Let’s talk pipeline. If I ask what’s in the pipeline and your first thought is “oil”, we need to chat. I’m referring to your sales pipeline. In other words, I am asking what deals you are working on, what stage they are at in your process, and the status.
Sure, you may be able to write this pipeline out on a napkin, however that works just for that moment in time.
Managing a pipeline takes organization, and that is where a CRM software enters the picture. Customer Relationship Management software makes it easy to store all your leads in one place, track your deals, and measure pipeline performance.
Like many solopreneurs, all this info may be in your head, but what happens when you are so busy that follow up slips through the cracks? Or think about when you are ready to hire your first salesperson…now they need visibility into your head.
CRMs are very powerful and very affordable for the small business owner. Let’s take a look at 3 key benefits:
- Centralized – Many CRMs live in the cloud, so accessing all your customer data from anywhere by anyone in the company is easy. During setup, you connect your email, phone and calendar so all future contact with your clients is logged. Then upload all your leads and contacts while standardizing the information you collect on them for consistency (name, email, phone, website, source, etc). Then get in the habit of entering new leads soon after they become a lead. Email communications to and from leads are automatically pulled in to the CRM, so no more exhaustive searches through your inbox to find that one email. You can also track other activity like phone calls or text messages and pull it up later for review.
- Visibility – Sometimes a visual of the pipeline or all the data in your head makes more sense when clearly visible on a screen. With a CRM, you translate the steps of your sales process to a pipeline. For example, stages of the pipeline may be Discovery, In Person Meeting, Proposal, Negotiation, and Scheduled Close. Once a lead enters the Discovery phase, convert it to a Deal. Then continue to move the deal through the pipeline as each stage takes place. Once all your deals are in their respective stages in the pipeline, you can quickly see what your sales pipeline looks like.
Another feature that helps with understanding your pipeline is the ability to enter a “Source” for each lead. Source means how the lead found you or where you found them. Inbound sources may be a website or referral while outbound may be a specific list or tradeshow. Quickly view the sources of the deals in your pipeline to see which marketing or sales efforts are generating the most leads.
- Automated reminders – Follow up is key for any sales person. Staying on top of deals and making sure they get to the next step is one of the easiest ways to increase sales. A CRM allows you to set tasks and reminders for specific dates and times in the future. That lead said to check back next month? Set a task reminder and you will be notified accordingly. That deal requires a 3rd party action before proceeding? Set a task reminder so the ball doesn’t drop. Reminders take seconds to enter and keep you organized. No more sticky notes!
While there are lots of CRMs to choose from, I’ll narrow it down to two that are amazingly simple for the solo and entrepreneur to implement. It depends on the email client you use.
If you are an Outlook user, check out Base. Very clean, drag and drop functionality, and great functionality from the ‘starter’ version.
If you live in Gmail, check out Copper. It follows Google’s material design and apparently Google actually uses this CRM. My favorite part is you can edit data and status of deals without leaving Gmail.
Get organized. See what’s going on. And set reminders to follow up.
So the next time someone asks about your pipeline, forget about the oil. Pull up your CRM on your mobile or browser and share exactly what deals are driving you forward.
Mike VonLunen is an Advisor for small business owners with Cultivate. Mike brings a strong background in entrepreneurship to Cultivate, after having worn multiple hats at startup companies. He has become a master at starting, growing, and maintaining small businesses.
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