I am married to a career salesman, and cold calling has always been at the center of his strategy. I've seen him running in the rain to the nearest pay phone, and snatching up his cell to make sure his next appointment wasn’t going to cancel. He's stayed in hotels from fleabag to four-star -- one day in the city and the next in a hot rural manufacturing plant.

In spite of all the craziness of his life, he loved it. As he progressed into a leadership role he would talk about “the good days” of being on the road.

There was only one thing that he didn’t like about his job, and it’s the same thing we hear every day at SalesGlobe -- the administrative side of sales, which often comes down to “the probability I am going to hit my sales forecast numbers.”

It’s a crowded market out there. Selling is getting more competitive, and managers tell us every day that reps need to focus on faster ways to reach the customer with the right message before someone else does. Oh, and by the way, make sure you understand the need, build the value proposition, and sell a solution. The game of selling is changing, and add to this the pressure of accounting for the numbers (preferably in real-time, but we all know that doesn’t happen), and keeping everything running smoothly can seem a daunting task, indeed.

Is there a way to make this process more efficient and tie it all together? Yes there is. With a little due diligence up front and a commitment to follow the process, you will find that you can focus on what you do best -- selling -- and the rest can virtually take care of itself. Follow these six steps to pump up and purify your pipeline.

1) Evaluate your current sales pipeline milestones.

Do they make sense? For example, “qualified” is a common milestone, but it’s fairly vague. A better milestone is “qualification process complete,” which adds more clarity.

We work with sales teams and managers every day who don’t really understand what their milestones mean. The definitions are unclear, overly broad, or they don't tie to key activities that make sense to the folks who held are accountable to the milestones. Sharpen your milestones, and the sales forecast will become more accurate.

2) Take a close look at your sales activities related to the milestones.

What do you have to do to complete the qualification process? What is your normal progression of activity, from finding your next potential sales opportunity to closing it? Identify all relevant activities at each stage of your process. Lack of accurate mapping of qualification stages to deal stages is a major reason sales forecasts are inaccurate.

3) Map the activities back to your milestones.

Now take these activities and match them up with the milestones in the sales process. Only track the milestones that make sense to your business and align to your actual daily activities and the opportunity progression in the pipeline.

4) Push to align CRM with your business processes.

Many companies are now automating workflows in their CRM system, building documents into it, or integrating it with adjacent tools. With a bit of work, CRM systems can update sales process milestones and activities automatically, and provide up-to-date status reporting to your management team.

Another benefit of automated pipelines is an answer system. In other words, the CRM system offers prompts when you call up an opportunity. This keeps you focused on your activities, and reminds you of the next steps in your process. Simple reminders can help you stay on top of your opportunities and prompt you to update your pipeline activity.

5) Support pipeline management with weekly sales meetings.

Is the trial for Prospect X going well? What do you expect the results to be? Are you on target to get the proposal to Buyer Y tomorrow afternoon? The meetings you have with your manager should be focused on sales activities and help you keep a clean pipeline.

6) Your CRM and sales manager will do the rest.

Ultimately, your sales manager commits to the sales forecast. By tying milestones to forecasting categories ("best case," "commit," etc.) and ensuring the milestones are associated with sales activities, you can focus on doing your day job while keeping your manager informed of your progress.

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Originally published Aug 25, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Sales Forecasting