The Role of CRM Systems in the B2B Sales Funnel

The business-to-business sales funnel is a seductive metaphor, implying that a broad universe of candidate customers will drop relentlessly and gravitationally towards becoming a bottom-line sale. Of course, it doesn’t quite work that way – prospects can get stuck at any stage and even exit back out the top of the funnel altogether. But, as a way of looking at a broad journey from ignorance and apathy through to commitment and sale, the funnel is about the best metaphor we have. 

Off the back of this funnel metaphor comes a lot of buzz, and consequently, buzzwords. We “load prospects at the top of the funnel”, “accelerate prospects through the funnel” and use words like TOFU (Top of Funnel), “awareness stage” and “mapping to the funnel.” The whole idea behind the B2B sales funnel is to help channel our prospective clients through a series of content that starts out as awareness-building and ends at a purchase page or with a sale. But how do we know what those stages should be, where our B2B prospects are, and what needs to happen at each stage? 

It’s not always easy to tell where a customer is in this all-mysterious funnel, particularly when you’re a B2B company. A business isn’t as transparent as a singular customer, they’ve got different touch points and considerations, and therefore it’s difficult to figure out where they are or what they need. That’s when a customer relationship management system, or CRM system, can help.

Features and functions of a quality CRM system

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a strategy for managing company relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. A CRM system is a piece of software, often in the cloud, that hosts, tracks, and prioritises all that data. A quality B2B CRM system should map closely to your sales funnel and be a key part of your sales strategy. CRM systems can help you track every opportunity through every step of the funnel, and even help you refine and address areas where your leads are leaving the funnel. 

Old-school guesswork is being replaced by something far more accurate: opportunity stages. Opportunity stages mapped within your CRM means that the sales process is divided up into a series of easily observable phases that can be tracked and measured. They will differ from company to company, market to market. 

But, for example, a sale may have six stages:

  1. Prospect downloads content and opts-in for further contact
  2. They complete an ROI assessment
  3. They have an initial consultation with sales
  4. They get a proof of concept
  5. Sales scopes out a potential solution
  6. They negotiate costs and agree the sale

Every B2B company will be different – selling high-speed rail infrastructure will be more complex that selling air-conditioning. But hopefully you get the point. 

If you map your CRM to your own refined opportunity stages, it will help you nurture leads effectively at each part of your sales funnel until they’re ready to make a purchase. When they are, you should then be able to route them to the right reps at the right time. Sales and marketing alignment efforts should be much easier as well. A fully-integrated CRM will let you track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns so you know exactly where those quality leads in your pipeline came from.

Any CRM system worth its salt should help you figure out where each of your prospects fit within this funnel, or if you need to refine this funnel for different prospects. It will also clue you in to the type of content to send each prospect; what interactions you really want to have; and what next steps are most important. Some CRMs even provide best practice suggestions designed to fit your business needs. 

Benefits

Here’s what you should start experiencing when you start using a CRM to manage your sales funnel: 

  • More visibility over leads and pipeline — you should know what’s in your sales funnel and what isn’t, keeping your sales team in check and up-to-date.
  • More efficient sales processes that make your sales team members’ lives easier, leaving them more time to patch up any holes you’ve discovered in the sales funnel. 
  • Less guesswork—“Had a good meeting? Increase it to an 80% chance of a sale. Had a bad meeting? Drop it to 30%.” Those days of going with your gut will be a memory.
  • More reliable data and reporting, not to mention a better idea of what metrics make a difference to your bottom line. Bonus points if you manage to set up a killer sales dashboard
  • An overwhelming feeling of relief— hooray for less admin and increased efficiency! Time is precious and flow is important—let the CRM lift the admin weight off your team. 

A B2B sales funnel hosted in a CRM system with hard numbers, leads, and sales projections attached makes for a powerful tool in projecting and managing the growth of a company. Plus, it’s far more actionable than that fuzzy “sales funnel” image you’ve been using in your PowerPoint presentations. 

Learn how you can manage your pipeline and improve your sales team productivity by reading Your Complete CRM Handbook