The Pipeline Management Best Practices 8 Sales Pros Swear By

Built In Staff
February 18, 2021
Built In Staff
February 18, 2021

The more sales opportunities in a pipeline, the greater the chance of reaching revenue goals.

That’s according to a sales enablement report that showed 72 percent of companies with fewer than 50 new opportunities per month didn’t hit their targets. Conversely, when companies had 51 to 100 new monthly opportunities, 85 percent of them met revenue goals. 

But a pipeline is only as strong as the opportunities within it.

If a rep’s pipeline is projecting $200,000 in bookings, but more than half of its value sits with accounts that haven’t responded in months, the pipeline is bloated with inaccurate information.

“When our pipelines are not accurate, it results in unrealistic revenue expectations and could negatively impact other departments,” said Jeff Dunn, a senior manager of business development at FRONTSTEPS

So, how can sales reps bolster the health of their pipelines and, in turn, close more deals? 

Trustpilot’s Alex Erickson said he organizes and updates his pipeline by accounts with the best product fits. If a company stops responding but remains a high fit, he’ll pivot his approach. 

“Better fits according to your company’s ideal customer profile both book and close at a higher rate,” Erickson, a manager of account development, said. 

For more best practices, Built In turned to eight sales pros on how to approach pipeline management. 

 

Pipeline Management Tips and Best Practices

  • Keep your pipeline clean and up to date
  • Be realistic
  • Make sure account stages are properly labeled
  • Keep consistent follow-up tasks
  • Know when to cut your losses

 

LogRhythm

Jennifer Kellogg

REGIONAL SALES MANAGER

Jennifer Kellogg

It’s in the details.

In addition to keeping a pipeline updated with only true opportunities, Jennifer Kellogg stressed the importance of providing key details. Kellogg, who is a regional sales manager at the security information and event management (SIEM) platform LogRhythm, said her team follows the “MEDDIC” sales process to determine which details to include. What’s MEDDIC? Kellogg defined below.

 

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? 

Keep it real, keep it clean and keep it up to date. Ask yourself: Is this truly an opportunity? Am I being realistic about what can close and when it will close? Does my team know exactly where we are in the sales process? A clean, realistic pipeline ensures that you and management know exactly what expectations to set and what goals can be met.

Ask yourself: Is this truly an opportunity?”

 

What’s one improvement youve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

Years ago, we adopted the sales process known as “MEDDIC,” which stands for metrics, economic buyer, decision criteria, decision process, identify pain, and champion. By adding these details into Salesforce, we are able to show every participant in the sales cycle who the decision-makers are, what problems our solution solves for, what is the realistic timeline for a decision, and what next steps are needed to win the business. 

    
What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

Ensure you build relationships with the prospect at different levels within their organization, like end users, management and C-levels. Build a cadence with each one by bringing value each time you meet with them.

 

OwnBackup

Kevin Tiernan

REGIONAL VP, GENERAL BUSINESS SALES, AMERICAS

Kevin Tiernan

Mutual trust is a big part of the sales process at OwnBackup, and according to Kevin Tiernan, regional VP, the team’s best tool for accomplishing this is a mutual project plan. Tiernan said that although mutual project plans have had a transformative effect on his team’s pipeline process, implementing them posed a few challenges.

 

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? Why is this practice so important?

It’s simple: Constantly review the pipeline and how we will generate enough to get us to our goals. We do this in a few ways. First, we have a daily team sync where we review all key deals. At the beginning of the quarter, this meeting moves quickly as it’s a high-level review, but as the quarter progresses this evolves into a more detailed review.

It’s great because everyone on the team gets involved. We have team members searching LinkedIn for mutual connections, looking for something an AE may have missed, throwing out new ideas when deals have stalled, sharing competitive insights and more. The whole team feels invested in the success of each other’s deals, which is amazing to see.

In addition to the team sync, we have one-on-ones where we review an AE’s pipeline for the current quarter and the next. If there isn’t enough pipeline to cover their goals, we review the metrics to understand where we can help them improve. I don’t care about vanity metrics; I care about making sure AEs are engaging in the right activity with the right prospects and the right message. We look for small improvements that will drive a big impact.

We believe strongly in using a mutual project plan with our customers. Getting strong buy-in from the start builds mutual trust.


What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

We believe strongly in using a mutual project plan with our customers. Getting strong buy-in from the start builds mutual trust, allows each party to hold the other accountable and enables us to constantly verify that we are aligned on the process, next steps, who should be involved, etc. We use these early in the evaluation process, but this wasn’t always the case. 

For a while, these plans were one-sided, introduced too late in the process or were not used at all. Now we use these plans in our deal reviews, which allows leadership to see how the deal is progressing, if it is forecasted accurately in Salesforce and if it gives guidance to the AE team about the next steps. This keeps the deal on track and helps us find where we can get involved to move things forward. 

The impact has been great. Deals are staying on track more often than before, the sales team believes in it, and customers appreciate the mutual and thoughtful process — often a big miss for these plans. 

 

What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

My team knows that I am big on “app hygiene,” meaning that Salesforce should be kept clean and up to date on a daily basis. I start and end my days by looking at our forecast, and from there I dig into close dates, next steps, stage and so on. This is an easy process because my team is great at keeping Salesforce clean. This wasn’t always the case.

I had a few AEs who struggled and needed a full day or two to clean up their pipeline. They really felt the loss in productivity, and we worked together to get them better at updating in real-time. Now my team knows the best way to keep me from being the annoying manager “checking on that deal” is to keep Salesforce updated. We have strong trust and work much better as a team without me asking for updates over Chatter and Slack.

 

Teachable

David Ibeneme

ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE

David Ibeneme

Like doctors, salespeople are not exactly known for their note-taking prowess. However, just because being a good talker and listener is a prerequisite to finding sales success doesn’t mean writing isn’t an important skill for salespeople to master. In fact, David Ibeneme, account executive at Teachable, said that doubling down on note-taking has enabled him to re-engage with prospects more organically and help his team construct better talk tracks.

 

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? Why is this practice so important?

I consider properly labeling account stages the single most important pipeline management best practice. By indicating what stage each prospect is in the sales funnel, I am able to formulate effective talk tracks and strategically contact prospects to successfully move them to the next stage of the process. This also reduces the likelihood of prolonging or delaying a sales cycle.

I consider properly labeling account stages the single most important pipeline management best practice.


What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

One major improvement I’ve made over time is my note-taking. When my notes are detailed, I am able to re-engage with prospects in a more natural and authentic way and build a case study of common trends and pain points observed amongst my customer type. This allows for a more consultative sales approach and the construction of talk tracks the sales floor can use to tackle common challenges.

 

What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

Avoid letting tasks become overdue. I find a few minutes at the end of each day to reschedule tasks I was unable to work on. Prioritizing daily tasks to ensure I am not repeatedly rescheduling hot leads is another effective practice that helps with pipeline management.

 

Trustpilot

Alex Erickson

MANAGER OF ACCOUNT DEVELOPMENT

Alex Erickson

Know when to cut your losses.

After organizing his accounts by product fit and priority to close, Trustpilot’s Alex Erickson said he saw higher-quality meetings and closing rates. Erickson, a manager of account development at the consumer review website company, said he spends time every week cleaning out unresponsive accounts and rethinking strategies for ones that remain a great fit. 

 

What’s the most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management?

Knowing when to cut your losses. There’s no sense in putting excess time and effort into accounts that aren’t yielding any successes or responses after a certain amount of time, even when you’ve tried multiple approaches. Whether it’s weekly or monthly, regular pipeline cleanups make a difference by targeting low upside accounts and deciding whether it’s worth the additional effort and cutting ties when not. Then you can replenish the dropped accounts with new ones that you have never reached out to. This is important because if your pipeline remains bogged down with accounts without a ton of potential, then it is harder to focus on accounts that have a higher likelihood of closing.

There’s no sense in putting excess time and effort into accounts that aren’t yielding any successes.”


What’s one improvement youve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

Tiering the accounts in your pipeline based on fit and priority to close. Improvements come when you can focus more of your time on the best-fit companies and the ones you feel most confident in their ability to close. This allowed me to focus the majority of my outreach into accounts I knew had the highest chance of closing, which led to higher-quality meetings and higher conversion rates. Stick to your ideal customer profile, find the best fits in that industry that aren’t working with your company yet and approach them with more tenacity and effort than those you’re unsure of. Better fits according to your company’s ideal customer profile both book and close at a higher rate.

 

What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

Scheduling personal time at the end of each week or month to clean out dead-end accounts. If you have a great fit account but haven’t been able to reach them or schedule time with them, you should use this time to think of a different approach when applicable. Whether that’s a new pain, value point or contact, this will be a great way to keep solid fits in your pipeline while  doing something different than what the last few sales reps did previously.

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FRONTSTEPS

Jeff Dunn

SENIOR MANAGER, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

Jeff Dunn

Always include next steps.

To help with pipeline management, the marketing team at FRONTSTEPS recently developed a personalized weighted sales pipeline system. Jeff Dunn, senior manager of business development at the residential engagement platform, explained how this tool has led to positive changes for his reps and the company.

 

What’s the most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? 

Be realistic. As sales professionals, we typically have a “glass half full” outlook on any prospect we’ve had a conversation with that didn’t result in an immediate, “No, thank you.” We need to maintain a positive attitude in our day-to-day since it correlates to the level of excitement in our voice as we present and ultimately, our success as a sales professional. As it relates to pipeline management, we need to be cognizant of the fact that our pipelines are often used by the organization to make business decisions on things such as future marketing, advertising and hiring initiatives. 

You should always know what and when the next step is on any opportunity.”

 

When our pipelines are not accurate, it results in unrealistic revenue expectations and could negatively impact other departments. During our weekly pipeline reviews, my team provides concrete reasons as to why they feel their specific prospects should remain in the pipeline. Asking questions like, “What were the buying signals or established next steps that lead you to believe this account should remain in the pipeline?” help to identify whether or not the sales representative is being honest and realistic with themselves about the chances of closing the deal.

 

What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

Our new personalized weighted pipeline system helps us gain more visibility into the actual percentage to close expectations based on the opportunity’s stage in a sales representative’s pipeline. As a manager, this allows me to provide more accurate weighted pipeline forecasts to the executive team and helps to identify areas where my sales representatives might need assistance or additional training on providing accurate pipeline forecasts. The key benefit to this system over the typical weighted pipeline forecast model is in how it adjusts to the individual representative over time. I like to track the success and professional growth of my employees, and this tool allows me to identify, address and track how the changes we discuss affect their ability to provide more accurate pipeline forecasts. There is nothing more enjoyable than being able to show an employee how the changes they made to their sales process positively impacted the organization and their commissions earned.

 

What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

The best sales representatives in any industry all share one common trait. They are organized. That means carving out time daily to ensure that all the reports are updated and accurate. Keeping a clean and up-to-date pipeline means you have the most recent notes on the opportunity and established next steps. You should always know what and when the next step is on any opportunity. If you notice that the client continuously pushes back the timeline on the next step, you might want to ask yourself — and the prospect — if you’re being realistic by keeping the deal in your pipeline.

 

OpenWeb

Harris Newman

SR. DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT & STRATEGY

Harris Newman

At OpenWeb, opportunities don’t move down the pipeline based on gut feelings. Instead, the team follows specific guidelines that require them to hit certain milestones before changing the status of an opportunity. Harris Newman, senior director of business development and strategy, walked us through some of those requirements along with how they keep the team on track to hit their goals.

 

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? Why is this practice so important?

Pipeline and pipeline management are crucial to creating scale and predictability in your personal success, which often coincides with greater organizational goals. To keep an honest assessment of my pipeline, I do “temperature checks,” or assessments that tell me what needs to be done to move a deal forward. I look at key components of every opportunity to understand the immediate action item, as well as what I need to do to ensure the next milestone is hit. The most crucial aspects to this pipeline temperature check include:

  • Does the prospect feel our solution offers differentiated value? 
  • Am I aligned with the product?
  • Do we have product sign off, or are there any technical questions?
  • Do we have a mutual plan in place? 


After this assessment, I then set up action items to continue moving deals along while sharing accurate pipeline expectations internally.

To keep an honest assessment of my pipeline, I do temperature checks,’ or assessments that tell me what needs to be done to move a deal forward.”


What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

Pipeline management efforts are constantly evolving, and staying on the mind of your prospects leads to higher accuracy over the course of the sales process. My team and I have specific guidelines in place for moving an opportunity from “upside” to “committed opportunity,” which include document-based milestones you must hit in order to certify an opportunity before it moves forward.

These documents, which include meeting summaries, mutual plans and discovery documents, along with identifying a leader and champion, create predictability and accuracy. As an organization, we strive for pinpoint forecast accuracy, and these processes have helped us reach our goals.

 

What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

The best practice I follow is not adjusting a forecast based on guesses but factual evidence from my prospects. Communication is key for keeping a pipeline healthy, both internally and externally, and having a structured mutual plan with your external contacts will allow for accountability on both sides as well as increased accuracy.

If a mutual plan is not built with a prospect, it is important to take an honest assessment of the opportunity and understand what activities you can do to create a more detailed sales execution process. Poke holes in your opportunities and understand where greater details are needed or relationship building is required. Semi-weekly temperature checks allow me to formulate a better understanding of where I should be focusing my efforts.

 

Yieldstreet

Nicholas Paidas

ORIGINATION ASSOCIATE

Nicholas Paidas

Tech salespeople often juggle multiple deals at once, and forgetting to tend to even one or two of them can create a pipeline backup. To avoid this, Nicholas Paidas, origination associate at Yieldstreet, recommends setting tasks with specific due dates after each touch point. In addition to keeping deals moving through the pipeline, this commitment to task-setting makes it easier for Paidas to pinpoint what he needs to accomplish each day.

 

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? Why is this practice so important?

When managing one deal or 20, there are going to be points throughout the process that are out of your control. The one thing you can control is setting consistent tasks after a call, email or key client indicator (KCI) in your CRM. After every touchpoint, even if it’s as simple as a rapport call or as complex as a deal transaction call, setting a task with notes and a due date will guide the deal down a straight line to closing.

I’ll also set future tasks due within 48 hours, as managing multiple deals at once in a dynamic, highly active pipeline can be difficult. I close the task once the transaction is passed on, lost or won. This practice has unearthed new time during my workday to originate new deals.  

The cleanest way to pull yourself out of the weeds is to build a dashboard in your CRM.”


What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

There is a lot of data to observe, gauge and measure in any organization’s pipeline. The cleanest way to pull yourself out of the weeds is to build a dashboard in your CRM. Building a weekly dashboard for both myself and the team that summarizes certain pipeline stages and highlights KCIs has made a noticeable improvement in the team’s performance. 

In particular, establishing a dashboard for past, present and future pipeline deals week by week has uncovered previously unnoticed trends and allowed us to correct and turn the pipeline in a positive direction. For example, since creating a sales pipeline dashboard, the team monitors and maintains a certain minimum of total qualified deals, which has led to an improved realized percentage of closed opportunities. 

 

What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

I have the same routine every morning: Review the pipeline dashboard and open tasks, and then create a plan to complete the open tasks set for that day. Most of the time, each task relates to a relevant deal on the pipeline dashboard for that day, which propels me to review each account and related notes entered the previous day. 

Updating any missed notes or correcting information is key to starting the day successfully, and this best practice has allowed my team to be confident in the data, especially when speaking with senior leadership, which often happens with minimal lead time. Lastly, having the drive to close deals in an organized fashion is key and underpins all the best practices for successful pipeline monitoring.

 

Productive Edge

Matthew Adams

SALES DIRECTOR & PARTNER MANAGEMENT

Matthew Adams

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management? Why is this practice so important?

The single best practice I follow when it comes to pipeline management is asking a set of basic questions in order to form a more detailed idea of the information.

 

 

Examples include: 

  • When is the opportunity going to close? 
  • Is there enough budget to support the opportunity? 
  • What is the business challenge?
  • How long have we been pursuing the opportunity?
  • How have we demonstrated value?
  • Are we talking to someone who is in a position of power? 


Getting these questions answered determines the validity and accuracy of the pipeline. Knowing or not knowing these answers drives the next action and gives us visibility into the overall health of the pipeline. 

 

What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time?

One improvement that I have made over time is removing deals that truly are dead from the pipeline by being critical and asking if the deal is legitimate or not. Being critical of the deal status and removing it if there’s not going to be further development takes away pipeline bloat. It represents the true state of the business. It has an impact on work in the sense that it drives one to focus where the pipeline needs to be built and impacts where customer relationships need to be identified, developed and managed. 

Getting these basic questions answered determines the validity and accuracy of the pipeline.”


What’s a best practice you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

The best practice for monitoring the pipeline and keeping it clean and up to date is to make sure each opportunity has correct hygiene, such as stage and details. The stage and details have to be updated weekly. The detail, such as a note, must include the date, next steps and who the next steps are with. This has to occur weekly — on a Monday or Friday — so there is accurate visibility on the next steps for the upcoming work period. This drives seller accountability and also reduces the amount of “reaching out” one does with the team. There should be a 30-minute placeholder in the individual’s calendar to perform this exercise. It’s a simple task to remove unnecessary questions and enable efficiency.

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Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

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