Article

How to use a CRM for sales pipeline management

Learn how a CRM can help streamline your sales pipeline management process.

By Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published March 23, 2020
Last updated September 15, 2021

Are you managing your sales pipeline effectively?

The purpose of sales pipeline management is to estimate the upcoming sales you’re aiming to close. Without proper management, you could be missing profitable opportunities. Do you know how many qualified leads are converting? Has your sales team overlooked deals that are now lost? How many deals are worth pursuing?

Over time, poor pipeline management can also cause inaccurate sales forecasting, which affects critical planning information, such as resource allocation and budgeting. Revenue growth can suffer as a result. An inaccurate and poorly managed sales pipeline can eventually lead to the self-destruction of a business.

To avoid the pitfalls of poor management, you need a standardized sales process that includes defined steps for each stage of the pipeline. It also helps if you have a sales CRM with pipeline management functionality, automating the process and keeping all of your salespeople on the same page.

With that in mind, we’ll go through the seven steps you can follow to create an effective sales pipeline management process while also looking at how a sales CRM can be a beneficial pipeline management tool in each stage:

Find your sales prospects

find your sales prospects

Finding prospects is always the first stage of the sales process. In addition to cold calling and emailing, here are a few ideas for finding new prospects:

Lead capture forms collect information from prospects who visit your website and would like more information. Zendesk’s CRM software enables you to create and embed lead capture forms that can be displayed on your website and Facebook page. The platform's automation means this information will go from Facebook directly into the CRM.

Social media can be used to engage with leads by responding to their comments or answering their questions on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Through these interactions, you can pick out potential customers who may be worth pursuing. You can also use social media platforms to message individuals or small businesses you believe could be potential clients. Zendesk also offers social media integrations, like our free Facebook lead capture forms. Customers can fill out the form from your company’s Facebook page, and their information will be uploaded directly to Sell from the form.

A content marketing strategy that’s aligned with sales is a great way to generate interest and attract new prospects. Blog articles, ebooks, and thought-leadership pieces all provide useful information to your target audience while giving you a platform for capturing reader contact information. Work with your marketing department to develop content that will appeal to your target persona.

Sales prospecting doesn’t have to be difficult. With the above tactics and a clear prospecting strategy, you’ll be set to attract more high-value leads.

Determine true lead potential

The next step is qualifying leads to decide how they should be prioritized.

To gauge a prospect’s value, calculate their potential total sales dollars and volume for a specific period (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.). You’ll have to use the data you have about the prospect and past customers to estimate how much their company can spend on your product or service (or contract, if you’re a subscription-based company).

Determining a lead’s potential isn’t an exact science, but you can score them effectively by following a clear process. Learn more about reliable lead scoring with this Zendesk resource.

Zendesk's lead scoring feature partially automates the qualification process. By setting up a scoring system in your CRM, it will know when to qualify a lead. If a lead scores high enough due to their characteristics, they will become a qualified lead, and your CRM will notify you.

Identify decision-makers

In some cases, your contact may be a decision-maker. But many times, purchasing decisions are made by the executives who manage your contact.

Asking your contact about the key decision-maker(s) at their company doesn’t have to be awkward. Try softening your approach: Let the client know that this purchase would represent a significant expenditure for your company and would need executive approval. Once you’re on the topic, ask if that’s their policy, too.

All of the information you get on key decision makers should be stored in your sales CRM. Names, contact information, and previous conversations can all be documented.

Follow up

Follow-up is an incredibly important stage of the sales pipeline and can be as simple as this:

  • Send an email to your contact thanking them for their time and summarizing the next steps.
  • Call the prospect to see if they are still interested.
  • Document all follow-up actions you agreed to complete for all clients and prospects in your sales CRM.

Zendesk makes data entry easy by keeping all client communications and notes in one unified place in the platform. You can even make prospect phone calls and send emails directly from Zendesk. For follow-up notes, add a description of the action, a contact name, and the date of completion. Then, track and complete those actions accurately and within the agreed-upon time frame.

It’s especially important to follow up promptly after the first call from a potential client. They likely have sales offers from competitors that they’re considering, so you may lose their business if you wait too long.

Measure results

For each prospect, track and measure your successes (and failures).

Tracking the results of your sales pipeline—especially in a sales CRM—helps with accurate sales forecasting later on and gives a better idea of future revenue.

Zendesk collects customer data in real-time to make metric tracking seamless. You should be reviewing metrics that give you an idea of pipeline health, sales activity, and stage conversion rates.

Here are a few examples of important metrics to track:

  • Win rate: The number of qualified leads who turn into customers. Track this on a month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter basis, so you can measure change over time.
  • Lead-to-qualified-opportunity conversion rate: How many of your leads are becoming qualified? Are your qualification standards too high or too low?
  • Average sales cycle: A measure of how long it takes to close a deal. Once you know your sales cycle length, you can identify the deals that are stagnating in your pipeline.
  • Sales velocity: A combination of conversion rate, average deal size, sales cycle length, and the number of opportunities, this metric looks at how fast leads go through your pipeline and how valuable they are to your business. Sales velocity helps you determine what different stages of the pipeline need attention and how you can quickly close more deals.

Zendesk offers several sales performance reports to help you get the most of your data.

The stage conversion report is just one example of Zendesk’s many sales reporting options. We’ve rounded up a list of the five most important reports for sales managers to run to make sure you’re getting the most out of your Zendesk subscription.

Analyze results

This stage is for reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales pipeline management process. Use your CRM to check the data and determine which processes are working and which ones aren’t. Repeat the paths that have won sales, and avoid the actions that lost deals. Consider these questions:

  • At what stages are deals getting stuck?
  • Based on the data, what are the current risks?
  • What specific actions can we take to improve our opportunity conversion rate?
  • How frequently and effectively do we follow up?

Zendesk’s funnel report is especially helpful for visualizing what stage(s) is the sticking point for your team.

4 key steps to analyze your sales pipeline reports

  1. Review data regularly.
  2. Always be looking for opportunities to make improvements to your strategies.
  3. Share what works and what doesn’t with your sales force.
  4. And, if necessary, update your standardized sales process.

Update your pipeline

Regularly clean your pipeline to ensure that you’re throwing out the bad prospects. It’s easy for leads that aren’t worth pursuing or have gone past the average sales cycle to start cluttering up your pipeline. Consistently audit your pipeline, asking yourself specific questions. For example:

  • Are there any bottlenecks (stagnant leads)?
  • Are there any dead or low-opportunity leads that I can remove?
  • Are there any communications that should be updated?

Also, use your sales CRM to keep prospect contact information up to date. And don’t let it get too messy—for the best results, you should clean your pipeline either daily or weekly. Everything will be more accurate, and you won’t get overwhelmed at the end of the month.

A good sales CRM is the ultimate pipeline management tool

Successful businesses create and track clients and prospects in their sales pipeline. And the best way to do that is with a sales CRM that allows you to track your information by month, quarter, or year, tracking all the relevant data with none of the endless, repetitive spreadsheets.

And with a sales CRM, you can measure the sales dollars and closure rates for potential sales and then analyze the results to help you manage and, most importantly, continually improve your sales pipeline.

Learn more about Zendesk Sell here.

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