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Sales - 9 min READ

How to Manage Your Sales Funnel at Every Stage 

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Author photo: Grace Sweeney

Grace Sweeney


Numbers are down. And along with it, morale.

When you lose a deal, it’s easy to move on to the next one and hope for better results next time.

However, taking a “don’t look back” approach to your sales strategy means losing out on opportunities to improve.

Behind every lost sale lies a revealing dataset. Was it the price, a sales tactic, or just a bad lead? When you fail to manage each stage of your sales funnel, you’ll never learn the why behind your losses.

Over time, you’ll be working from inaccurate forecasts, throwing important pieces of the sales process such as budgeting and resource allocation way off course.

The sales funnel allows you to visualize leads as they move from total stranger to repeat customer. But, the funnel is just a fancy graphic if you’re not managing it correctly.

Here, we’ll discuss sales funnel management and how it looks at every stage.

What is sales funnel management?

Your sales funnel represents your company’s open opportunities from the first point of contact to purchase and eventually, long-term loyalty. The funnel provides a framework you can use to analyze sales performance and look for specific areas to improve.

Sales funnel management aims to estimate the sales generated from your in-progress deals.

Doing this well will help you track and manage every sales opportunity at every phase—from prospect to close.

It's a holistic strategy focused on perfecting the finding, qualifying, and closing processes—removing trial and error from your team’s approach, in favor of a data-backed roadmap to success.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a good management strategy involves the following:

  • A clearly defined sales process: how the funnel is designed, how to measure success, and how these insights drive performance.
  • Investing the time in developing that process: the initial setup may take some time, depending on how you store your data and which metrics you’re currently tracking.
  • A well-trained staff: reps and managers alike need to agree on metrics, what counts as a conversion, and which parts of the funnel have the most impact.

While this may sound overwhelming, once the system is in place, teams can work more efficiently, moving sales through the pipeline with ease—while avoiding the clogs that get in the way.

First, understand the metrics.

To manage the sales funnel, you must understand the numbers. When managers know where averages should land, they can create a predictable revenue stream.

Ideally, you’ll get this to a point where you can predict how many people will go from initial contact to lead qualification and so on—until you seal the deal. Like in this chart:

The first step is establishing a baseline by collecting the right data. Start by looking at the following:

  • How many new leads are created each month?
  • What sources are generating the most leads?
  • How many leads convert to opportunities (qualified prospects)?
  • What is the conversion rate from prospect to customer?
  • How much is the average deal?
  • How long is the average sales cycle?
  • What is the total number of open opportunities?

Measure funnel velocity.

Funnel velocity is the speed at which a lead moves through the funnel. The idea—inspired by physics, applies the following equation to the sales process:

According to Sales Hacker, each element in the calculation is one area where you can improve sales growth.

This chart below shows how, say, focusing on growing your average deal size or spending more time on lead generation really adds up.

While it might sound complicated, sales velocity helps you figure out which areas are clogging up the funnel.

You might find that prospects are moving quickly from initial contact to middle of the funnel. Yet, that final stretch is like pulling teeth.

In this case, you’d look back through your records--what were you hearing from prospects? Are the same objections coming up?

Perhaps it’s a content issue. Maybe, customers can’t find answers to their questions. Or, it could be that it takes too long to complete the checkout process.

In any case, there are several reasons that visitors fall out of the funnel. This next section will go over how to manage the sales funnel by stage.

Sales funnel management by stage:

Everyone’s funnel looks a little different.

Ask any sales expert and they’ll each say the sales process has a different number of steps.

So, before you start looking at how to improve each stage, you’ll need to define the steps that correspond with your business.

Here, we’ll talk funnel management in three phases—top, middle, and bottom. Or, awareness, consideration, decision.

Measuring success means you can point toward a conversion rate from one stage to the next. So, with each of these phases, you’ll need to pinpoint which action puts the prospect into the next category.

Top of the funnel (TOFU)

Early in the journey, customers have a specific problem and are trying to learn more about how to solve it.

Here, prospects might not have the language they need to explain their problem and need a trusted source for education.

You might call this section awareness, discovery, or prospecting.

TOFU success might look like any of the following actions:

  • A call or email
  • Email opt-in
  • Webinar signup
  • Ebook download

The challenge here is making sure you’re attracting the right people and qualifying those leads that take one of the actions mentioned above.

Typically, Marketing and Sales work to get people to enter the funnel by some combination of the following strategies:

  • Social media marketing
  • Blogging
  • Cold calls
  • Paid search
  • Traditional advertising

However, success at the top depends on understanding your audience. Do not start an AdWords campaign or write an entire ebook until you’ve done persona research. From there, Marketing and Sales can tailor their messaging to match the needs of their target audience.

Don’t forget to qualify leads.

You’re not doing your team any favors by qualifying every lead that gets caught in the top of the funnel. Sorting through a huge pool of junk leads means reps waste time and mental energy on people who will never buy.

Instead, those responsible for qualifying top of funnel leads need to learn how to identify those likely to buy—and become repeat customers.

What to look for:

  • Decision-maker
  • Buying authority
  • Approved budget
  • Demonstrated need

Middle of the funnel (MOFU)

Here, prospects move from awareness to consideration. The goal is to refine leads, so you’ll have a clear picture of who is most like to buy.

This in-between space can be challenging for a lot of reps because it’s less defined than capturing a new lead or closing.

What to measure:

  • Engagement—average time spent reading blog posts, email opens and click-through rates
  • Inbound calls
  • Website retention rates
  • Conversations with sales reps—what kind of responses are reps getting in calls/meetings?

MOFU strategies focus on building trust and answering specific questions. So, consider adding content that explains the product/service, as well as how to solve their specific problem.

Losing deals in the middle?

It might be a training issue. Look at your CRM for clues as to how reps handle the proposal stage.

Consider the following questions:

  • Are reps sending proposals the second a prospect requests more information?
  • How often do reps follow up? Do they leave voicemails, emails, provide multiple ways to get in touch?
  • Do prospects receive a hard sales pitch too early?

This area requires a gentle, nurturing approach. Mention what happens after the customer pulls the trigger. For instance, how will your onboarding process work? What can customers expect in terms of support?

Add testimonials and third-party reviews, if possible. Customers like to see that you can make good on your promise.

The point is, you need to communicate value to your readers, be it through a guided demo, a comprehensive knowledge base, or positive word-of-mouth.

For example, here's how you'd manage leads in Copper:

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

Once customers make it through the funnel, it might seem like your work is done. The hard part is keeping customers for the long haul.

Upsells, renewals, churn rates, and retention are the real markers of success. But, the issue is, it can be hard to track the factors that make or break a loyal customer.

Metrics to track:

  • Additional purchases
  • Returning visitors
  • Unsubscribe rates
  • Time spent on website
  • Email opens and click throughs

Things like how often visitors return, whether they read your content, open emails, or unsubscribe, indicate how a customer feels about your brand.

Watch for changes in patterns. For example, if repeat purchases slow down, it might mean that it’s time to focus on customer service or implement a new feature.

Additionally, you’ll want to look at incoming and outgoing revenue, so you can see whether new business makes up for lost deals or inactive customers.

Gather and review data religiously.

Effective sales funnel management relies on accessible data. One of the best (read: easiest) ways to collect and learn from sales data is recording all touchpoints in a CRM.

A CRM lets you review your information in a way that brings insights front and center. By contrast, relying on Google Analytics alone means digging around for specific metrics.

Instead, reps can log in and review opportunities in progress--and take a look at the steps completed. Copper, for example, allows you to look at all communications associated with a prospect--i.e. Proposals sent, tasks completed, calls made.

Check your data to determine where your strategy is working and where it isn’t. Take note of how many new leads are coming in and which factors are driving sales.

You should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Where are deals getting stuck?
  • What can we do to improve those problem areas?
  • How often are we following up?
  • Are customers confused?
  • Or are we hearing the same objections over and over?

As you spend more time reviewing CRM data, you’ll start to identify issues and solutions quickly. By viewing opportunities, you might find that a certain task or interaction was linked to a lost deal. From there, you can tweak your performance accordingly.

Still, informal reviews don’t replace traditional reporting.

Pull weekly reports to formalize your strategy.

Easy-to-read reports allow managers and reps to quickly review performance based on the metrics most important to your team.

Pull reports weekly and discuss what can be improved next time. Then, sales reps can put those new strategies into action and compare the results. Over time, recording these best practices and missteps means you’ll be able to shorten the sales cycle by learning from the past.

We'll use Copper as an example.

The in-app reports allow you to review your sales pipeline in a few different ways, so you can review the metrics we mentioned above.

The pipeline projection total report shows you the value of in-progress opportunities. Here, projected value relies on historical data like average time to close—so you can see what you are going to close this week, month, or year.

Or, the sales history report: an option that looks at past performance, based on close rate:

You can also look at reports by source, rep, or review open pipeline opportunities--or create a custom report that reflects your organization’s goals.

Sales funnel management depends on full visibility.

Ideally, you should be reviewing data regularly and looking for opportunities to make the process run smoothly.

If leads keep dropping off after a certain point, you might find that there’s a gap in content that helps answer common questions.

Maybe your price point is an obstacle, or you’re getting the wrong person on the phone. It could be an issue with your sales pitch.

Over time, sales funnel management gets easier. You’ll start to gather a list of dos and don’ts that will inform your strategy moving forward. A CRM can offer real-time insights, so you can close more deals in less time. Try it and see for yourself.

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