We’ve been working with several sales managers in the past year to help them manage their sales pipeline better. In this article I want to share what we’ve learned in terms of the key sales pipeline management pain points we see over and over again:
- Lack of visibility - Manager can’t easily see what their team is doing and how they are performing
- Lack of immediate feedback - Managers don’t have an efficient way to give immediate feedback to reps on how they are responding to leads
- Slow response or lack of follow up - Essentially a leaky sales pipeline
- Improper handoff - Sales reps needing input from technical support or other departments and not getting that info in a timely fashion
Then, for each problem I’ll cover why I think they stem from workflow issues inside the email inbox, not because reps just “need better training” or because CRMs need “more features” (I think we can all agree that no one needs more feature bloated CRMs).
Finally, I’ll discuss the features we’ve designed in our Gmail based workspace tool, Gmelius, that we’ve seen actually solving these problems for sales teams firsthand.
One key principle we’ll keep coming back to in this article is that sales teams work out of their email inbox. They spend most of their day in their inbox. Therefore, the best solutions to managing a sales pipeline should be built in and around your inbox.
Let’s start by talking about each pain point in turn.
If you want to try Gmelius for your sales team, you can try it free here.
Pipeline Problem #1: Lack of Visibility in Your Sales Pipeline
The majority of our conversations are with sales managers, not reps, because they are the ones who are concerned about sales pipeline management.
On that front, one of the biggest issues we hear from them is one of visibility — they can’t easily see how sales reps are doing.
This visibility problem is beyond some high level stats overview inside your CRM (which, by the way, requires that reps update their CRM), but is super granular, for example, reps want to be able to see:
- Who is responding to inquiries on a daily basis?
- How are discussions with the top accounts doing?
- How good are the responses from their reps?
- Are emails to their group account (e.g. sales@) being responded to and followed up on in a timely manner?
Right now, sales managers typically check dashboards and performance metrics without any clear visibility on why the numbers grew or dropped or why a rep is not performing as expected. The data does not connect to the root cause and how the numbers came to be.
Sales Pipeline Problem #2: Slow Response or Lack of Follow Up
Another major pain point in sales pipeline management is that inbound leads aren’t being responded to promptly or, more often, after an initial response is sent, there isn't a good follow up system in place.
This is especially pronounced when there are lots of inbound leads arriving to a group sales account like a email@example.com. In that scenario, sales reps will need to check that inbox in addition to their personal inbox (where they spend the majority of their time). In most companies, inbound requests to a group email like sales@ do get checked and mostly do get responded to — but it’s the follow up after the initial response that is lacking.
So reps may pop into sales@ and respond to various emails in the morning. But if those leads don’t respond to their first email, often no follow up happens or follow up happens slowly, which hurts response rates and, ultimately, close rates.
This lack of follow up obviously leaves potential deals on the table.
Right now based on the conversations we’ve had, sales managers have little recourse to solve this problem besides hounding their reps in weekly meetings to “make sure you follow up” or various other reminder-based or motivation-based strategies.
Sales Pipeline Problem #3: Hard to Give Reps ‘Quick’ and ‘Detailed’ Feedback
Continuing on the theme of giving feedback, we’ve also noticed in talking to sales managers that they don’t have a good way of giving clear and detailed feedback to reps as they are emailing back and forth with prospects.
But if a manager can do that, it can really improve the reps’ success rate.
For example, say a rep loses a deal. If a manager is only looking at high level stats in their CRM (percent won, percent lost), they can’t really dig into why that deal (or any deal) was won or lost. Even discussion from the manager’s weekly one on ones with that rep will just give them more of the same vague, high level reasons why leads aren’t interested: “They’re looking for features we don’t have.”
What the manager may never see is if the rep is making mistakes in communication and causing leads to drop. For example:
- If a rep isn’t properly articulating a value proposition
- If a rep isn’t fully understanding prospects’ problems before pitching solutions
- If a rep doesn’t understand the full offering the company has and isn’t pitching solutions when they should be
These details matter. Without visibility and an efficient, easy, method to give feedback on granular communication, i.e. specific email chains, reps won’t improve or won’t improve fast enough.
Sales Pipeline Problem #4: Improper Handoff
Finally, the fourth theme we’ve noticed is that getting input on deals from other people (tech support and other departments) is a big pain point for sales teams.
For example say a rep is having a conversation with someone who has a technical question. They need to bring in someone from tech support to answer that question.
One simple solution is to just cc: the tech team member on the email thread with the lead, but sales managers are telling us this is insufficient because often an extended side discussion needs to happen that the lead shouldn’t see.
Maybe the request from the lead is not reasonable. Maybe tech support will give timelines that sales doesn’t want to share with the lead.
This internal conversation should happen privately. Right now it’s not easy to do that.
These Pipeline Management Problems are Inbox and Communication Based
What we’ve noticed is a common theme in these sales pipeline problems is that they are based around the email inbox.
- The visibility issues we’re hearing from sales managers are on an email by email basis (leads being responded to, days between follow up, which reps are responding faster), not getting overall stats on percent of leads moving from one stage to another.
- The feedback issues are about messaging: how are reps communicating with prospects, how are they communicating benefits and value propositions.
- The handoffs are about collaborating efficiently and privately.
Therefore, in our opinion, the solutions to these problems need to be based around the email inbox as well.
This is where our app, Gmelius comes in. We built Gmelius to turn your inbox into a team workspace. We’ve explained what the means in detail here, but in short, that means integrating the most important workflow tools (project management, automation, organization tools) into your email inbox, because that’s where most knowledge workers spend their time.
Nowhere is that more true than in sales. Sales people live in their inboxes.
So let’s explore the way sales teams who use Gmelius are solving the pipeline problems above.
Our Solution #1: Shared Inboxes and Shared Labels Give Ultimate Visibility
One of the ways we solve the visibility problem for sales managers is with our shared inbox and shared labels features.
The shared inbox means that emails that arrive at sales@ go to the Unassigned folder in each persons’ individual inbox. This way your reps still work out of their own inbox but get things in their Unassigned folder and can grab it when they want.
You can choose anyone on your team to assign emails to.
When an email lands in the Unassigned folder, or if you tag someone in a note, the members of your team get a notification in their feed. This way they’re sure to see it, whether or not it’s assigned to them.
Shared labels let anyone see, for example, who the hot leads are or who the leads from certain regions or industries are. You can also use these labels to loop in people from sales support if you need them to respond to a certain email.
At a glance, you can see who is assigned to which emails and what other tags it has, be it geography, current status, question they have, etc. Below you can see shared labels and shared inboxes on the left side, so emails can be seen both in terms of status (Assigned, Pending, Closed, etc.) or by labels indicating geography or other details (e.g. EMEA). In addition, tags are shown next to the subject lines and are used to give context so you can easily scan and find emails within certain parameters or priorities.
The beauty is that no one has to leave their inbox to do this. It’s all updated in real time. If a chat about a lead happens between your team members, you can see what’s happening in a live feed within the shared label.
If you want to see what’s happening with a particular account, region, or type of lead (big accounts, accounts in a vertical, etc.), you can just click on a label anytime. You’ll also see the individual threads and the latest conversations for each lead.
This is transformatively different and more detailed than looking for updates in a CRM.
First, for managers to have visibility in CRMs, reps need to update various details into the system manually. From our conversations with sales managers, we learned that most of them already have issues with reps not updating CRMs. And even if updated, it’s all disconnected from the actual conversation.
Second, with Gmelius’ shared inboxes and labels, you see a live feed for individual email threads. The feed documents the specific details of how each conversation is being handled. It shows you details like when the lead was last responded to, which team members are involved with the lead, and what notes your reps have left for that lead.
And finally, you can have all of this information at your fingertips without being cc:ed on a bunch of threads. Imagine if you were cc:ed on every sales thread! If you have 10 active deals happening at one time, sure. But if you have 100? You’re in trouble.
Which brings us to...
Our Solution #2: Private Notes Let Managers Give Immediate Feedback
As we mentioned above, deals can be won or lost based on how reps respond to leads. Current methods of giving this feedback are post-hoc or high-level. You either wait until you have a one-on-one with your rep, or your feedback wouldn’t be specific enough because you can’t show a real time example.
With private notes, managers can suggest responses or give behind-the-scenes feedback for every email exchange a rep does. And these messages show up in real time.
For example, if you have a specific label for a campaign you’re running, you can see all the emails pertaining to those. You can then go into each email thread and give your team feedback on how they’re responding. Each note is also attached to the email so you don’t have to go hunting for it in a separate email thread or in your instant messaging platform.
This feature lets you give really detailed feedback to your team and train your reps in real time, helping them improve faster.
Solution #3: Private Notes Also Let Reps Loop in Support Easily
Another way private notes ease your workflow is that they let you hand off email threads to other team members.
For example, you can get procurement or the tech folks’ help to answer technical questions from your leads:
Your tech or procurement person gets a notification in their inbox and can reply instantly. This is basically instant messaging within your email inbox, while being attached to the exact email thread you’re referring to. This way, everything stays organized.
Like with private notes within your team, conversations about leads stay attached to that email as those notes and replies happen in real time. The next time you need detailed information when you talk to a lead, you don’t have to hunt for it; it’s already attached to the email thread with the lead. You can search for the note inside Gmail’s search bar and Gmelius will pull it up.
Finally, here’s a cool, little bonus feature: Gmelius shows you who else is viewing an email thread at the same time you are by displaying their avatar. And their avatar will include a pulsing ellipsis if they are in the process of replying. This way you won’t have two people responding to an email at the same time.
Solution #4: Activity Dashboards Give a Detailed View of Rep Performance
Let’s say you manage a team of 60. You need to update your VP or your business owner on how your team is doing. You also want to know how your team is performing so you can support them to do better.
This is where Gmelius’ Activity Report dashboard comes in. On the dashboard’s “Manage My Team” tab you can see how each team member is performing, and you can export that data.
Our current customers love how they can just export the information right before meetings or presentations.
In addition, where overall sales performance numbers by rep (available in any CRM) tells you who is performing better, the communication detail available in Gmelius’ SLA (who is responding, how much, what are they saying, etc.) tells you why certain reps are outperforming others.
We’ve also included advanced stats reporting that shows communication data as a function of time, day, week, and by team member:
Solution #5: Sequences automate follow up so it happens every time
Many sales managers we talk to say that their reps usually send the first email, but the problem is the follow up: they just don’t do it. In response to that, we built our Sequences feature to automate all the actions we talked about above, including follow-ups.
In fact, a sequence you create can represent your entire pipeline from prospecting all the way to demo’s. For example, you can schedule a couple of follow-up emails to send within a few days. The sequence then moves that conversation to the To-do list on your team’s shared Kanban board, or applies a shared label to it. Finally, if someone responds to your follow-up email at a certain step, the sequence auto-assigns the thread to an account executive or a senior rep to schedule a product demo.
This is how you can make sure your follow-ups aren’t the bottleneck in your sales pipeline.
How Is Sales Pipeline Management with Gmelius Different from a CRM?
If you spend all your day in your inbox, how are you supposed to remember to send a follow-up? How are you supposed to remember to check in with customer support on an issue that might lead you to losing a deal?
Gmelius is a way to manage your sales pipeline in collaboration with other people. It’s a workspace that lets every member of your team see what’s happening, work on the pipeline, and automate their tasks.
With a CRM, you don’t get that, or you have to pay heavily for it. In most CRMs, you can get email reminders and SMS push notifications, but sales managers tell us that these end up just sitting as a mass of emails in their “other” or “updates” tab in Gmail.
This is markedly different from the open, transparent, and collaborative interface we built in Gmelius, where anyone can hop into a shared inbox or label and see the message history immediately, or email notes and side conversations about a prospect conveniently attached to the email thread. You don’t have to go hunting for context or data in a separate email, Slack thread, or third-party platform.
With Gmelius, you get real time notifications on what’s going on in your team’s shared inbox. Your sales@ emails get answered right away. You easily keep tabs on the good leads (and your good reps!). You loop in other members of your team to help you land the deal. And your follow-up sequences get sent automatically without you having to remind your reps to do them.
If you want to try Gmelius for your sales team, you can try it free here.