Fine Tune Your Pipeline by Optimizing Sales Collaboration
Success never happens in a vacuum. The road to get there teems with people to learn from, compete against, work with. Collaboration is the only way (so far known) to make things happen. Rock stars, basketball players and successful companies know this.
So should your sales team.
A Nielsen report found that collaboration drives innovation success, while a study conducted by CSO Insights revealed that formal collaboration increases sales quota attainment by as much as 21%. That figure is way too significant to ignore, making collaboration arguably the most important factor you can tweak to improve your sales metrics.
Both studies also discovered a telling fact: Most teams struggle when it comes to collaboration. In the Nielsen study, 74% of surveyed companies believe their organization does not collaborate effectively at all, while a third has no confidence in their approach to collaboration. On the other hand, CSO Insights reported that eight in 10 respondents lumber through their workflows without any formal collaborative framework.
Do you think your team belongs to the few who have mastered collaboration and are already reaping its full benefits? If not, then there’s some good news. Both studies cite technology as the main tool for establishing a culture of collaboration in your company. For sales-oriented organizations, this means your choice of CRM systems and the way you use them greatly impact your selling performance. Adopt a cloud-based and mobile-enabled CRM that fosters collaboration at each stage of the sales process and you’re on track to building a consistently winning pipeline.
Collaboration is NOT just a buzzword
As problems become more complex, collaboration undergoes a similar transformation, being scaled as needed for small teams, large organizations, and even countries.
Long a buzzword in the business community for its practical benefits, collaboration remains a key growth driver in the digital age, fueling a multibillion-dollar industry that stretches the potential of the cloud, mobile technology and analytics.
Not all collaboration is the same, however.
Given the frequency with which people use the word, collaboration seemed to have lost some of its edge, becoming more of a generic term instead of the operational framework. Writing for their corporate blog, CSO Insights Research Director Tamara Schenk said: “Collaboration is not important for its own sake. The purpose of collaboration is achieving better results, ideally in a shorter amount of time.”
That means just having the same goals as the guys from marketing won’t strictly count as collaboration. Neither does an incidental chat with a business development rep over new leads being introduced in the pipeline, or with an account executive on how the group portfolio is turning out. True collaboration entails not only being on the same page at all times but also sharing real value with everyone in the loop, and achieving an improvement in meeting a goal as a team over attaining the same goal as separate entities.
After all, doing things alone in the current landscape is like running things with a handicap. According to key leaders from business think tank CEB, individuals no longer rule sales teams. Instead, they will be dethroned by tightly knit and highly focused collectives as the key driver of sales growth. That is not to say that sales superstars can’t exist anymore — they do — but they become what they are largely through formal collaboration in well-coordinated teams.
Detailing the results of their 10-year (2002-2012) research on the Harvard Business Review, the CEB execs gave the following points:
- The impact of individual performance on unit profitability decreased while “network performance” increased. In sales, network performance accounts for 44% of revenue.
- The most effective B2B sales teams are those with strong performers who actively engage colleagues to manage resources and allocate team capabilities.
- By investing in an internal social networking platform built into its CRM, one large media company was able to increase cross-sales, reduce cycle times and hike up conversion rates in just a few years. In a single account alone, the company was able to drive $3.5 million in incremental income. These huge benefits were achieved largely through enhanced collaboration.
- Recognizing the direct impact of collaboration on profitability, some organizations have replaced traditional reward systems that solely focus on individual performance with one that includes company and unit performance into a staff’s incentives package. Such reward systems resulted in record growth and profitability, higher engagement among sales representatives, and near-zero attrition rates.
Tweaking your pipeline to encourage collaboration
If your team uses a CRM like Pipedrive to manage your sales funnel, congratulations. As companies begin to recognize the strong link between collaboration and performance, various solutions for optimizing the relationships that connect an organization’s talent pool have been designed, deployed and discarded in the unending quest for business growth. From training programs to team-based incentives and compensation systems, companies adopt more and more practices believed to help establish a collaborative culture.
Many of these practices cost a lot — in both monetary terms and in the organizational energy needed to affect change and grow a new mindset. Some companies even go the extra mile. As reported in the Harvard Business Review for example, the Royal Bank of Scotland spent about $390 million to open a building with an indoor atrium aimed at encouraging conversation among 3,000 people who go to work at the firm’s headquarters every day.
But you don’t need to shell out millions of dollars to ignite collaboration within your sales team. By far, the most cost-effective way to ensure that your team stays on the same page and targets the same goal is to adopt the right CRM and configure it based on your optimized sales process.
How is this possible? A decent CRM should enable you to:
- Deploy a pipeline that best matches your business model.
- Delegate tasks among team members.
- Share data.
- Sync individual actions with team goals.
- Provide in-time alerts on which actions or tasks need to be performed.
- Keep everyone updated on key sales activities.
- Generate precise forecasts and business intelligence.
While many CRMs possess the foregoing capabilities, several challenges regularly pop up to harry CRM consumers: a) adoption and approval rates among platform users; b) clear visibility into the pipeline especially for team leads and managers; and, c) unhindered mobility. Fortunately, a few players in the CRM market offer alternatives to unwieldy, often bloated solutions.
These next-generation CRMs harness cloud technology, mobile communications and intuitive design principles to encapsulate and manage an entire sales operation into simple, easy-to-use interfaces with astonishingly powerful backend support. Pipedrive, for example, uses the pipeline view as a default screen to instantly and clearly show weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities in the sales process.
More importantly, it also shows the most appropriate action you can perform to address each, which greatly reduces the level of uncertainty in the process and raises team confidence in attaining short and long-term goals. Design simplicity helps shed excess baggage in the platform, ease the learning curve for new users and increase the rate of familiarity and preference for the software.
Adopting a good CRM takes you only halfway, however. Winning the field entails a well-thought out pipeline based on your sales cycle stages. Pipedrive co-founder Urmas Purde gives some simple steps to create a pipeline that matches your business:
- Draft your team’s sales stages by linking your process with customers’ main decision points that lead toward making a purchase or declining the offer.
- Explore the initial draft pipeline with your team.
- Check whether the agreed-upon stages match all typical sales scenarios experienced by the team.
- Review the stages as a group. Ensure that everyone understands all the stages and agrees on how to implement metrics at each stage.
- Perform regular pipeline updates (after a month or two) to reflect changes in the market or in your game plan, as necessary.
Turn collaboration into a habit
Implementing best practices and adopting the right tools help you infuse collaboration into the workflows and revenue streams of your business. As the Nielsen report said, collaboration not only improves productivity but also makes the workplace happier and more creative.
Sales teams attempt to establish collaboration through their CRM systems. This is sound strategy. But it only works optimally when your pipeline and CRM are both designed to make the idea of working together almost instinctive.