an eye on your goals.  Almost every business development professional is an optimist.  Tracking your pipeline forces you to be a little more analytical and realistic – and oftentimes provides needed motivation to work on adding some new things to the top of the funnel when you realize things are getting a bit slow.

  • Collaboration: If your pipeline is visible in CRM, it creates an opportunity to work together better internally.  With your colleagues – possibly generating helpful hints from those who work with the same prospect, or who have worked on similar proposals.  With your customer service and inside sales teams – so that they will be forewarned when you are working a big deal for an existing client that they may also be serving.  With your manager – spending less time assembling reports and re-answering questions.  And with executives – so they can measure the full pipeline – we’ve worked with clients who have seen downturns coming months ahead of their competition and have been able to pivot their sales plan much sooner, saving many jobs.

Quick Pipeline Management Tips

So how do you manage your pipeline in your CRM system?  An opportunity record may look radically different from one organization to the next.  But we have found a few rules that seem to remain consistent everywhere.

  • Know What an Opportunity Is: This may seem obvious, but it is sometimes difficult to decide if something is an opportunity or not.  If you don’t have a clear definition, then your pipeline becomes meaningless because you don’t know what is real.  One definition that seems to have worked well: if both you and the prospect would agree that they are likely to make a buying decision within 1 year, and that your organization may be selected, then it is an opportunity.  Another useful thought is to make sure you know what an opportunity is not, such as: a company who should buy what you are selling, but has no awareness of it; someone who is qualified to purchase your product, but has no plans to make a change in vendor.  Only put things into your pipeline that really are opportunities – everything else can be tracked as follow-up activities until an opportunity is identified.

  • Capture at Least the Basics: There may be dozens of things you would ideally like to track about your opportunities, and that is fine.  But if you’re overwhelmed by a big opportunity form, then just focus on the bare essentials to get started: who is the opportunity with, how much do you think it may be worth, when do you think it might close.  Those three items form the basis of every pipeline – and give you the most important criteria for prioritizing your follow-up.

  • Keep Your List Short: I’ve seen it time-and-time again: the list of opportunities is so long that the rep has no idea where to start.  To effectively manage your pipeline, you need to ruthlessly disqualify prospects that aren’t real.  You need to avoid creating opportunities that don’t exist.  You need to get rid of junk that gives you a false sense of confidence that you have a great pipeline.  You need a short list of real opportunities you can work.  If you’re in a position where you handle a large number of small deals, then you need to get good with using filters and stages so you can take your list that has to be a bit long, and segment it into workable buckets.

  • Update at Least Weekly: Schedule time at least once a week to review every single opportunity and update it.  If it is past the estimated close date, then close it or call the prospect and re-confirm that it is still real.  If it has lingered too long, then be brave and close it as lost (and set up a follow-up call in a few months).  If the budget has changed, then update it in the pipeline.  If you don’t have a manager who is holding you accountable to this, then partner with a colleague to review your pipelines together.  It makes a difference.

Your CRM tool – no matter how old or complex – should allow you to track at least the basics of your pipeline.  Combining this with an accurate list of your contacts and accounts is a powerful tool for tracking and improving your sales results.

Additional CRM Sales Rep Quick Tips:

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