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Sales - 8 min READ

3 Sales Pipeline Problems You Can Fix with Just Your CRM

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Author photo: Ashley Hall

Ashley Hall

Senior Account Manager

According to Vantage Point, over 70% of sales managers hold regular sales pipeline reviews with their team. Yet 63% of managers believe their companies do a bad job of maintaining their pipeline.

Sales pipeline management might seem simple: you build your pipeline, hire great sales reps, pour in leads, and watch as your revenue soars.

However, the reality of managing a pipeline is much more challenging. Leads fall through the cracks and go cold. Marketing attracts the wrong sort of leads. Sales reps waste their time on low value tasks. Your pipeline gets clogged with dead wood.

In this article, we’ll discuss how you can:

  • use your CRM to clear some of these blockages,
  • improve your sales pipeline, and
  • convert more leads

Problem #1: You’re not talking to the gatekeeper

“This all sounds great and I’d love to sign off but it’s my manager who has the final say.”

From the beginning of time, that sentence has broken the hearts of sales reps. The rep’s put in the hard graft, gently nurturing a prospect along the sales pipeline to the point of conversion—only to discover they have not been talking to the decision gatekeeper.

This is called the gatekeeper problem (or if your prospects are building up near the end of your pipeline, the gatekeeper bottleneck) and it’s immensely frustrating for sales reps.

Solution: Add a custom Gatekeeper field.

To fix a gatekeeper bottleneck, add in a custom field in your CRM for decision-maker and make it required in your lead generation. Since it’s a required field, whoever’s in charge of lead generation won’t be able to create the lead without checking who the gatekeeper actually is.

With that simple fix, your sales reps will instantly know whether it’s worth continuing to nurture their current point of contact or if they’ll have to locate the actual gatekeeper.

What creating a custom field looks like in Copper

Learn more about how a CRM can handle pipelines using Copper as an example:

Problem #2: No shared definition of a ‘good’ lead

In an article for Forbes, William Flaiz recalls his experience within a large company where sales and marketing were totally disconnected. The company’s sales team shifted their approach to the Miller Heiman method: “a method of sales targeting that involves focusing sales efforts on multiple types of decision makers and buyers for any prospective client.”

But no one told Marketing about the switch.

The company’s marketing team continued to deliver its usual campaigns, focussing on volume of companies rather than the volume of contacts within each company. This led to a wholesale misalignment of priorities and goals between the two teams and declining performance overall.

Flaiz’s story shows how important it is for Sales and Marketing to have a shared definition of a ‘good’ lead. Without a shared definition, Marketing will attract leads that your sales reps will struggle to convert.

Solution: Perform a win/loss analysis.

One of the easiest ways to ensure Sales and Marketing has a shared definition of a ‘good’ lead is through what’s called a win/loss analysis.

To start with, export all your won and lost opportunities along with all the associated demographics and behavioral, marketing, and commercial data from your CRM.

Then have your sales and marketing teams work through the won and lost lists looking for commonalities. For example, are all your won opportunities in one industry? Are they clustered around certain geographic hotspots? Is your point of contact a particular role? Did they come via a particular marketing channel or campaign?

Once you know what sorts of leads are converting best, you can start to build out a more generalized definition of a ‘good’ lead. And once your marketing team understands what type of leads your sales reps want, they can start designing campaigns to attract them.

Problem #3: Your sales reps aren’t spending their time selling

According to a recent study from InsideSales, sales reps spend just 36.6% of their time selling. They spend the remaining 63.4% of their time on non-revenue-generating work like emailing colleagues, managing their appointments, and prospecting.

It won’t come as a surprise but there’s a clear link between the amount of time a sales rep spends selling and their sales performance. Simply put, if you spend more time selling, you tend to sell more.

Solution: Automate as much shallow work as possible.

The best-performing sales reps automate their low-value work, freeing up more of their time to spend on actually valuable tasks.

Start by having all sales reps track their activity through a tool like Toggl. Once they understand where they’re spending their time, they can identify time-intensive, non-revenue-generating tasks for automation.

For example, if a sales rep discovers they are spending two hours per day writing follow-up emails to prospects, that’s obviously not a great use of their resources.

To save time, they could set up a drip campaign and let their CRM automatically send personalized follow-up emails until their prospect eventually responds. (We’ll discuss this more later.)

Problem #4: You’re not fast enough

Five minutes. That’s how long you have to respond to a lead after they contact you. If you take longer than five minutes, there’s an 80% decrease in lead qualification. After 10 minutes, that rises to 400%.

Yet, according to Drift, only 7% of companies manage to get in under the five-minute threshold.

Solution: Automate immediate communication.

Your response to leads doesn’t need to be completely bespoke but it does need to give the impression that you received their email or phone call and that someone is dealing with it right now.

If you create canned or automated responses in your CRM, you can streamline early communication and get personalized responses out in under five minutes.

In Copper, you can set up canned responses in the Canned Responses Lab. Just write an email template, save it to your library, and send it at the click of a button:

Problem #5: Your pipeline is full of dead wood

According to research from IBM, duplicate, missing, inaccurate or incorrect data costs U.S. businesses $3.1 trillion every single year. Nowhere is this more true than sales where dirty data can wreak havoc on your sales pipeline, causing delays, bottlenecks, and leaks.

One of the most common causes of bad data is dead wood. (Dead wood is simply any opportunity that you probably aren’t going to close.)

For example, a sales rep might keep a high-value $10,000 deal in their pipeline just in case the prospect comes back to them after six months. However, since most sales forecasts count all the opportunities in your pipeline, that deal is going to artificially inflate their forecast for the next month.

Solution: Purge quiet and cold leads.

Clearing the dead wood from your sales pipeline is a necessary part of sales but reps are often hesitant to do it in case they discard a lead that would eventually convert.

Here’s a simple three-step process to make sure you don’t discard live leads.

  1. Search for prospects who’ve been in your sales pipeline (or a particular pipeline stage) for longer than your average sales cycle.
  2. Validate their contact information and ensure your point of contact still works at the company.
  3. Send a ‘break-up’ email and make it easy for them to offer a reply. Typically sales reps will ask for one of three responses in their break-up email: “yes, I’m still interested”; “no, I’m not interested”; or “I don’t have time right now—contact me again in six months.”

Once you’ve run each lead through the three-step process, you should be able to either move it down the sales funnel, discard it, or put a delay on the deal.

Whatever the outcome, your sales pipeline will look fresher and will better represent the work that’s actually on the table.

Problem #6: You’re letting leads go cold

According to the Radicati Group, business users receive 140 emails per day. That’s one email every three and a half minutes. With that many emails dropping into our inboxes, it’s unreasonable to expect people to read everything they receive, let alone reply to everything.

Considering how many emails we get, it’s not surprising that sales reps achieve only a 9% average reply rate to sequences of three or fewer emails.

This results in prospects lingering in your sales pipeline until your rep assumes the deal is dead and marks the opportunity as lost. In reality, the prospect probably hasn’t even noticed the sales rep’s email.

Solution: Use multi-email drip campaigns.

Set up a multi-email drip campaign within your CRM to automatically follow up with prospects after you send your first email. How many emails you should is hard to pin down—avoid spamming prospects, but try to maintain a constant presence in their inbox until you get a reply.

According to Woodpecker, sequences with three or fewer emails receive an average reply rate of 9%. For sequences with between four and seven emails, that reply rate jumps up to 27%.

Y-Combinator startup Ambition used an eight-email sequence to generate 73 responses from 578 cold leads (a reply rate of 12%), whereas 52Challenges achieved a 30% reply rate with a three-email sequence to cold leads.

Pro-tip: For an in-depth look at drip campaigns, check out How to Drip Market Your Way to a Sale.

Ready to fix your pipeline problems with your CRM?

Your sales pipeline is literally the the thing that keeps your business in profit.

If it’s not operating at its best, you’re putting the survival of your business at risk. Here’s a quick recap of six ways you can use your CRM to help improve the performance of your sales pipeline.

  • Ensure you’re talking to the decision-maker with a custom Gatekeeper field.
  • Have Sales and Marketing perform a win/loss analysis and produce a shared definition of a ‘good’ lead.
  • Automate as much of your sales reps’ repetitive, low-value work as possible and let them concentrate on selling.
  • Set up canned responses and autoresponders to improve response times.
  • Clear the dead wood from your pipeline for a more accurate picture of performance.
  • Use drip campaigns to keep prospects engaged and moving down your sales pipeline.

How do you use your CRM to improve your pipeline? Share your secrets with us on Twitter. Or, if you want to learn more about sales pipeline management, download the free ebook here.

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