There’s one thing wrong with pipelines by nature. No matter whether it’s under your sink or in your toilet - a real one washing the water away or a metaphorical one looking after all your leads in the office. They get blocked up; clogged. They go stagnant when stuff doesn’t move down them.
Eventually, you’re in trouble - up to your ears in dirty water or business blues.
If you’ve got kitchen sink problems, you’re come to the wrong place. This article takes a look at sales pipeline stagnation: what it is, where it comes from, and how to fix it.
Let’s get plumbing!
What is sales pipeline stagnation?
A sales pipeline is a visual snapshot made up of the different deal stages a lead goes through before they become a buyer. The idea of basing your business around a sales pipeline is a good one - having all your bits and bobs there throughout the day and everybody having access to it. You always know where you’re up to and it’s easy to see when you’re winning… or losing.
Yep, visualised sales pipelines are the business standard these days. Everybody’s using them. Still, sales pipeline management is tricky.
The health of your sales pipeline is a direct reflection on how much your sales team is selling; how much money your business is making. Your sales pipeline is a picture of your success. If opportunities aren’t flowing, if new leads aren’t entering the pipeline and if old ones aren’t moving along it… you’re not going to survive for much longer.
That’s why sales pipeline stagnation is a bad thing. Your sales process needs fixing. Deals aren’t wine or cheese or George Clooney - they’re the opposite. They get worse over time. They bloat your sales pipeline and prevent focus on the deals that matter, diverting valuable resources from fresher leads who are more likely to convert. So, what causes sales pipeline stagnation?
We’ve put together the comment elements of a stagnant sales pipeline, along with an in-depth look at some sales pipeline best practices to apply for your business.
Your new leads suck.
Quality over quantity every single time. You could use a LinkedIn integration and spam that magic little button to add every single profile you find. Go tell your boss ‘hey look how many leads - selling opportunities - we entered into the pipeline today!’ Impress everybody; have a party… but really you’ve failed. A lead should only ever enter a pipeline if they’re likely to buy something.
Not only have these leads got less chance of converting to paying customers because they’ve never shown any interest, but they’ll spread your sales team thin because there's so many of them.
But how do you know when your pipeline leads suck?
Well, it should take around the same amount of time for each deal that enters your pipeline to get from one end to the other; to close. It’s essential to figure out your average sales cycle time to understand whether a pipeline is active and healthy. A well defined sales cycle creates transparency for your sales team - they should be able to tell whether they’re wasting their time or not with a deal. They shouldn’t be wasting their time at all.
By making your average sales cycle length common knowledge, you can project, forecast, and plan your sales process. It’s also a key indicator of when your pipeline is all clogged up and stagnant.
I’ll imagine you’re the business leader for a premium SaaS business. In Q1, you sold five deals… Deal 1 took 40 days, Deal 2 took 30 days, Deal 3 took 60 days, Deal 4 took 70 days. That’s a long sales cycle, but it doesn’t matter - you’re a premium business. Overall, you’ve closed four deals in a total of 200 days. I don’t need to be a master mathematician to figure that out… 200/4 is 50.
Your average sales cycle is 50 days.
NetHunt’s Hot Tip
At NetHunt we have an average sales cycle, but that doesn’t mean we don’t aim for an ideal sales cycle. We measured that our pipeline CRM system can be tested and evaluated in 14 days. Ergo, we offer a 14 day free trial with our product and our ideal sales process is 14 days - the sales team always reaches for this goal - if it takes longer, our average sales cycle inflates.
Something to think about is Account-based Marketing.
Account-based marketing can really help grease up the wheels of your stagnant pipeline. It’s the process of identifying ideal client accounts and engaging them on a one-to-one basis. It’s uber-personalisation of accounts, with pinpoint research carried out on an organisation and subsequent presentation of a product and accompanying content being based solely around that business. But, it’s an energy-zapping process - it should be saved for high-value accounts.
You're not following up enough.
Your pipeline is stagnant because you’re not doing anything to get things moving in there.
What’s up, you scared? The best kinds of sales reps are the ones that won’t take no for an answer when a lead is the perfect customer for your product. There are loads and loads and loads of alternative options out there on the market. If you’re not pushy with your sales pitch, then you’re giving a lead time to go somewhere else with their money.
Most sales professionals give up after 2 follow-ups. WTF guys?
There is, quite understandably, a lot of hesitancy and trepidation attached to following up. After all, you’re a really nice person, you don’t want to come across as pushy. But it’s business, baby. You’re going to need to show some steel. Following up is not as hard as you think - just stick to the rules.
- Reference to or forward your previous correspondence in the follow-up.
- Get the killer subject line spot on. If you’re not sure, head here.
- Keep it as short as necessary - sometimes one sentence is enough
- Use a time-related trigger word: limited, expiring, soon, deal, now.
- Follow up 3 - 5 days after the original email, no sooner.
Something to think about is automated follow up workflows.
Workflows by NetHunt CRM is a beautiful thing. It would be hard to tell you everything you can do with it in this short section - so check out this article to find out more. In short, you can set the system to alert you when no reply has been received and you need to send a quick follow up to that particular lead. If you want, you can set the system to follow up for you when a new lead has entered the pipeline.
It’s a simple workflow, wonderfully explained by our Customer Success Team here.
Your marketing channels are one-track.
It’s important to diversify your lead generation and engagement channels. Single channel marketing does what it says on the tin - reaching out to customers through only one channel, be it email, telephone, LinkedIn, Facebook, or wherever else. A lot of brands believe it’s more efficient to chase one channel of communication; maybe it’s simply more comfortable because it’s worked in the past.
Think of it like this, single-channel engagement is like fishing in the same pond for your whole life. Great fish - but supply doesn’t meet demand. To make things worse, there are a bunch of competitors fishing around you, catching the biggest fish. Leads can’t enter a generation platform quick enough for you to generate them. Soon enough, things stagnate; the pond dies.
A multi-channel engagement approach also does what it says on the tin, finding and engaging leads on every channel upon which they might be found on. This strategy doesn’t find success overnight. It’s a long-term strategy and a step-by-step process to be implemented across your business. There are rules to follow - otherwise, we end up at reason one - where the leads in our pipeline suck.
- Identify multiple buyer personas for your brand. This information helps your marketing team determine which channels are the best ones to pursue, and which kinds of content will be most effective on each individual platform. How to make a buyer persona.
- Have a cohesive experience across channels. A persona might be active on multiple channels, so messaging should be uniform based on them rather than the channel. If they visit another channel where messaging is different, they can become confused.
- Understand your channels. Know which types of content go where: pictures go on Instagram and articles go on LinkedIn - that’s simple enough. Also understand that your website is a channel and deserves the same amount of attention.
- Automate a multi-channel approach. Things can understandably get a bit messy when you’re dealing with so many different channels at once, where you were normally only looking at one. NetHunt CRM brings all your channels under the same tab umbrella - centralising communication from different channels such as LinkedIn, email, Intercom. By keeping all customer context under the same dashboard, a multi-channel approach feels like a single channel approach for CRM users.Take a look at our integrations.
- Invest in retargeting. Retargeting is the process of hitting bounced website traffic with ads on other platforms. Anyone who bounces from your website will find an ad on a platform that you are active on - finding it easier to engage with your brand.
- Test. Report. Analyse. It’s important to keep a constant eye on your marketing channels to make sure which ones are still worth chasing. Your CRM can tell you which channels are effective through closed-loop analytics - things like leads generated, conversions gained etc.
You’re not enabling the sales team.
Your sales enablements are the bits, bobs, and tools provided to the sales team to help them undergo the arduous process of selling. It goes without saying that you should provide the buyer with the resources they want and need to go through the process - but you might not also realise that sales enablements include best practices, research, and tools for the sales team to complete a conversion.
You’ll know whether you need sales enablements by asking and answering these questions yourself… Are we meeting all of our sales goals? Do we know that reps are always maintaining the right message? Do we get full usage and application of our sales tools? Can the reps do better?
Sales enablements accelerate, improve, and effectuate your whole sales process. They help you win deals faster and get more of them. Sales enablements are a no-brainer.
Brands with sales enablements enjoy 15% higher win rates for deals.
Sales enablements are primarily owned by the sales and marketing teams, but if you’re really fancy you might employ a separate sales enablement team to organise onboarding, continuous training and assessment, and create relevant tools for the sales team to thrive. If you’re a smaller business, you won’t have that. Here’s how to enable your sales team - on a budget.👇
Review your reviews.
Set up a feedback form on your website and have your users and ex-users give honest reviews about their buying journey. Customer testimonials provide an insight into what your business does well and badly - review them regularly and understand what to do better. Read ours.
Don’t provide a script because your sales team will sound robotic. Provide prompts like talking points, interesting stats, product features, and previous customer correspondence. This is relevant to phone, email, and whatever else outreach - it produces a uniform, standard outreach across teams.
Optimise LinkedIn profiles.
Every salesperson worth their salt has a solid LinkedIn profile boasting all their achievements, history, and specialities. This puts a face to a name for potential buyers, offers an inbound channel of communication, and helps share and obtain useful information from the community. Check off the LinkedIn Sales Manager checklist.
Use a CRM platform.
CRM is the ultimate sales enablement technology. A well-implemented CRM system puts data at the forefront of a sales rep’s working day, relinquishing the need for data entry at the same time. Modern CRM systems also provide a buffet of tools useful to reps, like email tracking, call logging, marketing automation… the list goes on.
Regular cross-team meetings.
Meet the teams regularly for inter-departmental insights. Sales teams are your frontline, they should be armed with as much information as possible. Review your pipeline and figure what marketing can do to get things moving. Hear the devs tell you what’s coming soon; support tell you what users are grumbling about. Brainstorm and bump heads to figure out how to get individual deals moving.
Tool up your sales team.
Like we say, your sales team is on the frontline. Are you really going to send them into battle without the weapons, resources, and content they need to succeed? It’s on the marketing team to design stuff like product comparisons, educational articles, and individual sales decks depending on which stage of the sales journey they are on.
Enabling your sales teams works all the way along the sales pipeline.
You can’t handle sales objections.
Objections happen. Leads have their reasons for being hesitant or just outright saying no. Sales objections are unavoidable, no matter what product you sell and how much of the world you promise with it. Price, value, competitors and relevance are the key driving forces behind a lot of sales objections. Bad sales techniques are the driving force behind those objections winning.
"Oh, okay… it’s too expensive for you? Bye."
Handle lead concerns in a way that can move a lead along the pipeline, rather than falling out of it. Some reps even argue with leads over objections, trying to force them to back down. This only results in a lead feeling less-inclined than ever to buy your product; more likely to go somewhere else. There are less offensive ways of dealing with sales objections. You can even use them to your advantage.
Know that this is going to happen and have the mechanisms in place to deal with it. Keep track of the objections and have them written down on a cheat sheet for sales managers. Discuss objections in your new, regular cross-team meetings so everybody knows what to do. Know what’s coming.
"I hear. It doesn’t fully integrate with Gmail. We do - that’s why it costs more."
Validating sales objections doesn’t necessarily mean talking down your product and accepting that a prospect should go somewhere else. It means empathising with your interlocuteur and meeting them in the middle; build some trust. Tell them you understand and offer a solution.
"Yeah, I totally get that it’s hard work implementing a new system. Thankfully, the Success team is gonna be with you all the way - we’ve got the Community to help as well."
Alas, sometimes you won’t be able to anticipate some objections. The trick here is to simply follow up with a client once you’ve got the answers. You’re only human after all, and a prospect might appreciate you taking extra time to research a particular question.
"Oh you need this feature? Let me get onto the devs and figure that out. Can I send you an email when I’ve got an answer for you?"
Do it the NetHunt way and watch your conversion rate shoot up.
Plumbing done - let’s get growing.
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