Sales pipeline management tips for SDRs & AEs using Close.io

by Ramin Assemi

This is a guest post from Nick Persico. He was one of the first people to use Close.io, and has been helping teams get the most out of it ever since. He’s now Head of Growth at Close.io. This post is intended for sales development representatives (SDR) and account executives (AE) using Close.io. If you’re a founder or sales manager, send this to your team. :-)

We’ve all been there: It’s the end of the month or quarter, and the pressure is on to create more opportunities and close more deals.

But you can’t seem to find a good list of leads or opportunities to follow up on. Your Close.io Inbox is littered with outdated tasks and opportunities, which causes you to go on a wild safari throughout Close.io hunting for a golden set of leads that everyone forgot.

You push through the noise and you either hit or miss your goal. Then once the month or quarter is over, you reset and set new goals. But just a few weeks later, you’re in the same spot.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Close.io is built for sales productivity, but it takes healthy discipline to really get to the next level. While this is true with sales in general, there are a number of practical steps you can take to make all of your sales outcomes predictable and easy to track.

After using Close.io everyday for almost 4 years, here are some pro tips on how to get organized, save time, and dramatically increase your outreach.

Create a repeatable process for yourself

As inside salespeople, a large part of our time is spent scheduling or conducting phone calls. We’re spending hours every week trying to fill up our schedule with meetings or demos at times that work for the prospect.

In order to enhance your sales outreach, you have to make time for it.

Create weekly recurring tasks in your calendar to block out time for specific sales tasks you conduct in Close.io. Block out time for things like "Inbox Follow Up”, “New Outreach” or "Opportunity Pipeline Cleanup”, which will allow you to direct scheduled calls with prospects around those times.

It’s not easy. You have to be disciplined. You have to constantly remind yourself not to schedule calls during those times. If you allocate and commit specific times on your calendar each week to perform specific sales tasks in Close.io, you’ll find that the amount of people you can reach becomes easy to predict.

As an example, here’s what my calendar looks like before I started adding scheduled calls to it:

sales-calendar

A hidden benefit to blocking out time on your calendar for specific tasks is that it helps you track where your time is going. If things aren’t going well for you or the sales team at large, it often has to do with how your energy is being allocated. Teams will often ask themselves "Are you reaching out to enough people?”, "Are our leads good enough?”, and "Can we even answer these questions?”

Having a record of where you spent your time in a given week can be a big help to solving the problem.

Use multiple Smart Views for new outreach

One of the biggest mistakes I see SDRs and AEs make in Close.io are their lead lists. They’ll often call or email out of a lead list (or “Smart View”) that has hundreds or thousands of leads. Try to avoid this at all costs.

A huge list of leads may sound sexy, but it’s a total pain in the ass to deal with. You’ll often find multiple members of your team calling out of them at the same time, and it’s really hard to find your place when you want to call the next lead.

When creating any Smart Views for outreach, follow these 4 rules

1. A Smart View must always contain an aspect of time since the lead was last updated/contacted.

  1. Ex: Remove leads you’ve already updated today: NOT updated:today
  2. Ex: Include leads you have not called in the last 7 days: latest_call_created > "7 days ago"

2. A Smart View must always specify a lead status or statuses.

  1. Ex: You want to call only “Potential” leads: lead_status:”Potential"
  2. Ex: You want to call any leads that are not bad fits: NOT lead_status:”Bad Fit"
  3. Ex: You want to call both “Confirmed” and “Qualified” leads: lead_status:”Confirmed” OR lead_status:”Qualified"

3. When applicable, a Smart View should use Custom Fields to segregate leads into groups.

  1. Ex: You want to call leads that use “Salesforce”: custom.CRM:Salesforce

4. When applicable, a Smart View should never include leads with incomplete tasks.

  1. Ex: NOT has:incomplete_tasks

These rules are designed to create Smart Views that remove leads as you work through them. If you are using a Smart View as a lead list, you should set it up with an amount of leads that you can knock out in a single sitting. That makes the task at hand very clear. Once there are no more leads, the task is complete!

The most common way to remove leads from your Smart Views as you go through them is add NOT updated:today to the end of your Smart View query.

Inbox zero for salespeople

Close.io’s Inbox does a fantastic job in taking various sales activities and putting them into a single list of tasks. Incoming calls, voicemails, emails, tasks, and opportunities are all placed in a single view.

But it’s your job to consistently knock out those items so Inbox can actually accelerate your sales productivity. Close.io’s Inbox rewards users who are followers of the “Inbox Zero” approach to email and task management.

In order to get the most of out of Inbox in Close.io, here are some simple rules to follow:

  • Take care of your Close.io Inbox before your email inbox.
    • When you mark an incoming email as "done" in Close.io, it gets archived in your email inbox. However, when you archive or delete an email in your email inbox the task remains in Close.io. To only process the email once, start in Inbox.
    • Following this rule leaves your email inbox free of any sales email.
  • Do not create a task to follow up with an active opportunity.
    • Inbox creates tasks for any active opportunities by their close date. When you are updating your active opportunities, use the opportunity close date as the date when you’ll follow up next:

sales-opportunity-follow-up

  • Send emails from Close.io and utilize the email follow up feature in the event that you don’t get a response.
    • Close.io will automatically add these follow ups to your Inbox.
    • This replaces the need to create a separate follow up task.
  • Never create a task to follow up with a lead unless absolutely necessary.
    • A lead without an active or won opportunity should be funneling into a Smart View that has leads of a certain type that you need to follow up.
    • Use a time-based search query to dynamically send leads into a “Follow Up” Smart View: last_communication_date > "7 days ago".
    • If querying these leads are too difficult through lead status or custom fields, add a unique note to the lead so you can find them. For example:
      • You want to follow up with a confirmed lead in 14 days. There is no active opportunity. The lead is a part of a specific campaign called “annual conference”. There’s no way to isolate the lead via a custom field or lead status. There may be a handful of these leads.
      • Create a new note called “annual_conference” on the lead.
      • Create a Smart View that searches for all leads with the note “annual_conference” that don’t currently have an active opportunity: note:"annual_conference" last_communication_date > "14 days ago" AND active_opportunities:0

The last rule “Never create a task to follow up with a lead unless absolutely necessary” is especially important to increasing your sales productivity.

Using the example above, let’s say you create the note “annual_conference” on 25 leads. If you used a task to remind yourself to follow up with those 25 leads, you’d have 25 separate tasks in your Close.io Inbox 14 days later. Those 25 leads are then mixed with other Inbox items that have a different context.

Instead, this method promotes a Smart VIew that holds all 25 of the leads you want to follow up. Then all you have to do is remind yourself on your calendar to go through the leads. Even better, you can send a bulk email to all of the leads in the Smart View with just a few clicks.

How to have the best pipeline on your team

Note: The word “pipeline” refers to the Opportunities view in Close.io.

Salespeople are unique in how they are expected to communicate how bad or good they’re performing. There’s the obvious, like closed deals or new opportunities, but more sophisticated (and smart) sales teams want to know how effective you are.

One of the best ways to demonstrate your competency as a salesperson is the accuracy of your pipeline. Since people use different criteria to define a “pipeline”, let’s assume that pipeline refers to a list of active opportunities.

You’ll find that having rigorous criteria for managing opportunities will give you the ability to predict the amount of deals you’ll close with extreme accuracy.

Here’s what I mean by “rigorous criteria”:

  • You only have opportunities in your pipeline where the prospect knows how much they are going to pay for your product or service and it’s clear they can afford it.
  • You only have opportunities in your pipeline where you and the prospect discussed expectations around a timeline of when the deal with get done.
  • You only have opportunities in your pipeline that have communicated how they will use or get value out your product and you agree with them.

It’s not the size of your pipeline. It’s your pipeline conversion rate that really matters.

If you don’t have enough opportunities that are required, that means you need to focus on qualifying the leads you’re reaching out to.

Now for some practical tips on how to manage your pipeline with Close.io's inside sales CRM on a regular basis:

  • Set aside time every week to update every opportunity in your pipeline.
    • I recommend Fridays so you are prepared for the following week.
  • Remove any opportunities where you are guessing the “estimated close” date. Remember, an estimated close date can also mean the next day you are going to follow up.
    • Put these opportunities into a separate opportunity status so you can follow up later to get them active again.
  • If you find yourself regularly updating the estimated close date to the following week, is it even an opportunity?
  • Put context around the next step in the sales process in the opportunity note.
    • This helps you and your sales manager see the opportunity and the next step in one place in the “Opportunities” view.

Speaking about Close.io with management

At the beginning of this post, I suggested that the way management decides on a CRM or sales process is sometimes not in your best interest.

It’s not their fault. As humans, it’s in our nature to make decisions that benefit ourselves. That’s the way the world works.

However, it’s on you to make the CRM and sales processes head in a direction that results in the highest level of productivity and success. It’s too easy to just sit around and blame “the process” as the reason why you don’t close deals.

Get off your ass and make things better.

To create more influence when suggesting new processes or policies, here are some tips on how to interact with management in and around Close.io that will earn you respect:

  • When trying to communicate to management that your leads suck, don’t send a list of lead names. Send them a Smart VIew.
    • Use Custom Fields and communication activity to demonstrate why the leads aren’t good. A good example is building a Smart View with leads your team has contacted a certain number of times without converting.
    • Example: Leads that are still “Potential” that we’ve contacted at least 10 times in the past 3 months: times_communicated > 10 last_communication_date < "90 days ago" status:Potential
  • When management asks you to give them a report on your performance, tell them where to find it in Close.io:
    • Are they asking to see how your email conversion rates are going? Tell them to check your Sent Email Report.
    • Are they asking you to list which deals are going to close this month? Tell them to check your Opportunities pipeline or give them a Smart View.
      • Example Smart View: opportunity_user:"Nick Persico" opportunity_close:"this month" opportunity_status:"Active"
  •  If management disagrees with your team on specific sales objections, track it in Close.io via a Custom Field or notes.
    • It’s best to use Custom Fields for this, but you may not be an admin in your Close.io organization. So create notes instead.
    • For example, if your team is losing deals because of a competitor, create a unique note like: “reason for loss: competitor_name”. Create a Smart View to send over.

The point of these tips are to create the expectation that management can always find the answers they’re looking for in your sales activity.

When they are trying to tell their boss how many deals the team is going to close, they should be able to find it without you. If that happens, you’ll notice a much more pleasant experience at work.

However, it only works if you keep your Inbox at zero, your opportunity pipeline updated, and have badass Smart Views.

Get to work and make it happen!

And if you're not yet using Close.io, try it for free with our 14-day unlimited trial. It only takes minutes to get set up and running, and you could be emailing and calling your leads today from within Close.io.

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