Good sales pipeline visibility allows you to coach your team to success, understand what’s going on with all of the deals that your reps are working on, and put both of those together to achieve greater forecast accuracy. In other words: know your number, predict your number, and follow through on that forecast in front of the other stakeholders.
So, how do you improve sales pipeline visibility? Well, nobody can ever do it perfectly: at the end of the day, your pipeline is a matter of both what you can control (coaching, process, CRM, tooling, enablement) and what prospects do (which you don’t have ultimate control over). In this article, we’ll go over what pipeline visibility is, and how mapping your Sales Operations infrastructure to your understanding of the customer journey is the ultimate key to improving it.
What is sales pipeline visibility?
Sales pipeline visibility is your ability to confidently say what is happening in your team’s pipeline, what is likely to close, where the gaps are, and ultimately what number you’ll likely hit this month or quarter. Creating a pipeline involves many stakeholders in your organization, not just the sales team, but it’s ultimately sales leadership along with RevOps that offer the best insight into what’s going on with pipeline at any given time.
Achieving this visibility is tough:
- Dirty data quality makes life hard: If your data isn’t accurate or complete, evaluating the health of sales pipeline stages is difficult and inaccurate. To overcome this, you’ll need to follow repeatable processes around what data is required at each stage of the sales cycle and ensure this is updated in your CRM or other sales pipeline technology tools. Almost half of sellers (45%) said this was their biggest data challenge, but poor data affects your ability to forecast as leadership, too.
- Poor communication: If your pipeline reviews are inefficient or aren’t happening, you won’t communicate enough to have a true pulse on the state of your pipeline.
- Lack of standardized processes: Maximizing sales performance requires using sales pipeline templates and practices across the entire team. If Steve is using the “Proposal” stage differently than how Bill uses it, or if Nicole marks her deals as Closed/Lost on time but Jessica lets the close dates drag out, that will negatively impact your forecast and require you to do mental gymnastics to standardize things.
- Inadequate reporting tools: Visibility of the sales platform is often only as good as the technology that supports it. You need to implement tools that help with dashboard running efficiency, sales productivity, and reduced admin burden, as well as leader/rep collaboration.
Why is visibility into the sales pipeline so important?
Sales pipeline visibility offers many benefits, and it’s essential for:
- Enhancing transparency in deals and accounts across departments and leadership: With pipeline assessments, finance, and the exec team are more aware of where the company stands in hitting its number.
- Providing pertinent information to sales managers eliminates the need for ad-hoc update requests from AEs: leadership simply reviews the notes and data.
- Tracking to meet quota: Only 24.3% of sellers exceeded quota in 2022, on average. Other studies put this number at 38-52%. Greater visibility helps sales leaders understand why they aren’t hitting and how to improve.
- Enabling greater confidence in pipeline forecasting: Less than 50% of sales leaders and reps have confidence in forecasting accuracy. These reports go to executive teams, who feel anxiety and can’t communicate with confidence to the board. Ensuring forecasts are even somewhat reliable matters for the entire company’s plans and goals. No one wants to guess this, and visibility into the pipeline helps you avoid this.
Customer Journey Stages
To improve pipeline visibility, Sales teams need a deep understanding of the buyer’s journey, and a lead generation process that matches that.
Contact is the first step in prospecting. In this step, your reps will:
- Identify the best method for contacting ideal customers (e.g., calls, emails, social selling).
- Determine how your organization will execute the contract, which can be a combination of efforts between marketing and sales.
The longer the sales cycle and the higher the price of your solution, the more complex this becomes. Additionally, there are many decision-makers in the process. Effective sales reps use this step to work on a compelling valid business reason to open with so that it’s not another sales pitch.
Your goal with contact tracking is to ultimately understand how many contacts it takes to produce one opportunity and to figure out the average cycle between first contact and the opp entering the pipeline.
Prospect or lead
Next is qualifying the opportunity as a prospect or warm lead. They are typically qualified as a potential customer who might have a need that your solution can meet.
Marketing qualified lead (MQL)
An MQL is a prospect who has met the criteria established by marketing enough to be worthy of passing to sales. Note that in your organization, this may or may not be a relevant method of forecasting pipeline at all: for example, if your MQL-to-Customer conversion rate is extremely low (sub-2%), which is quite common among larger growth-stage companies that over-rely on content syndication and gated offers. Push for marketing to define the MQL threshold in a meaningful way to avoid burdening sellers with leads that are never going to close, especially if not doing so causes a ruckus for your pipeline forecasting.
Sales qualified lead (SQL)
The next stage in the cycle is SQL. A prospect can raise their hand to ask for a demo and skip right from cold lead to SQL if they do so; buyers don’t progress linearly through these stages! When a contact becomes an SQL, it means they’ve either indicated that they’re ready to talk to sales, or they meet the Sales team’s qualification criteria in some other way. If your team doesn’t equate “SQL” with “hand raiser”, then make sure there’s a substantial enough difference between an SQL and an MQL that this lead stage actually means something. Not “they downloaded two ebooks”! It may be a longer journey to get to this place from cold outreach, depending on how long the sales cycle is, or it may be shorter if your marketing team is highly productive and focused on pipeline generation. Also, the number of buyers can make this lengthier, as the average buying group in B2B is six to 10 people.
Once sales takes over the conversation, the prospect is beginning to consider your company. Sales confirms they are a good fit and enters an opportunity into your CRM (whether directly or via your sales pipeline software) with a dollar amount. This is a big part of where either pipeline software and/or validation rules become a critical piece of good CRM hygiene. Often, orgs use “once it becomes an Opp, it has to have X Y and Z” as the threshold for a greater standard of data. What, you have no idea how many licenses it could possibly be, yet it’s a qualified Opportunity? We don’t think so!
Once the opportunity is won, you now have a new customer! It’s not the end of the selling relationship, however. Don’t forget the importance of a good Sales/CS Handoff, to maintain the momentum and magic that customers want after the attentive and detailed sales process they went through to build up their confidence in you. A strong handoff is much easier to execute with great data and deal-level visibility for all parties. And of course, customers can still become MQLs, SQLs, and expansion opportunities for other products.
How do you improve sales pipeline visibility?
There are many tactics to use to improve sales pipeline visibility. Achieving this requires work from sales reps, sales managers, revenue teams, marketing, and others. Below, find proven strategies that can drive results and align with the sales cycle.
Define clear sales stages in CRM
Start by documenting the sales processes and opportunity stages. They should be simple and clear and have defined exit criteria for each stage that qualify the deal to move forward.
Creating flowcharts and visual representations of sales data is helpful here:
In this approach, you’ll analyze conversions between stages and identify what’s working. Stages also have stakeholders with different responsibilities in each, such as getting legal involved if an Opp goes into the “Deal Desk Review” stage.
Also, bring up hot opportunities for prioritization automatically. Pipeline management tools highlight these deals and go beyond the built-in “Big Deal Alert” that comes somewhat clumsily out of the box with Salesforce CRM Opportunities.
Create stage-specific templates and playbooks
Once you’ve defined clean, clear Pipeline Stages, you can help your AEs win by developing training on what to do at each stage. Using winning templates and playbooks, and coaching your team on when each of those assets is useful in your pipeline review meetings, you can Moneyball your approach to scaling your sales team.
Build sales dashboards that you actually use
Good sales pipeline visibility depends on clean data as well as how you’re able to consume it and make it available to others. Sales leaders who use dashboards for pipeline reviews have this at their fingertips. And no, it doesn’t count if your dashboard was “Last refreshed: 486 days ago” (we’ve actually seen that!)
Pipeline dashboards enable viewing of all opps at one time, plus some analysis on the health of the pipeline as a whole. You can also develop custom dashboards that deliver information most valuable to you. Dooly Pipeline provides this functionality and supports fast updates that sync with your CRM.
Maintain proper data hygiene
Your data must be clean and accurate to forecast revenue reliably. If a lot of the data in your CRM is outdated and duplicative, your pipeline forecast is going to be a huge drag to maintain. Tips for doing this include:
- Having a document for sellers and other CRM users to follow that consists of data hygiene rules but relies more on Validation Rules in CRM
- Using meeting notes tools that auto-sync to Salesforce and consist of historical data throughout the sales process
- Empowering sales professionals with templates to use on sales calls so they collect the correct information
- Using a combination of data entry contractors and/or AI to audit Salesforce regularly for gaps, accuracy, and other junk data
- Leveraging automation tools to dedupe (We see you, Hubspot. Acquiring Clearbit. Good move.)
Interpret the right data
Integrating data analytics into sales pipeline visibility delivers valuable insights on performance in ways that CRM can’t do alone. Some metrics to analyze include:
- Win/loss ratios and customer acquisition costs, blending financial and operational data
- Sales cycle timeframes for closing deals across a variety of CRM objects, such as being able to say, “For every one cold email we send, we on average generate $4.52 of ACV within 57 days,” is extremely powerful knowledge, especially if and as that number changes significantly over time
- Number of interactions of the contact through the marketing and sales funnel
Analyzing these metrics allows you to locate patterns and trends across deals. As you expand your purview to managing multiple managers and groups of reps under them, locations, types of sellers, and linguistic geographic breakdowns, this type of analysis can often only be done using CRM data along with other types of data outside the CRM. This gives you critical information to use to optimize the sales process.
Conduct regular deal reviews and communication
Regular pipeline review is a must for visibility. In the sales pipeline reviews, sales managers and sellers discuss the status of deals and those most probable to close. These pipeline reviews can be one-to-one or involve the entire group. They serve as a good time for salespeople to get advice and guidance.
Using technology for these reviews helps you gain a better grasp on deals, as you can see them all in one place. DealSpace by Dooly organizes and compiles data from all your sources. It works great at managing sales performance.
Also critical is having defined communication channels and practices for deal reviews. Sales teams can create specific Slack channels with Legal for deal desk reviews, for example.
Ensure clarity in sales pipeline visibility
The road to more accurate forecasting and transparency across the sales cycle starts with good sales pipeline visibility. Most organizations encounter challenges related to data accuracy and completeness, disjointed processes, and a lack of tool adoption. Above all, pipeline intelligence is much more challenging when the main method of keeping the inputs valid is “reminding individual sellers to fill in that field, please,” again and again.
By applying these tips and best practices, you can achieve visibility that makes your selling framework stronger and more consistent. Your quarterly forecast can regularly get within 5-10% of the final number: I’ve seen it and achieved this myself, although not all the time. Reviewing the pipeline regularly with all parties is imperative to making this a reality in your sales culture. Be the sales leader who doesn’t just say you’re data-driven but is known for being able to make a forecast and be accountable to it.
How Dooly helps improve sales pipeline visibility
If your sales pipeline visibility is unclear, let us know, and we can help take a look at your sales process to suggest improvements. We might even suggest that you sign up for Dooly: our tool keeps deals on track, salespeople more productive, and sales leaders more connected to the “sales pulse” that we all know when we feel and love.
Explore how Dooly can change the game in sales pipeline visibility by requesting a demo. And don’t worry… we won’t spend ages “qualifying” you before you talk to an expert 🙂
Join the thousands of top-performing AEs who use Dooly every day to stay more organized, instantly update their pipeline, and spend more time selling instead of mindless admin work. Try Dooly free, no credit card required. Or, Request a demo to speak with a Dooly product expert right now.