• Forecasting Sales Execution

4 Actions to Clean Up Your Sales Pipeline for 2021, Now

Anne Miller

Anne Miller
Managing Editor

4 Actions to Clean Up Your  Sales Pipeline for 2021, Now

Upended sales cycles. Forecasts flying out the window. Shrinking pipelines.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s how much the best laid plans can change instantly.

One of the best hedges against drastic and unexpected shifts is a solid pipeline coverage, promising a steady inventory of opportunities. As the next four quarters continue to hold so many unknowns, so much of your business will depend on a healthy pipeline.

The current year rolling into a new year is a perfect time to clean up your pipeline to set yourself, and your business, up for success for the next 12 months. 

1. Start yesterday

Just like you can’t wait until Q2 to focus on building pipeline for Q2, don’t wait until 2021 to prepare for 2021. Teams need to be looking out-quarter by nurturing their current opportunities in order to build pipeline that allows them to hit the ground running for the year, and hit their annual revenue operations goals.

We’re seeing more CFOs, CROs, and CEOs involved in more multi-threaded deals than ever, as companies concerned about the current radical market uncertainty seek to ensure every investment they make is the best spend possible. This also means deals take more time to close.

Time constraints and quotas can force teams to hone in on the immediate need, but making space to take a longer, year-long view can set you up for a blockbuster year—or at least one that has the depth to weather any storm. 

2. Assess your pipeline inventory

How long does it take to close a deal? 

What is your average deal cycle time? 

How do the answers change across the different segments of your business?

Do you have a good sense of how much pipeline you'll need to hit your revenue targets—and if you haven’t revisited that number in a few months, is the size of the pipeline you need to hit quota still accurate?

We can almost guarantee that for most sales teams, 2020 changed those numbers. Now is a good time to look at the sales activity data for the past 12 months. Review in a larger, more holistic way how COVID-19 has impacted your stage conversion rates across your net new and renewals, product line, and market segments. For example, how might COVID-19 have impacted your conversation rates, or time to close? Use that activity data nd sales pipeline visibility to drive more focused decision-making for the next 12 months.

Businesses that were quick to adjust their sales plans have fared far better over the past few months than those that didn’t pivot,” says Entrepreneur.com. “By communicating early and often, these businesses were able to focus on new opportunities, products, and customer segments.”

3. Create a plan to re-engage

Don’t let last year’s “not now” become next year’s “could have been.” 

“Ensure that your inbound and outbound teams have a plan to re-engage with opportunities that are closed out,” says Kyle Coleman, Clari’s Vice President of Revenue Growth and Enablement.  “Codify the SDR and AE playbook for outbound prospecting—how are they using context that exists in your CRM? Who are they reaching out to and what’s the call to action?”

And refresh these sales metrics regularly. McKinsey & Company files this under agility. A monthly review of accounts may be too little, too late.

Sales leaders discussed pipeline opportunities once a month, but by the time support was mobilized, customers had already moved on,” they found in one company. How can you speed up those touches and reviews? Maybe you can highlight developments in your solution that didn’t exist before, Coleman says. Sales dashboards that can provide real-time insights at a moment’s notice can help provide the on-demand visibility revenue leaders need to execute on the fly.

4. Pressure test your pipeline

Your pipeline can be 8x your sales goals, but it won’t matter if too many of those opportunities aren’t qualified enough toones that can roll up your sales funnel to the close won category. Honesty matters—in this case, being honest with yourself and your pipeline potential. 

Deal inspection is key, Coleman says.

“Inspect and pressure test each deal to ensure it’s sitting in the right stage, and be honest with yourselves about what needs to be closed out,” Coleman says. “Do the same for each of your sales forecast categories. Ensure there’s as much rigor and attention to the early stages of your sales cycle as the latter stages and give yourself confidence that all your inventory has a realistic chance of turning into revenue.”

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