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Sales Pipeline Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners

Surveys by several companies including Salesforce have reviewed sales pipeline performance.

We expect sales managers to hold sales pipeline review meetings with their teams several times a month. In fact, only 72% do. Surprising, 61% claim that they have not had the training to manage sales pipelines. 63% say that their companies do a bad job of managing their sales pipelines.

Sales pipelines are important and yet many companies are not managing them well. This Guide will uncover some of the challenges of managing sales pipelines and how to address them.

What is covered in this Sales Pipeline Guide?

We have split this guide into sections. Each section covers a specific topic related to the sales pipeline. Sales pipeline tips provide recommendations to improve your own sales pipeline. Use the summary below to navigate to an area of interest.

1 – How are you managing your sales pipeline?

Presents the common mistakes a business can fall into managing their sales pipeline. Includes guidance on where to focus on and improve sales pipeline management. Introduces the primary purpose and common mistakes in managing sales pipeline reviews.

2 – How have you structured your sale pipeline?

Introduces a simple sales pipeline. The role of a sales pipeline to track sales leads flowing through the sales pipe. The importance of defined sales stages. The importance to review and define the purpose and outcome goal for each sales stage.

3 – Are your sales practices guiding the sales lead centre stage?

Introduces the fatal flaw with most business’s sales pipelines. Provides an overview of the most common sales methodologies and challenges you to review your own sales practices.

4 – Are your sales reps struggling to consistently use sales methods and practices?

Provides a reason why your sales reps will be struggling to use your sales practices in the field. Introduces the value and importance of using sales prospecting tools and how to differentiate yourself from your competition.

5 – Are your sales reps connecting with all those influencing the buying decision?

More people are influencing the buying decision and why sales reps must develop the right relationships to remain competitive.

6 – Are you coaching and guiding the right conversations with sales leads?

Provides further insight into sales pipeline’s fatal flaw introduced earlier. Why sales pipelines need to adapt to buyers having the power in today’s world of sales.

7 – Are you developing your sales and supporting the team’s human skills?

Introduces more evidence that sales are changing. The challenge with existing sales training and why your business must strengthen your sales reps’ human skills to remain competitive.

8 – Are you consistently guiding the conversations occurring within sales leads?

How Artificial Intelligence (AI) ar support managing the sales pipelines. The need to support sales reps have the right conversations to improve pipeline management.

How are you managing your sales pipeline?

A Harvard Business Review provides more insights in managing sales pipelines. Companies with effective pipeline management benefited from a 15% increase in growth compared to those that did not. Companies who mastered three specific pipeline practices saw 28% higher revenue growth. These practices are:

  1. Clarity defining your sales process. Sales processes must align with how your customers move through their buying process. Too many sales teams use generic sales processes and get generic sales performance.
  2. Be more effective in managing pipeline reviews. The primary focus of a pipeline meeting should be to help reps develop their gameplay to move deals forward. Not scrubbing CRM data and forecasting revenue.
  3. Train managers on pipeline management. Managers need to know how to structure pipeline meetings. They must use sales pipelines reviews to coach rather than inspect.

The Harvard Business Review article mentioned spending more than three hours a month on pipeline management. I changed this to be more effective in managing pipeline reviews. I consider spending three hours a month managing your sales pipeline is not enough.

Many companies lack a consistent approach to managing pipeline reviews. Reviews ensure sales reps are having the appropriate conversations developing their sales leads. These conversations build trusted relationships and enable more accurate sales revenue forecasting.

Focusing only on the sales pipeline process creates forecasting risks. It makes your leads an anonymous prospect or opportunity that obscures the many people on the other side of the transaction. Serving sales leads’ challenges and needs become secondary with all focus being placed on reviewing a sales rep’s sales revenue forecast. I discuss this in more detail within the Sales Forecasting Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners.

You need the discipline to manage sales leads flowing through the sales pipeline. The danger is focusing on the process overlooks the conversations taking place with the sales leads. It is here risk sneaks in through the back door into the sales pipeline. Sales pipeline reviews should protect the sales pipeline from these risks by reviewing and checking the required conversations are taking place with sales leads.

Passive sales pipeline reporting is when the sales rep presents where they believe a sales lead is without asking the right questions to discover its true position. Consequently, passive sales pipelines are often ineffective. Sales pipelines need to guide the sales rep to strengthen their sales engagements by guiding their conversations with the sales lead. To build trust, confidence and discover new insights that improve their sales forecast accuracy and support closing sales leads quicker.

The challenge for sales leaders managing pipeline reviews is they need to be confident forecasted sales leads are focussed on discovering pain and challenges. Success managing a sales pipeline depends upon building trusted relationships. Sales pipeline reviews help sales reps to build their game plans to understand and focus on addressing sales leads’ priority business needs. Reviewing the conversations during pipeline reviews taking place with sales leads supports their teams move sales leads forward through the sales process. This is the reason sales pipeline reviews must check the right conversations are taking place with forecasted sales leads.

Sales Pipeline Tip: A pipeline review is not scrubbing CRM data or adjusting forecasted revenue to meet management and investor expectations. If your reviews are, you need to change how you approach sales pipeline reviews. The primary focus of a sales pipeline review should be to help sales reps develop a game plan to move deals forward to a successful closure.

Download our Guide Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews

How have you structured your sale pipeline?

Sales pipelines track lead qualification for every sales lead flowing through the pipe. At its simplest level it is a lead qualification and tracking process:

Sales StageSimple Lead Qualification
1Open – Not Contacted. This is the default lead tracking stage.
2Working - Contacted
3Closed - Won
4Closed - Lost

I have added the questions to the right related to what we can expect the sales rep and leader to be discussing during sales pipeline reviews. Discovering the answers occurs during conversations with contacts within the company sales lead. Market intelligence is also important. These insights do not replace the conversation, they allow sales reps to better position themselves. To have conversations with contacts in positions of authority that are more meaningful to those contacts. These conversations influence and move the reps’ sales engagements forward. The table below is an example sales pipeline provided by a market leading CRM provider.

Sales StageDescriptionRevenue WeightingSupplier Discussions
Pipeline Reviews
1Appointment scheduled20%Is this a good investment of your/our time?
2Qualified To Buy40%Is it a sales trap?
3Presentation Scheduled60%Can we win the deal?
4Decision Maker Bought-In80%Do we have the sales lead’s support to win?
5Contract Sent90%Do we have the strength to win?
6Contract Won100% Won
-Closed Lost0% Lost

This method tracks and reports on sales lead progress through the sales process. There is also significant value in having simple sales pipeline structures. However, you may, as I do, consider the above revenue gearing to be too high. High gearing amplifies poor sales pipeline management.

Sales Pipeline Tip: Each sales stage must have a clear intended outcome and purpose. Make sure your sales teams are clear what actions they need to complete for each sales stage. Clarify your expectations and use sales pipeline reviews to confirm the actions occurring. Make sure these actions are completed before moving to the next sales stage.

We recommend you use the following three steps when reviewing your sales pipeline stages.

Step 3Step 1Step 2

Are your sales practices guiding the sales lead centre stage? Do this and you will provide clear guidance on what to complete at each sales stage. It also provides consistent guidance for sales leaders managing sales pipeline reviews.

You must also foster more client-centric sales behaviour and discipline. Sales practices and methodologies have evolved over the past decade to provide a framework for qualifying a sales lead as it enters and moves through the sales pipeline.

Effective sales methodologies and practices prompt open-ended questions. Asking the right questions at the right time guides sales reps and leaders. They help to better understand their sales leads’ current situation and needs. Being consistent using sales practices helps improve forecast accuracies and sales pipeline reviews.

Here is a list of the more popular qualification frameworks:

Sales MethodologiesSales Focus
BANTBudget, Authority, Need, Timeline
MEDDICMetrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Maker, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion
CHAMPChallenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritisation
GPCTBA/C&IGoals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority, Negative Consequences and Implications
ANUMAuthority, Need, Urgency, Money
FAINTFunds, Authority, Interests, Needs, Timing

Buyers holding power is forcing the more traditional sales practices to change. Prospects and clients are becoming more sales savvy, which requires sales pipelines, sales methodologies and practices to adapt.

Sales Pipeline Tip: Review what sales methodologies and practices you are using. Are these methods and practices adopted by all sales leaders during pipeline reviews? You need consistency. Without consistency, sales forecast accuracy will mirror individual sales reps and leaders’ behaviour. Your sales pipeline will reflect sales leaders’ skill in managing their sales reps. According to Salesforce. High-performing sales teams are 2.3 times more likely to use guided selling compared to underperforming teams.

Download our Guide Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews

Are your sales reps struggling to consistently use sales methods and practices?

If you have you have answered yes. Your sales methodologies and practices are not lightweight and dynamic enough. Sales teams work in dynamic, complex, and unpredictable conditions. You need a sales prospecting tool that supports working in these conditions. Many of these conditions have emerged because buyers and influencers hold the power.

The Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard is a lightweight, dynamic sales prospecting tool, guiding sales reps what questions to ask. These questions develop and move their sales conversations forward. The Scorecard is also an ideal sales prospecting tool to use with prospects and during sales pipeline review meetings.

Finding the right problems to address helps make influencers and buyers look good. This opens the door to greater creativity, generosity and possibilities. These attributes are the staple ingredients required to build trusted relationships that allow sales reps to develop solutions your competition has not considered. It all comes back to asking the right questions. Questions that will change the sales interaction itself for the better.

Effective selling is becoming more data-driven and requires more intelligent sales skills. Salesforce highlighted this reality in a recent survey that highlighted intelligent capabilities help high-performing sales teams improve forecast accuracy by 10.5 times. This is comparing their sales performance with underperforming sales teams.

The sales pipeline must extend to supporting sales reps and leaders. It must become a more effective supporting, coaching and guiding sales reps on the job while in the field. We recommend you consider integrating sales prospecting tools like the Scorecard into your sales pipeline. Doing so enables:

  • Sales leaders to improve their sales pipeline reviews. To better manage inconsistent, often patchy stream of information supporting a sales pipeline forecast. To better guide their teams to have a greater perspective and clarity in managing sales leads to closure. Conversation indicators guide the conversations to discover insights that move a sales lead forward. These indicators improve your sales forecast accuracy.
  • Sales reps to take greater control of their sales engagements. To move conversations with sales leads forward,  conversational indicators provide you with a competitive advantage to discover new insights. These indicators guide the conversations to better manage sales leads through the sales pipeline sales stages to closure.


Sales Pipeline Tip: Are your sales reps selling features, functions and benefits? If that is the case, they are problem-solving. Assuming buyers known and understand their problems and we assume their understanding is correct, the information to solve their problems is already available on the Internet. Your sales reps will be selling from a weak position and not differentiating themselves from your competitors. They need to be finding priority problems they can solve that buyers are unaware of.

Are your sales reps connecting with all those influencing the buying decision?

Sales leaders and reps need to adapt to remain competitive. Sales leads entering the sales pipeline are far better informed than they ever used to be. You need to adapt to this market change. A competitive sale is no longer only focused on the product, service or solution. Successful sales require we manage all relationships with those making or influencing a buying decision. It is no longer restricted to those making the buying decision. Managing a sale includes those influencing that decision. These people can be everyone they know and work with who has a view.

Being effective in connecting with and managing those influencing a sale has now become a critical differentiator. It means you may never meet that person who is moving your sales lead in your favour or against you. This requires the sales function joining forces with the marketing function. The term “Smarketing” has become relevant. Sales reps and leader’s success depend on their support managing the sales pipeline.


Sales Pipeline Tip: How do you know your sales reps are developing the right contacts? There are six key roles sales reps must cover off when managing a sales engagement. If your answer is “Not sure”, your sales pipeline is at risk.

Are you coaching and guiding the right conversations with sales leads?

Sales reps still need to manage and develop sales leads through the sales pipeline. The reality in the field highlights the real challenge for sales reps and leaders. Sales pipelines focus on serving internal reporting needs. They fail to place the sales lead centre stage. Sales practices, therefore, need to better interact with the sales pipeline.

According to the Forrester:

  • 92% of buyers start with an information search.
  • 53% of buyers prefer to go online and consider it superior to interacting with a salesperson,
  • 75% of buyers depend on social networks to learn about selecting vendors.
  • 90% of buyers won’t take a cold call.

Are you selling a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution? The numbers are even more challenging in managing your sales pipeline. The average buyer is not contacting sellers until they are 57% through the sales process, or want sellers to contact them. According to Terminus this is set to rise to 80% by 2020.

Sales Pipeline Tip: Are your sales practices supporting effective sales pipeline management? If you are experiencing slippage or lost deals within the forecast, consider enrolling on our Sales Forecasting Accuracy Course

Are you developing your sales and supporting the team’s human skills?

Success in today’s world of sales requires they sharpen their human traits and skills. The next generation sales pipeline must support sales reps to develop their human skills. To have conversations that uncover insights to better serve their sales leads. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will uncover many insights related to the company and contacts sales leads. It will, however, struggle to uncover the human interaction insights that surface within conversations. I wrote a related article, Robots are coming for your jobs, could sleep be your competitive edge? The article focusses on the need for us all to develop our human skills. We need these skills if we are to co-exist and capitalise on the promise AI and automation offers.

A Salesforce survey presented 26 sales statistics that prove sales is changing.

Many sales methodologies and practices lack alignment with the sales pipeline. This is creating more challenges in managing sales pipelines and sales pipeline reviews. At best effective sales methods and practices raise their heads during pipeline reviews. More often, sales teams receive irregular sales training taking them out of the field. This is often the reason why friction occurs between sales teams and leadership. It is also a contributor to the Salesforce top statistic that today’s sales professionals spend 34% of their time selling. These statistics highlights sales teams are struggling, 57% expect to miss their quotas this year.

A business differentiator is its human capital

Investing in this differentiator will harness and unleash your business potential. The next generation sales pipeline is a marriage of technology and human skill. Technical investments including Artificial Intelligence (AI) is available to everyone if you have the money to pay for it. Leveraging these disruptive technologies splits the pack between those with and those without.

The use of technology, including AI is also focused on providing more insight to move a sale forward. If a sales lead receives the same or more value from AI to satisfy their needs, they will use it. If the sales rep engagement with sales leads is repeatable and predictable, AI will in time replace these tasks.

Sales reps’ conversations with sales leads must be meaningful. I do not mean meaningful to themselves but to the buying organisation. Having these meaningful conversations supports sales leads to achieve their intended goals. These very human conversations prevent sales reps from becoming irrelevant to the sales lead. The conversations will also protect future sales teams from technology automating their jobs. In today’s world of sales, sales reps must focus on having more conversations that are meaningful to their sales leads. These conversations are critical to moving sales leads forward through the sales pipeline stages.

Harnessing and unleashing human skill is available to everyone. It is, however, an altogether more challenging task than implementing technology. The sales game changer is the businesses’ ability to unleash their sales teams’ potential. This must be a key goal for implementing the next generation sales pipeline. Integrating sales prospecting tools provides greater insights into developing sales leads that help uncover customers propensity to buy.

Harnessing and unleashing these human skills will improve your ability to achieve your quota targets.


Sales Pipeline Tip: Do you have a plan for how you will develop your sales teams’ human skills? These skills will support sales teams to coexist with AI and other disruptive technologies. If not, contact us at Nazca Services, we will take time to understand your business and priority goals. Also, discuss and guide you on how to strengthen your sales team’s human skills. How to integrate the Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard into your pipeline reviews, and how this will allow you to embrace the AI and technology promise.

Are you consistent guiding the conversations occurring within sales leads?

CRM systems are evolving. They are providing more intelligence using AI, technology and data feed. According to the Salesforce Statistic No. 6., 46% of sales reps have data insights on customers’ propensity to buy, whereas 54% do not. Sales are turning to AI to win back time and selling power feeding these insights into their CRM systems.

Automation supports sales leaders and reps develop leads through the sales stages. It is important to remind oneself that a sales pipeline is a living, ever-changing pipe of activity. You must review your sales pipelines to keep it accurate and up to date. A CRM system includes key sales metrics that support sales leaders and reps during pipeline reviews. These include:

  1. Number of deals in a rep’s pipeline
  2. The average size of the deals in the rep’s pipeline
  3. The Close Ratio, which is the average percentage of deals a sales rep wins.
  4. The Sales Velocity, which is the average lifetime of a deal.

As buyers and influencers become better informed, sales pipelines need to adapt. Over the last ten years, greater control has moved to buyers with technology increasing transparency and access to information driving this shift.

Technology is delivering more intelligence managing a sales lead through the sales pipeline process. It is, however, falling short guiding sales reps manage the sales conversations. It is these conversations that move sales leads forward through the sales pipeline. This fact alone highlights the importance of sales pipeline reviews needing to focus on improving the conversations occurring with sales leads.

The Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard provides sales reps with new insights. It includes conversation indicators that help guide sales reps developing their sales leads and available for reporting alongside other CRM sales pipeline key metrics. Using conversational sales indicators supports sales leaders better manage sales pipeline reviews. They provide greater insight and confidence in managing sales leads to improve sales revenue reporting.

Sales Pipeline Tip: Do you have a consistent approach to coaching your sales reps how to discover problems their sales leads did not know they had? Do you have a consistent approach to managing sales pipeline reviews? If you have answered No to either question, consider how you can support your sales teams to improve their sales pipeline management. The Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard is lightweight and dynamic sales tool that will improve the health of your sales pipeline and sales forecast.

Pulling it all together

Pipeline reviews are your business’s regular health check. Sales pipelines are important and yet companies are not managing them well. Better managing your sales pipeline will improve your business success. You must focus on sales pipeline reviews helping sales reps developing their gameplay. This gameplay must move deals forward to a successful closure when forecast. The next generation sales pipeline and sales prospecting tools offer you a fast track to achieving this outcome. They embrace and support you manage sales challenges to achieve your sales teams’ and business growth goals.

Download our Guide Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews

Contact Us

To discuss how you can strengthen your sales pipeline. Improve sales pipeline reviews and sales forecast accuracy.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.

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