Pipeline Management Training 101 — Everything You Need to Know

Download Now: Free Sales Plan Template
Rachael Nicholson
Rachael Nicholson

Published:

Pipeline management training can increase your sales manager’s effectiveness. It can also provide the necessary structure and knowledge to help sales teams improve their account management processes. Better sales management coupled with robust account-led processes puts your company on track to meet and even exceed revenue goals.

sales leaders performing pipeline management training

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But as a professional who’s been in sales in varying capacities — from administrator to manager — for nearly a decade, I’ve seen these benefits first-hand. So have the sales experts I interviewed for this piece.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the top benefits of pipeline management training, explain what a health pipeline looks like, and share practical tips for training your sales team.

Free Download: Sales Plan Template

Table of Contents:

What is pipeline management training?

Pipeline management training means coaching your sales managers and broader sales team to build and oversee the pipeline. There are two key components of pipeline management training: How to conduct an effective pipeline management coaching session and learning how to recognize what a healthy pipeline looks like.

What does a healthy pipeline look like?

According to Gartner, 72% of chief sales officers (CSOs) cite improving pipeline creation as their top priority. But how can your sales managers and team build a better pipeline if they don't know what a healthy one looks like for your organization?

Luckily, sales management expert and co-author of ‘Cracking the Sales Management Code,’ Jason Jordan, can help. He recommends three metrics to assess pipeline health:

  • Size: Most sales managers err on the side of ‘bigger is better,’ but smaller can actually be more productive. The reason is smaller pipelines often have bad deals weeded out. It's also essential to tailor pipeline size to the individual salesperson rather than rolling out a team-wide mandate.
  • Content: A big pipeline isn‘t worth much if the prospects in the funnel aren’t aligned with the company‘s goals. What prospects is your company trying to target? What products or services is it trying to sell? If those opportunities aren’t in the pipeline today, they won't be sold tomorrow.
  • Movement: Keep a close eye on prospects' progress and look for sticking points. If you can identify trouble spots, it naturally leads to a coaching conversation.

The Benefits of Pipeline Management Training

Over 60% of CSOs identify improving sales managers‘ effectiveness as a top priority. Meanwhile, 62% want to improve account management and account-based strategies. Investing in pipeline management training is one way to achieve both goals. Let’s go back nearly a decade to see this in action.

More effective sales teams

I was fresh out of university and got my first ‘real’ job as an admin in a local college's business development (BD) department. I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and had no clue about BD or admin. I was, however, fortunate enough to work under a business development manager who was previously an IT tutor. Because of her background, she was incredible with systems and processes.

But she had been away on maternity leave, making my first week on the job her first week back. During her absence, the reps had been left unmanaged and half-heartedly kept up with data/admin. Process-wise, the department was a mess.

Each sales rep had a different system to track the pipeline and manage accounts. That meant they would sometimes chase the same leads, and key accounts weren't nurtured because the reps were too busy chasing new business. It was also a nightmare for the BD manager to track progress and report to other departments or, even worse, the college directors.

 

After about a week, the BD manager set us both a task to create a master spreadsheet for tracking new leads. She also trained me in data entry, Excel, formulas, and how to source, qualify and track leads related to the spreadsheet. I was then in charge of owning this area going forward. That reason being, I could generate more leads in the background, even when the reps were busy in sales meetings.

An example of a CRM which can be used in sales pipeline management training.

Image Source

We also invested in a CRM to track individual pipelines from start to finish. We got caught up with the backlog between ourselves. After that, one day a month, the BD manager would deliver pipeline management training for us all in the morning. Then, the reps would do pipeline management through the CRM in the afternoon.

The BD manager was more effective because she could track team-wide pipeline progress and spot new opportunities. I was more effective as an admin because I wasn't constantly chasing reps to deal with a pipeline backlog. I could then focus that time on helping generate new leads for the sales reps. The reps were more effective because the training and processes gave them clarity. That meant they never let a qualified lead or upselling opportunity slip through the net.

Revenue growth

"Pipeline management is one area that's particularly important for sales managers to be trained on. Why? Because it impacts the bottom line," says Jason Jordan.

Jordan cites research his company conducted with the Sales Management Association. The study revealed that companies that train their sales managers on pipeline management had 9% greater revenue growth than those that neglected to do so.

Wilson Learning reports similar findings about how training your sales managers impacts revenue. With the addition of manager coaching, sales performance — measured in sales revenue — increased from 24% to 67% overall.

Accurate forecasting

“Pipeline management training is so beneficial because it allows us to keep our pipeline up to date, therefore improving our ability to forecast,” says Revenue Operations Manager at Qwilr, Dustin Martin. Dustin also emphasizes the importance of having all sales team members operate under the same pipeline assumptions.

Doing so creates uniformity across the stages and enables the business to trust the pipeline. You'll then have “a reliable metric that should directionally be able to help the business anticipate future results and plan accordingly.”

Protect profit margins

“Your sales pipeline is what pumps life into your revenue stream,” says Vito Vishnepolsky, Director at Martal Group. Think about how much each lead costs your company. In B2B sales, paying $200 or more per lead is not uncommon. Now, imagine losing half your leads due to a faulty pipeline. How deep would that cut into your profit margins?"

Vito explains that even with the technology we have today, automation misses the mark nine times out of ten regarding effective pipeline management. That‘s why it’s so important to deliver training that helps sales teams spot flaws in the pipeline — even when tech may miss them.

Strategic planning

“As a small startup, we're very agile, and we have already changed direction multiple times in reaction to market conditions,” says Louise Horscroft, Commercial Director at AquaSwitch. There is no set recipe for strategic planning at a startup, so besides understanding the key aspects — lead numbers, lead conversion rates, etc. — the rest is learned on the job."

Because so much is learned on the job, Louise cites pipeline management training as a way to help you plan more strategically. Even if you train people on the job, it will still allow you to mitigate the unknowns of being a startup.

Whether you‘re a startup or a corporation, more accurate forecasting because of pipeline management training can also help you plan strategically. That’s because you plan in line with how your pipeline actually is rather than how you'd like it to be.

Better resource allocation

As a result of pipeline management training, Louise has enhanced the way AquaSwitch distributes its sales team. Vito Vishnepolsky reports a similar experience to Louise. “Through training, your sales team is equipped with everything they need to keep your lead data accurate and applicable so you can allocate your resources accordingly,” Vito explains.

Part of that is because a well-managed pipeline makes it easier to predict which leads and opportunities will close. Sales managers can then allocate resources against the goals of the pipeline while factoring in higher-priority leads.

How to Train Your Team on Pipeline Management

From prospecting to winning or losing the deal, the pipeline should align with your business goals and values at every stage. Here's how to train your team on pipeline management to help you achieve that and convert more prospects into purchasers.

Don't neglect existing sales managers

“Sales managers often get selected and promoted for being exceptional reps, but just because they've mastered one role doesn't mean they're naturally adept at the other,” says Jason Jordan.

Jason explains that sales management includes coaching, creating forecasts, running reports, and many other things reps don‘t have in their job description. That said, there’s a common assumption that if a company promotes its best salespeople, those former sales reps will just figure it out. But Jason doesn't think this is true.

“From my perspective, new sales managers promoted from the rep level should be treated as new hires and trained as such. Our observation is that organizations spend a lot of time teaching managers on the sales methodology and showing them how to work in the CRM, but they don't get much in the way of practical training.”

Make the training hands on

Every sales team I‘ve ever worked on has been high energy, with most reps having outgoing personalities. Now, that’s not to say only outgoing extroverts work in sales. I‘ve met some incredibly talented salespeople who would tell you they’re naturally introverted.

That said, an extroverted salesperson won‘t appreciate being buried in manuals for hours. And in my experience, endless theory isn’t a great approach to sales training, regardless of personality type. So, if you want your pipeline management training to work, make it hands-on.

Of course, you don‘t want to skip the theory entirely — it matters. But don’t have your sales team reading handouts for hours. Instead, deliver a bit of theory and then embed the learning with practical activities. Get your team using new tools (or existing tools in new ways) and working on actual leads at various stages of the pipeline.

Establish what ‘pipeline’ Is and set clear expectations

“Coaching up a team on pipeline management requires discussing what constitutes a pipeline in the first place,” says Dustin Martin. Dustin explains that pipeline is a confidence metric, and if the pipeline is inflated, the business will have unwarranted confidence.

To prevent that, Dustin recommends clarifying what requirements your team must meet to create a deal. “After that, make it clear what requirements must be met to advance a deal, and discuss how to appropriately size a deal,” Dustin continues.

Go over CRM/admin best practices

Dustin also emphasizes that consistency is vital when it comes to CRM use. “Make the fields known and required in Hubspot so that everyone is filling out the same data in order to create and advance the pipeline,” says Dustin.

In reality, that can be easier said than done. As a former admin for a lovably rowdy business development team, I can tell you firsthand — some salespeople just don‘t like admin or data entry. Be that updating spreadsheet/CRM or crossing the t’s and dotting the i‘s on paperwork. It’s just not their thing.

The way I got over this hurdle was to show how doing these tasks helped to improve sales results. I also dangled the commission carrot every so often. I‘d explain that, yes, it’s mundane work. But filling out the correct fields in a CRM could be the difference between banking your commission in two months or six.

As a sales team in the public sector, this was especially relevant. Any missing data meant compliance wouldn't clear the paperwork. That meant a delay in reclaiming the funding, which meant a delay in the reps getting their commission.

Even in the private sector, you might rely on other departments to approve commission payments. But how can they okay payments if they don‘t know the deal has been closed? TL; DR:That’s a delay in commission because the rep didn't fill out the correct fields on the CRM.

Include key parameters and sales fundamentals

“At AquaSwitch, we're all about data, so I've taken a lot of time training my sales reps on keeping track of key parameters to have the 'big picture' when making key decisions and managing expectations,” says Louise Horscroft.

Dustin mirrors this approach. “You must get the team to agree across the board on what metrics and qualifications to rely on,” says Justin. Doing this is essential to keep everyone “working in the same way.”

Louise emphasizes that experience remains paramount here. That's because “differentiating soft versus hard leads still leans on intuition.” Still, you must recognize specific key indicators and sales metrics within pipeline management training. If we’re following Jason’s advice to assess pipeline health, these might include size, content, and movement.

Aside from outlining and tracking key parameters, other fundamentals to include in your training would be sales phrases, lead qualification, lead nurturing, and accurate sales forecasting. These areas help get you on the same page so you can manage your pipeline effectively as a sales team.

Don't confine all learning to the classroom

“At AquaSwitch, we operate with a compact sales team, and most training unfolds on the go,” says Louise. Louise explains that because their sales team is small, they must be agile in all areas. Part of this ‘on the go’ approach means constantly collaborating to “refine our pipeline 'habits.'”

Vito Vishnepolsky takes a similar stance. “We have a remote team of over 50 sales executives, all in different regions and time zones. As you may assume, it's not always easy or practical to schedule team training sessions.”

To counteract this, Vito recommends amassing a repository of online training videos. Vito also emphasizes that quick and comprehensive answers trump formal classroom-style training every time when it comes to pipeline management training.

Focus on continuous improvement

“My biggest tip for training is to make sure to cover the technical basis AND to make sure everyone has the 'forever learner' attitude,” says Louise. “We're all constantly picking our heads as to how we can improve our sales. Technology is moving much faster than any traditional salesman can keep up with, so it's all about research.”

Vito shares a similar attitude but from the perspective of updating and improving the training itself. “Don't look at your online training as a set-it-and-forget-it solution,” explains Vito. “Continually update your modules to reflect your current best practices; otherwise, your team will lose confidence in the training or adopt outdated processes.”

Embed the training through rep check-ins

“Now that you know how to assess a pipeline, you should sit down with each rep -- ideally 3-4 hours per month -- and talk through their funnels,” says Jason.

Jason explains that your pipeline management meetings shouldn‘t be the sales manager and rep scrubbing data for an hour. That’s just inspection for inspection's sake.

“Instead, pipeline management should be proactive and forward-looking. Managers should focus on just a few deals and dig into the particulars with the reps so they can have an impact on the outcome,” Jason explains.

Online Courses for Pipeline Management

In this section, I share four online courses for pipeline management, including the pricing, course content, and what I like about the training.

LinkedIn

If you‘re a LinkedIn Premium member, you can do this course for free within your membership. If not, ’Sales Pipeline Management‘ costs $29.99 per learner. The course has three chapters: ’Sales Foundations,‘ ’Pipeline Structure and Stages,‘ and ’Review, Analysis, and Essential Metrics for Pipeline Management.'

I‘ve always had great experiences with LinkedIn Learning, personally. Then, as a manager, I’ve used the tool as an accessible way to train my team. Because of that, this course was first on my list to preview.

At first glance, I like how in-depth the training is. Plus, the trainer, Dean Karrel, an expert in sales training, includes practical examples. Practical examples are great because they help the learning to stick.

Reed

Reed‘s ’Sales Forecasting and Pipeline Management‘ course is a two-hour virtual training session that costs £180 (about $220.) The training is divided into four parts: ’What is the impact of sales forecasting,‘ ’Which factors affect sales trends,‘ ’The importance of monitoring actual sales against forecasted sales,‘ and ’Understand the importance of Pipeline Management.'

I think this course would be an excellent addition for sales managers who want to understand how pipeline management impacts forecasting, specifically. I also like that the course shows participants how to build a market picture by analyzing actual against forecasted sales.

TalentLMS

You can access ‘Managing Your Pipeline’ from TalentLMS through their membership offer. Memberships start from $69 per month for unlimited courses covering up to 40 users. The training covers three main areas: ‘Assessing which leads to follow through on,’ ‘Constructing a time-management plan to meet critical targets,’ and ‘Tools to help manage the sales pipeline.’

I like that TalentLibrary is accredited by the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Certification Service. As someone with a background in education and training, I know this is generally a good indicator of course quality.

I also like that it caters to anyone in the sales world. That means as a sales manager, you can take the training yourself and assign it to your reps, too. Your sales reps can then see their pipeline from a different perspective.

Richardson Sales Performance

‘Reviewing Pipelines’ is a virtual instructor-led course explicitly aimed at sales managers and leaders. You have to contact them directly for course prices. The training covers four key content areas: ‘Evaluate Sales Pipelines for Consistent Productivity,’ ‘Develop the Sales Team’s Skills,‘ ’Forecast Accurately,‘ and ’Establish an Effective Sales Management Cadence.'

I like that this training focuses on coaching sales managers, specifically. That said, I also appreciate how managers will be able to find relevant skill development opportunities for their teams through pipeline analysis training.

Enhance Your Sales Team with Pipeline Management Training

While some might believe selling is, in part, a natural talent, companies still devote $2,020 per sales rep to sales training on average. It‘s up for debate whether the amount of training reps receive is enough, but still, it happens. What doesn’t happen nearly as frequently or thoroughly is pipeline management training.

From increasing sales manager effectiveness to increasing revenue and protecting profit margins, many expert/data-led reasons exist to buck this trend. You can follow our guide if you want to train your sales managers and broader team to manage pipelines more effectively. Alternatively, you can try one of the recommended courses above.

sales plan

Related Articles

Outline your company's sales strategy in one simple, coherent plan.

    Powerful and easy-to-use sales software that drives productivity, enables customer connection, and supports growing sales orgs

    START FREE OR GET A DEMO