An Updated Pipeline Management System Maximizes Sales and Customer Experience
The Rolodex has long been relegated to the dusty corner of the supply closet with the rotary phone and paper calendar. However, maintaining customer information is no less crucial today than it was decades ago. It may be even more so. Today the repository for customer information often rests in your pipeline management system, otherwise known as your customer relationship management system (CRM).
If you are using spreadsheets as your CRM system like a Rolodex to store contact information, you are missing out on some of the most important benefits that can increase efficiency and productivity and prevent the loss of opportunities.
Does My Company Really Need a Pipeline Management System?
This question comes up frequently. Many companies feel they have coped fine without one, that they are time-consuming to manage, or that user acceptance and use will be low. We respond, “Can you afford not to have one and remain competitive?” Increased efficiency, productivity, and revenue are achievable with a properly implemented and run CRM system.
A CRM system provides a centralized location for the entire sales process, from prospecting through customer service. But it is so much more than that. It offers valuable pipeline visibility through dashboards and reporting, making it easier to quickly see how your pipeline progresses. It also provides accountability, which many sales processes lack.
Other benefits include:
Improved contact management – Staff can upload customer or prospect details to the database, prioritize activities, and get reminders of important calls and meetings.
Better customer experience – The system allows for easy tracking of longer sales cycles, so you can nurture a prospect throughout the sales cycle to increase the likelihood of a sale.
Easier organization and launch of marketing activities – Segment data for targeted email campaigns, targeting via buyer personas, geography, industry segment, and more.
Continuous data analysis – Make strategic data-based decisions and forecast sales volumes with real-time data.
Reduction in operational costs – Tasks that were once manual can be automated, decreasing routine operations and saving time.
24/7/365 availability – Transparency, accountability, automation, reporting, and data and contact management are available to users around the clock. If the system offers a mobile app, they are available anywhere you have Wi-Fi or cell reception.
Reduction in lost sales – By improving sales team efficiency and opportunity visibility, your team can reach out to aging opportunities before they are lost.
A word of caution about trying to use your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system’s CRM component: These systems are designed to be ERP systems first, with CRM components being an afterthought. Because of this, capabilities are usually limited, which can result in a lack of use by the sales staff.
Expert lead generation and sales coordination support eliminates the uncertainty out of the sales pipeline and where sales staff should dedicate their time. Ensure you’re getting clean data and quality leads with an experienced active sales cycle support that understands how to dedicate resources and where each lead is at in their decision-making process.
Functionality of Pipeline Management Systems
CRM systems’ functionality differs slightly based on the brand, but most allow uploads of data via spreadsheets. Some even allow upload from other CRM systems. Typical functionality includes the ability to monitor prospects, track activities, manage your sales pipeline, record communications, store account history, manage current customers, forecast sales, monitor the sales team’s progress, and create sales reports.
To create an integrated system for your company, most CRM systems will communicate with other software programs (e.g., MAT software, invoicing, ERP systems), either directly or through a third-party connection.
Choosing the Right Pipeline Management System
A CRM strategy should come before the technology purchase. Maintaining a good pipeline management system is all about customer relationships. With this in mind, define your company goals, identify who your customers are and aren’t, and understand the buyer’s journey and how you need to interact with them to get conversions. Another thing to consider when creating a CRM strategy is your company’s vision and mission and how you can align them with your CRM system. You may need to make process changes if you aren’t customer-focused since you will want to integrate customer-focused business processes and key performance indicators into your strategy. Finally, evaluate how technology can support your CRM strategy.
Exploring Your CRM Options
A pipeline management system that is right for your business may not be the same CRM system that a competitor uses. Start by doing research. Find out what is available and what actual users are saying. A software review website, such as G2.com, will provide ratings and reviews that offer pros and cons for each system.
Narrow Down Your Options
Determine what features are most important to you based on your CRM strategy and user needs. For example, do you require ease of use, email integration, other software integration, or a mobile app? It is a good idea to get management, your sales and customer service teams, and any other users involved in the process to find out what is important to them.
Think about scalability, customization, and provided technical help and training. Ranking the required features in order of importance will ensure that you review only pipeline management systems with all the functionality requirements on your “must-have” list and most on your “nice-to-have” list.
Choose the Best Option
Once you narrow down your options to five or fewer pipeline management systems, have the companies give you their sales pitch. However, don’t get caught up in the marketing hype— stick to your prepared lists of needs. This allows you to ask questions to ensure that the functionality will work as expected. Ask if a full demo or trial is available. Also, ask how many businesses similar to yours are using the system. It should start becoming clear which system is right for your business.
Getting Staff Buy-In
Many sales and marketing managers may be concerned about getting executive buy-in for implementing the CRM system. Buy-in should come before the purchase, with a member of the executive team involved to ensure that company goals and long-term vision are included in the decision-making process. To get the executive team on board, highlight the CRM system’s value in terms of how it will impact the bottom line—consider mitigation of lost sales, improved time and territory management, increased productivity, and smoother transitions from sales rep turnover.
Once management is on board, it is easier to get staff buy-in. Start by highlighting features that will improve their productivity and performance and make their jobs easier. CRM systems with functional and easy-to-use mobile apps will be easier to “sell” to younger team members or those who travel frequently. Set up the CRM system so that it is easy to use, and provide continuous staff training. For staff members who are still reluctant, management may need to emphasize that use is mandatory.
To ensure continued use, consider doing all pipeline management reviews with your sales staff in the CRM system. This will require staff to input data into the system regularly. If it’s not entered, reschedule the meeting for after it has been entered.
Best Practices for Implementation
The No. 1 thing to do before implementing the pipeline management system is to set it up completely before adding data. Don’t rush the process. Customization will be vital to getting the most out of the system.
Each department has its own requirements and goals, but it is also essential to communicate a consistent brand and message across all customer touchpoints, whether through sales or customer service. Think about how each department will use it. For example, set up different pipelines and lists for each business segment. It is highly frustrating to create workarounds after the fact because it wasn’t set up to promote a smooth workflow. Be prepared for the setup process to be time-consuming, but it will be well worth it in the long run.
Other tips for successful use:
- Start by creating a strategy, and then look at the technology that will assist with executing your strategy.
- Set up the pipeline management system so that it adheres to your sales process—rename steps specific to what your company calls them, so there is familiarity for your staff.
- Scrub your data before uploading it into the system. Don’t gum up the system with garbage data.
- Provide adequate user training before going live, as it is essential for use and data accuracy.
- Appoint a CRM system administrator, even if it’s someone part-time. This person becomes the central point of contact for the CRM system.
- Encourage full use of all the features the solution provides to get the most bang for your buck.
- As with all processes, continuous improvement makes it better, so understand that you may have to change your process at times.
Choosing a CRM system is a big decision that will require a lot of upfront work to make it successful. With a holistic approach to marketing and lead generation, you better optimize your resources, including the valuable time of sales staff. Leading with your CRM strategy, doing the upfront research, getting buy-in, and taking the time to execute it correctly will help to ensure success.