How One Sales Pro Goes Backward to Move Her Pipeline Forward

A strategic growth manager shares how she has maintained, monitored and improved the sales pipeline process.

Written by Olivia McClure
Published on Feb. 01, 2023
How One Sales Pro Goes Backward to Move Her Pipeline Forward
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In order to move forward in the sales planning process, Michele Charles goes backwards. 

As a strategic growth manager at Elevate K-12, she decides where she needs to end up with her pipeline before mapping it out backwards based on what deals are in play and how risky those deals may be. 

“This process allows me to quickly identify where gaps may exist, which allows me to know where and how to ask for help early on,” Charles said. 

Taking a proactive approach to pipeline management has proven to be highly beneficial for Charles, yet it’s also a process that has evolved over time. Through experience, she has learned the importance of obtaining a clearer and more granular idea of prospects’ buying processes in order to more accurately forecast timelines. Not only does this help her estimate the runtime of a deal, but it also gives her a greater sense of the type of prospect she’s dealing with. 

Asking questions about [a prospect’s] buying processes upfront also allows me to get a better sense of their commitment early on, allowing me to gauge whether they’re genuinely considering an investment or if they’re simply gathering information,” Charles said. 

While management is crucial to maintaining a sales pipeline, it’s merely one step in the process. It’s equally important for sales professionals to monitor their pipeline and keep it fresh. 

Charles has accomplished this by establishing strong workflow habits and routinely updating her CRM, which she considers her team’s “central source of truth” that drives greater collaboration with other teams and company leaders. 

Built In Chicago caught up with Charles to learn how she maintains and monitors a productive, clean sales pipeline. 

 

UNLOCKING ACCESS TO LIVE EDUCATION

In her role as strategic growth manager, Charles empowers school districts with Elevate K-12’s platform, which offers students access to live instructors that specialize in a wide range of subjects, from computer programming to the German language. The company’s software enables educators to virtually hand out assessments and polls, offer annotations on a digital whiteboard and share interactive videos. 

 

Michele Charles
Strategic Growth Manager • Elevate K-12

What’s the single most important best practice you follow when it comes to pipeline management, and why is it so important?

When managing my pipeline, I rely heavily on planning backwards. I take a look at where I need to end up and then map backwards based on what deals are in play and how risky those deals may be. As I plan backwards, I leverage our CRM to keep opportunity stages and amounts in order to accurately forecast targets for myself and the business. 

 

What’s one improvement you’ve made to your pipeline processes over time, and what impact has that had on your work?

One improvement I have made to my pipeline process over time was to obtain a clearer and more granular idea of prospects’ buying processes in order to more accurately forecast timelines. I have run into situations where a prospect provides a verbal “yes,” but then their legal processes and board approvals take extensive time. What I thought was viable for a certain quarter ended up getting pushed to the next. 

 

Which best practice do you follow for monitoring your sales pipeline over time and keeping it clean and up to date?

Building consistent and strong workflow habits has significantly helped me maintain an accurate pipeline. After each meeting, I routinely update my CRM with notes and information about opportunity stages before heading to the next task. 

Building consistent and strong workflow habits has significantly helped me maintain an accurate pipeline.”

 

Leveraging my CRM also allows me to revisit opportunities systematically in an effort to re-engage prospects if our first engagement was poorly timed. At the end of each week, I do an audit to ensure opportunities are up to date for the week ahead. Since our CRM is our central source of truth, this practice also allows me to collaborate more effectively across teams and with leaders. 

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images courtesy of Elevate K-12.

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