A sales funnel is a great way to visualize the progress of leads as they make their way towards becoming customers, but what happens when that funnel begins to clog?

Here’s some advice on how to manage your sales funnel so that the sales pipeline is unclogged; flowing smoothly and your leads are moving forward.

Sales Funnel Management

When it comes to sales, success is all about finding prospects who are ready to become paying customers. Unfortunately, given the overall size of the potential customer pool, and the relative few prospects who are capable of completing the journey, it can be very difficult to identify the right people on which to focus your sales efforts. This is where the management of your sales funnel comes into play.

The sales funnel is basically nothing more than an attempt to visualize a concept in which qualified buyers are located and separated from the less-than qualified prospects around them (57% of B2B organizations identify converting qualified leads into paying customers as a top funnel priority).

This is done by following certain stages and steps, casting a wide net at the beginning, and slowly weeding out those who are unlikely to pay off, basically optimizing your sales funnel. At the end of the funnel, your sales team is able to step in and focus their efforts only on those with the highest likelihood of completing a purchase.

Effective sales funnel management allows a company to optimize efficiency while reducing costs, in that it prevents time from being wasted on those prospects and leads that just aren’t quite ready to commit. A sales funnel will also facilitate the tracking and gathering of important data, thanks to the well defined steps and levels within the funnel itself. As a result, a prospect’s progress can easily be charted, and any problems or issues can be quickly localized, identified, and resolved.

SalesFunnel - Cutting Steps Not Corners-01

Yes, a sales funnel is a fairly important cog in your organization. However, what happens when your funnel is no longer the benefit to your sales process as it's been in the past, and starts to actually slow things down?

See, just as an overly-short sales funnel is often insufficient to benefit your company, so too can a complicated funnel prevent your funnel from flowing freely, and may even lose you prospects who would otherwise have paid off.

The trick to keeping your funnel working optimally is to remove redundant steps and processes, while still retaining the necessary steps to allow customer progress. Don’t draw things out by attempting to build awareness in prospects that have already made that first encounter, or by pushing them horizontally through multiple steps that are all designed to accomplish the same objective. Customers should always be flowing either towards the completed sale, or they should “leaking” out of the sides of the funnel so that the right prospects can continue forward unimpeded.

Remove Unncessary Objects in the Pipe

At no point should any prospects or leads be moving sideways. Some may move to previous steps, such as in the case of a prospective customer who happens to develop a new concern towards the end of the funnel and must move backwards in order to have that concern addressed, but that should only be a brief interruption of their forward movement. Remember, the sales funnel exists to produce paying customers; those who aren’t quickly progressing towards that end are simply wasting time and effort that could be put to better use.

Basically, you’ll want to remove any obstructions that might be slowing things down. In order to do that, you need to be able to identify what these obstructions are.

This can be accomplished by asking yourself and your sales team one simple question: “Why aren’t our sales five to ten times better than they currently are?” Some of the answers you get may identify issues not directly associated with an overly complex sales funnel, such as problems with marketing or an inability to get in touch with decision makers on the customer’s end, but if your sales funnel is faulty, then some of your answers will touch on it.

Answers such as “Too many of our leads drop off before they can become prospects or customers,” or “We’re not getting an acceptable ROI for the customers we acquire” demonstrate that there probably is something wrong with your sales funnel itself. You can solve these problems by speeding up the entire process.

Cut Steps, Not Corners

This isn’t to say that you should start cutting corners; incomplete or missing steps will quickly lead to a complete breakdown of the entire funnel system, as quality leads and prospects will be unable to smoothly transition from one level to the next, and will instead leak out of the funnel along with the lower-quality leads. Instead, focus on removing those steps that don’t serve any discernible purpose.

Take memberships, for example. If you’re requiring that a customer sign up for a membership account before allowing them to complete a purchase, then you’re not only adding a step that is unnecessary and time consuming, but you’re also throwing new potential concerns directly into the customer’s path. With the widespread threat of identity theft, and the obvious inability of most organizations to guarantee the safety of sensitive customer data, many buyers are becoming more and more hesitant about freely sharing information.

Even if the membership is free and doesn’t require anything more compromising than a name and an email address, the mere sight or mention of another membership program will often be enough to drive away customers. Sure, you may want the security and retention that comes from having customer membership information, but you shouldn’t risk losing business just to get it. You can still offer memberships to those who are interested, but don’t require it of everyone who wants to make a purchase.

SalesFunnel - Cutting Steps Not Corners-02

Ensure Leads Are Qualified Before Handing Off to Sales

Another issue to consider has to do with which leads end up being handled by the sales team. It’s not uncommon for marketers to see their responsibility as being focused on finding leads—any and all leads, regardless of their quality—and handing them off to the sales team to sort out. In fact, 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales, despite the fact that only 27% of those leads will be qualified.

These unqualified leads forces the sales team to have to waste resources on unpromising prospects. Your business can combat this by training marketers to be able to better distinguish between those leads that are likely to pan out and those that are not. By having marketers only deliver the best leads to the sales team, your funnel will flow much more quickly.

Also, recognize that your prospects will need different information at different stages of their journey towards becoming customers. Three out of four customers prefer different pieces of content as they move through the sales funnel, so you’ll need to diversify what you’re offering if you want them to continue moving forward. This is where an understanding of content marketing really pays off, as it will allow you to provide real value across multiple platforms, and to do so at the right stage of the sales process.

We’ve mentioned the importance of eliminating unnecessary steps, but that doesn’t mean that you should combine existing steps just to reduce their overall number. Having a single overly-complex step is worse than having two less-complex steps, because larger steps are more difficult to define.

Having too many complex sales efforts in a single step makes it next to impossible to separate out key metrics. Instead, if your step includes a complex section that could prove to be a stumbling block, consider making that section its own step. Then, you’ll be better able to keep an eye on it for evaluation.   

Manage Your Funnel with CRM

Lastly, consider making use of a CRM system to help you keep track of the specific information associated with each potential customer. This will help speed the process along, in that less time will be spent retrieving and organizing vital data. CRMs can also be used to assist in automating certain processes, just be careful; your goal here is to make things simpler, not more complex. If you find yourself getting caught up in an increasingly complicated system, you’ll want to take a step back to make sure that you haven’t introduced new obstructions to an otherwise freely-flowing funnel.

When it comes to sales, success is all about finding prospects who are ready to become paying customers, but it’s also about moving those prospects through the conversion process while separating them from other, lower-quality leads. So take the time to review your sales funnel, because if your funnel is having a negative effect on your business, it may be time for a redesign.