11 best practices of sales pipeline management

Posted March 25, 2023

headshot of blog author, woman smiling

By Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices at Outreach

Proper sales pipeline management is crucial to closing sales, attracting new clients, retaining customers, and bringing in revenue. But many sales teams struggle to prevent pipelines from drying up or being flooded with gaps, which results in lower team morale and a loss of confidence from leaders. Inconsistent and disjointed information sources create a lack of visibility across the pipeline, which in turn causes surprise shortfalls that become larger problems. 

To prove they can deliver winning strategies and meet (or exceed) their revenue targets, teams need a strong sales pipeline management practice.

Here, we'll discuss 11 best practices for sales pipeline management for greater team performance, participation, and revenue. 

What is a sales pipeline?

Before we take a deep dive into best practices for managing the sales pipeline, let's start with the basics. 

A sales pipeline is the visualization of the flow and volume of a company's revenue opportunities (AKA potential sales) in a given period. The pipeline's primary function is to provide a snapshot of key sales elements, including:

  • The number of open deals/opportunities, as well as their individual and aggregate monetary values.
  • The sales potential of each seller as well as the entire sales team for a given period.
  • The different stages that comprise a company’s sales cycle or process.
  • The status of each open deal with respect to the sales cycle and all the actions that have been performed to engage the opportunity.
  • The activities that still need to be performed to move each opportunity to the next stage of the sales cycle

As a reminder, while the terms sales pipeline and sales funnel are often used interchangeably and considered synonymous, the two are actually completely different concepts. A sales funnel visualizes the lead qualification process: a large number of potential prospects enter the wide top of the funnel and only a few exit out of the bottom as customers.

The sales pipeline, on the other hand, shows the different stages in your company's sales process and how leads are distributed in these stages. It also shows successive conversion rates as prospects are either qualified or disqualified to move further and the activities sellers perform to move leads from one stage of the sales process to the next.

What is sales pipeline management?

Sales pipeline management is the process of empowering reps (and the entire sales team) with everything they need to have enough deals at various stages of the pipeline. For sales management, this means creating standards and collecting data to make the team more efficient. For sellers, it involves continuously improving upon their own sales processes and activities to close more deals. 

Building and maintaining a healthy pipeline management practice is vital for both short- and long-term success. We know that sales managers and reps are busy people. In fact, a recent study showed that 56% of managers identified time pressures as one of their most significant challenges, while reps are only able to spend about a third of their time actually selling, thanks to other demands.

Effective pipeline management requires managers to optimize several key tasks which contribute to a more efficient, productive team that can consistently boast proven success. These tasks include:

  • Setting rep quotas
  • Monitoring rep attainment and participation
  • Ensuring the team has sufficient pipeline coverage to hit quota
  • Reporting on team pipeline movement to sales and executive leadership

The result is a sales team that can run like a well-oiled machine, with more time available for high-value tasks rather than tedious, administrative duties that hinder their ability to close deals. 

11 best practices for sales pipeline management

There's no one-size-fits-all sales pipeline management formula for success. In an ideal world, pipelines are always full, flowing, and flourishing; but in the real world, there is always room for improvement. 

Here are 11 key tactics to get your pipeline management practice as polished as possible:

1. Closely monitor sales metrics

It's nearly impossible to properly identify areas for improvement across the pipeline without robust, reliable data that reflects both pipeline flow and sales performance. Disjointed data sources, a lack of visibility, and multiple, disconnected systems make it even harder to gain a full understanding of what's working, what's not, and where changes should occur. 

To diagnose and improve pipeline health, sales leaders should establish a complete set of metrics that give them a comprehensive and accurate picture of their processes, people, and performance, both for the team and individual sellers. It's crucial to track and closely monitor these metrics in a reliable, connected system that offers real-time transparency into deal health and potential risks

Start by determining the best sales pipeline metrics (e.g. number of new leads per month, number of deals, pipeline value, average deal size, etc.) and performance metrics (e.g. win rate, lead response time, time spent selling, etc.). A strong mix will help you avoid wasting time otherwise spent tracking down crucial information, and will also help you better understand what, exactly, is contributing to conversion rates. 

2. Have a standardized sales process

The sales process is your sales team's lifeline; in fact, companies with a well-defined process rake in 18% more revenue than their competitors. A streamlined, consistent sales process helps teams reduce or eliminate unnecessary steps that might be slowing them down, so take the time to establish, fine-tune, and standardize a sales process that ensures greater success (including increased pipeline velocity).

Clearly define each stage in your sales process and be sure to customize your tools (eg. CRM, automation, etc.) to reflect those stages. Establish thresholds and criteria for lead qualification, then develop and enforce effective follow-up sequences. 

Of course, this can feel like a shot in the dark if you don't have the right, actionable data and insights that shed light on your current process, including any gaps or successful stages that should be replicated. Since only 30% of organizations say they're properly equipped to use their data to improve their strategies, investing in a data-driven approach to your sales process can become a clear competitive advantage. 

And while it's true that SalesTech can help your team improve and standardize the sales process (hello, greater communication, productivity, and lead conversion!) it's important to remember that not all tools are built equally; nor are all tools totally necessary. Make sure that the tools you choose to support your sales process don't slow your team down or lack the integration required to centralize and streamline your entire sales operation. 

3. Constantly review and improve upon the sales process

You'd be hard-pressed to find a successful sales organization whose sales process is set in stone. Competitive companies know it's essential to constantly reflect upon their sales process and make necessary changes as they go, or risk falling victim to ever-changing market conditions, client demands, and customer expectations. 

Review your current sales process, pipeline, customer reviews, employee feedback, and KPIs with a fine-tooth comb to uncover areas for improvement. If you start to notice any trends or patterns, intervene as quickly as possible to avoid larger problems. 

While constant review can be time-consuming and burdensome for already-busy teams, modern tools can eliminate most of the grunt work. Technology with buyer sentiment analysis, for instance, enables teams to gain deep insights into how prospects respond to each sales engagement. That way, managers can quickly tweak the process to repeat engagements with a successful response and scrap those that flounder. 

4. Keep opportunity data as up-to-date as possible

More leads in your pipeline does not always mean more deals closed. If the quality of those leads are questionable, then you risk wasting resources and time on prospects that do not offer value for your business. It's far better to work with fewer high-value leads.

Hoarding leads only creates mess and confusion while a clean and high-quality pipeline translates to higher process efficiency, deal values, and win rates. But keeping opportunity data updated and accurate is quite the challenge if:

  1. The systems of record your team uses don’t talk to one another
  2. Your team’s systems of record don’t reflect changes in real time

Sales teams don't have superfluous time to track down out-of-date opportunity data or (worse yet) chase stale leads and opportunities that wont actually convert; so leverage centralized tools that provide clear visibility into each opportunity across every stage of the pipeline. Ideally, your technology should allow team members to select an opportunity, access its history, and take action all in the same place. That way, everyone is always working from the most up-to-date information possible, regardless of where they are. 

5. Research your clients thoroughly

Not every prospect is a great fit to become a paying, satisfied customer, so do your homework. Conducting deep client research can help your team better identify and solve for customer needs, build a customer-centric sales strategy, and make smarter decisions about the sales process.

Plus, since 71% of customers want to buy from companies whose values align with their own, researching and genuinely adopting their culture, vision, social efforts, and more can help you create stronger bonds that, in turn, nudge them through the sales pipeline at a faster rate. 

6. Qualify your deals

Proper qualification is a vital part of ensuring a steady stream of deals that are ready to close at the end of the period. If your sellers rely on intuition (or other lackluster methods) for qualifying deals, pushing them forward, or dropping them altogether, the pipeline can quickly become one big traffic jam; and one that's simply unreliable for predicting revenue and keeping stakeholders satisfied. 

Many sales teams have adopted qualifications methodologies like MEDDPICC, which is an acronym for:

  • Metrics 
  • Economic buyer
  • Decision criteria
  • Decision process
  • Paper process
  • Identify pain
  • Champions
  • Competition 

By formalizing the deal qualification, sellers gain a framework against which they can measure each deal's likelihood to move forward in the pipeline. Then, they can focus their efforts on higher-value deals that are more likely to close rather than lower-value deals that are more likely to stall out.

7. Follow up consistently

While it can take 80% of leads up to five to twelve points of contact before deciding, only 8% of reps follow up with prospects more than five times. It's a staggering truth that offers a clear and present opportunity for teams that leverage a strong follow-up process. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the oil!

Manual follow-up takes away precious time from sellers (and can often fall to the wayside in favor of more pressing issues), so be sure to utilize tools that maximize and automate your follow-up sequences. That way, sellers can reach the right person at the right time, avoid chasing after underqualified contacts, and push more deals through the pipeline with less effort. 

8. Focus on high-value opportunities

There are numerous ways to identify high-value opportunities, such as offering (the right) free incentives, hosting educational events and webinars, and investing in SEO-driven website content. Regardless of how you pinpoint them, be sure to prioritize and nurture high-value deals with a personalized approach.

A heavy focus on higher-value opportunities drives interdepartmental alignment, promotes customer loyalty, post-sales business, referrals, and brand evangelism, and can even speed up the sales cycle. It's always better to purge unviable, low-value deals from the pipeline and keep the pipeline flowing with high-value opportunities that have a better chance of closing. 

Keep in mind, though, this tactic requires a unified strategy and complete alignment between several departments, so if your tools are disjointed, your processes and workflows are siloed, or your customer-facing teams aren't adequately empowered to shift toward customer-centricity, you likely some work to do (but more on that below). 

9. Keep strong relationships between departments

Aligning your customer-facing departments (e.g. sales, marketing, customer success, finance, etc.) doesn't come without its challenges. Each department has its own unique pain points, goals, performance metrics, and ideas for how to get things done. Misaligned teams lack understanding, compete for funding, use discrete systems of record, and have uncoordinated timing, all of which contribute to lower productivity, efficiency, and, ultimately, profits.

To bolster the relationships between these teams, you'll need a specific plan that doesn't feel overwhelming or jarring. Building a cross-functional team is a great place to start, with individuals from each department collaborating to better align their tools, processes, and workflows. But this can still be a complex endeavor if you don't have the proper tools for support. 

To eliminate departmental silos that cause pipeline friction, you need technology that improves company-wide execution. A modern sales execution platform, for example, connects sales activities with specific outcomes; so each team can identify the most effective workflows, proactively fix at-risk deals, and close more opportunities with greater predictability.

10. Provide clients with multiple kinds of content

Today's buyers are smart. In fact, 94% of B2B buyers conduct their own online research before making a decision, so it's vital to ensure the content they consume is valuable and easy to digest. But developing a compelling content strategy is about more than just passing out one-pagers to anyone who will take them. 

Attracting new leads and keeping them engaged enough to progress through the pipeline at a reasonable rate requires many different types of content. Case studies, webinars, blog posts, white papers, ebooks, customer success stories, and more all help your organization tell a story about who you are, what your products or services do, and how your solution solves clients' pain points. They're also a chance to differentiate your business from competitors when shared at the right time. 

A great content strategy starts with a large library of custom-targeted content, and one that's easy to curate, categorize, and share across all relevant teams. By researching customer needs and competitor content, organizations can glean various insights that will help them craft meaningful content. 

Powerful sales technology can even help marketing and sales teams pinpoint the best time to share each type of content (and the best buyer persona to whom they should send it), then evaluate the recipients' response. Over time, this information helps them build content that yields greater results and better supports clients as they move through the pipeline. 

11. Use CRM to keep sales processes efficient

Your team's CRM is crucial for accessing data around clients, prospects, and leads, yet many teams still struggle with adequate adoption. But if a CRM is so helpful, why are sellers so resistant to using it properly?

CRM implementation isn't as simple as turning it on. It requires specific strategies that help users get on board before they get frustrated and deem it useless. But here's the thing: CRM systems are traditionally complex (or impossible) to integrate with existing tools, lack ease of use, and are adopted without a second thought to robust training processes, documentation, or ongoing support. 

Low adoption rates lead to data and compliance issues, poor employee engagement and satisfaction, a negative customer experience, and lost profits. From a leadership perspective, lackluster adoption causes erroneous data inputs, inaccurate forecasting, and poor decision-making. In fact, in one survey, 60% of sales leaders said they don't have a well-defined or scientific approach to forecasting; and 10% of respondents said they regularly miss their forecasts by 25% or more. 

At the heart of every forecast is the pipeline that carries it, and ensuring proper pipeline coverage requires two things: a well-implemented CRM and an intelligent, centralized sales execution platform that can take your CRM to the next level. The right technology seamlessly integrates with your CRM and other existing tools and ensures everything is up-to-date and uniform across every department and system. That way, teams can take the guesswork out of forecasting and ensure sufficient pipeline coverage in real time. 

Optimize sales pipeline management with Outreach

Managing the sales pipeline requires proper coordination of many moving pieces, and getting it right can feel like one more mountain to climb for sales managers. But most teams likely cant afford to ignore the promised benefits of a consistently healthy pipeline, so they should invest in intelligent tools and processes for support. 

Outreachs pipeline management capabilities help sales and revenue operations leaders assess pipeline quantity, quality, and maturity. Built-in win modeling enables leaders to spot risks early for every team member and seller, and ensure there is enough coverage to deliver on their goals. 


Read more

Discover the Sales Execution Platform
See how Outreach helps sellers close over 2 million opportunities every month.