Last updated - June 14, 2023
In this digital era, sales professionals must keep up with the ever-changing consumer demand and market trends. On top of that, most buyers engage with brands on multiple platforms, making it difficult to track their journey from start to finish. As a result, sales cycles are becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable.
A staggering 60% of sales leaders feel they need more confidence to meet their quotas or close deals. That’s not surprising, given the challenges listed above. External factors, such as the volatile global market, can further impact the sales process.
For example, inflation affects purchasing power, causing consumers to cut back on spending. Some buyers may switch to less expensive goods, delay their purchases, or prioritize certain items over others. These trends can make predicting sales for mid-range products, luxury items, and other goods or services hard.
Building a predictable sales pipeline requires access to accurate data and a thorough understanding of consumer behavior. The more you know about your target customers, the better you’ll be able to anticipate their needs.
With that in mind, let’s discuss the steps you can take to deal with the uncertainty affecting your sales pipeline.
Why You Need a More Predictable Sales Pipeline
The sales process involves more than just closing deals. You also need to understand the buyer’s journey, the motivation behind customers’ actions, and the rapidly changing marketplace. These elements are crucial for mitigating uncertainty and building a predictable sales pipeline.
When you know what to expect, you have a higher chance of turning prospects into customers. You’re better positioned to forecast revenue growth and help your team thrive.
The benefits are even greater when it comes to founder-led sales. A predictable sales pipeline allows you to cut unnecessary expenses, predict revenue month-on-month, and improve resource allocation.
Let’s say you plan to expand your product line or add new features to existing products. This process requires a significant investment, so you’ll want to take as few risks as possible.
More than one-third of startups fail because there is no market need for their products. But if you already have a product, you can use purchase history data to determine how customers will respond to future changes.
The result? Lower risk of failure, increased customer satisfaction, and reduced marketing costs.
With a predictable sales pipeline, you can focus on the most promising opportunities and drive repeat business. Plus, your sales team will feel more confident and motivated, leading to greater productivity, higher job satisfaction, and reduced turnover.
How to Achieve Predictable Sales Growth
A robust sales pipeline can make it easier to achieve sustainable growth. Consider it a structured approach to managing sales activities, from lead generation to closing the deal. It can unveil opportunities at every sales cycle stage and increase profits if done right.
First, review your existing pipeline to identify areas for improvement. For example, you may realize you’re focusing on low-value activities or have unrealistic quotas.
For example, a 2018 survey found that nearly 40% of sales reps spend their time on activities that didn’t contribute to the bottom line. Other common mistakes, such as needing an automated follow-up process or a data-driven approach, can impact your sales pipeline, too.
Second, analyze the different stages your leads go through before purchasing.
These stages vary from industry to industry and may involve a learning curve. For example, some companies have four or five pipeline stages, while others have as many as 10—but more on that later.
Third, assess your sales tech stack and enforce new processes for increased efficiency. For example, you could automate prospecting, lead scoring, and other repetitive tasks, leverage data tools, or redefine your goals, depending on the desired outcome.
That said, here are some strategies to build and maintain a predictable sales pipeline for your business.
Refine Your Sales Pipeline
As mentioned earlier, the stages of a sales pipeline vary across industries. Your sales pipeline can have anywhere between four and 10 or more stages, such as:
- Lead qualification
- Lead nurturing
- Contact (e.g., meetings, product demos)
- Closed deal
- Post-purchase support
Use website data and other resources to determine how your prospects move through these stages. Remember that consumer behavior and your sales pipeline are constantly changing.
For example, you may need to build a multichannel lead generation strategy if your prospects come from social media, landing pages, referrals, and other sources. Track the changes in their behavior and adjust your sales pipeline accordingly.
Determine what needs to be done at each stage of the pipeline.
Start with the lead generation stage, which requires the following:
- Create buyer personas
- Capture contact information
- Attract and nurture potential leads
Next, move on to the lead qualification stage.
Review the leads in your sales pipeline and focus on those most likely to convert. Consider their lifetime value, purchasing power, and other characteristics. Use the BANT method to identify qualified leads and channel your efforts in the right direction.
Assess and refine your activities at every stage of the pipeline. Then, repeat this process every few months and make adjustments as needed.
Speed Up Your Sales Cycle
The length of your sales cycle depends on several factors, including your industry, product type, and where your leads come from.
Generally, complex products and services involve longer sales cycles. For instance, SaaS products have a high price point and require the approval of multiple decision-makers. Some also require custom configurations, which can further extend the sales cycle.
A typical B2B sales cycle can take up to 12 months or more. If you’re a startup or small business, you can’t afford to wait that long to close a deal.
One way to speed things up is to make sure you’re targeting the right people. Returning to the previous example, a B2B SaaS company would be better off reaching out to CEOs and other leaders than regular employees.
Once again, you’ll need to review each stage of your sales pipeline to see what can be improved. Focus on engaging your leads, building relationships, and setting goals for each meeting.
This approach can lead to a shorter sales cycle and increase predictability. Potential leads will move through the pipeline faster, reducing the time and effort needed to close deals. As a result, you’ll get a more predictable revenue stream and higher conversions.
Strive for Simplicity and Efficiency
A complex sales process is only sometimes effective. It can slow you down and create uncertainty.
As an entrepreneur, you may draw inspiration from popular brands like Salesforce, Microsoft, or IBM. That’s perfectly fine, but you don’t have their resources and may not know what works for your business. Even if you do everything right, you may have a far too complex and time-consuming process.
Your best bet is to strive for simplicity and efficiency. Assess your sales activities, determine what works, and make small changes as needed. Measure the results, and then move on to the next step.
For example, this lead generation strategy guide recommends focusing on three acquisition channels: social media, email outreach, and blog posts. That’s more than enough for a startup or small business.
You could try affiliate and influencer marketing, paid advertising, or other strategies, but the costs will be higher. These acquisition channels require specific expertise and can drain your budget quickly. Take small, measurable steps and see how it goes instead of jumping all in.
Choose the Right Sales Tech Stack
Ensure you use the right tools to build, manage, and monitor your sales pipeline. Invest in a robust content management system (CRM), email marketing tools, sales intelligence tools, and other technologies.
Every company’s tech stack is different; what works for one business may not work for another.
Nonetheless, most salespeople will use some or all of these tools:
- CRM software
- Lead management tools
- Analytics and reporting tools
- Data integration tools
- Marketing automation solutions
- CPQ (configure, price, quote) software
- Customer success software
- Email management tools
- Sales forecasting tools
- eCommerce solutions
Each category can be broken down into further subcategories, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, lead management software may include tools for lead generation, lead scoring, lead tracking, and so on.
When building your tech stack, think about the areas where you struggle the most.
If your prospects don’t respond to emails, consider using an email verification service like Neverbounce or Snov.io. Neverbounce has advanced features like automated list cleaning and offers dozens of integrations. You can use it along with Freshsales, Drip, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact, and other sales tools to streamline email management.
By comparison, Snov.io is a browser extension with limited functionality, but it can still be a good choice for freelancers, affiliate marketers, and anyone selling basic products or services.
Leverage Sales Automation
Whether an entrepreneur or a salesperson, you can leverage automation to streamline manual tasks.
This practice will save time, reduce human error, and improve data accuracy. In the long run, it can lead to a more predictable sales pipeline and reduce the time it takes to close deals. Plus, you can focus on higher-value activities, such as lead nurturing, which can increase sales pipeline velocity.
According to McKinsey, about a third of all sales activities can (and should) be automated.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Lead generation and qualification
- Email marketing
- Follow-up communication
- Quota setting
- Sales forecasting
- Order management
- Post-sales activities
- Reporting and analytics
- Meeting scheduling
- Admin tasks
Salespeople can automate over 40% of post-purchase activities and 50% of order management tasks. Yet, roughly 26% of companies have automated their sales and marketing processes.
This technology may seem intimidating, but you can start small and make incremental changes.
For example, you could use chatbots to streamline lead management and customer service. In addition, ZoomInfo, Outreach, and other automated tools can make it easier to identify and score leads based on specific criteria.
Track Your Sales Metrics
Data is your most valuable asset when building a predictable sales pipeline. By tracking the right numbers, you’ll know where your leads come from, how they engage with your website, how long it takes them to buy, and more.
The challenge lies in knowing what to measure. At the very least, keep track of the number of leads in your pipeline, the average customer lifetime value, total revenue, and conversion rates.
But since these numbers don’t tell the whole story, you should also be tracking the following:
- Revenue by product/service
- Average revenue per customer
- Average profit margin
- Opportunity-to-win ratio
- Sales cycle length
- Churn rate
- Engagement rate
- Net promoter score
- Customer acquisition cost
- Sales pipeline velocity
- Closing rate
These metrics can help you determine how your pipeline is performing. At the same time, they provide actionable insights into customer behavior, allowing for better decision-making.
You realize your customer acquisition cost is too high. Based on this information, you can optimize your ads, cut marketing spending, increase product prices, or set up loyalty programs.
On the other hand, a low net promoter score (NPS) shows that customers are unlikely to recommend your products or services. Therefore, you’ll want to ask for their feedback, address their concerns, and improve their experience with your brand.
Likewise, a high churn rate may indicate low customer satisfaction.
Optimizing Your Sales Pipeline for More Predictable Results
As you can see, building an efficient sales pipeline requires ongoing effort. There’s always room for improvement, and what works today may not work six or 12 months from now on. For this reason, it’s crucial to constantly review your sales process, update your tech stack, and keep up with the latest market trends.
For starters, assess your sales pipeline to see what you’re doing well and what you could do better. For example, you may realize that your product page isn’t ranking, your emails land in spam folders, or your customers don’t feel heard. If left unaddressed, these issues can affect your bottom line.
Like with most things, it’s best to be proactive.
Track your KPIs, fine-tune your sales process, and analyze churn when it happens. Learn from each lead interaction and let data drive your decisions. Finally, remember to ask for feedback and act upon it, even if that means taking a different approach to lead nurturing and other sales activities.