According to Hubspot, 50% of your prospects aren’t a good fit for your product or service. Clearly, your sales pitch isn’t the only thing affecting your closing rate. You also need a well-developed process for finding, qualifying, and nurturing prospective customers. Depending on your industry, you may also need a process for onboarding and supporting new clients.
Your sales pipeline is that process. It enables you to strategize the different stages of the sales funnel for the maximum closed deals. In this article, we take a look at everything you need to know to build and manage a killer sales pipeline.
What Is a Sales Pipeline?
Simply put, a sales pipeline is a breakdown of your entire sales process. It indicates the different stages that you must move through to turn prospects into customers. It lets you picture the complete sales journey from discovering leads to nurturing them to closing deals. Based on the nature of your product, it may even extend to after-sales services and support.
A sales pipeline enables you to strategize your sales process and identify the steps that your sales team needs to take at each stage of the sales journey. For larger teams spanning several departments, it also ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding customer interaction.
Think of your sales pipeline as something like a project roadmap. Only, instead of being used for product development, it identifies the different stages involved in bringing consistent sales to your company. A well-developed sales pipeline can help you make accurate projections regarding sales volume and quarterly revenue, making your decisions much more efficient.
Sales Pipeline vs Sales Funnel: What’s the Difference?
While people often confuse them, the concept of a sales pipeline is very different from that of a sales funnel. A sales funnel represents the different stages that a customer moves through before they are ready to make a purchase. In other words, it identifies the buyer’s journey from the customer’s perspective.
Sales pipelines, however, are meant for internal use by your team of sales professionals. They indicate the various steps that a sales team must take to move leads from discovery through qualification to negotiation and even beyond. A sales pipeline is always drawn from your sales team’s perspective.
It’s not a matter of choosing between a sales pipeline and a sales funnel, but rather deciding how each of these fits into your sales strategy. A sales funnel can help you understand the customer journey and empathize with your buyers. A sales pipeline can use that understanding to identify the different steps necessary to move prospects through the funnel.
Benefits of Developing a Sales Pipeline
Sales is as much a science as it is an art. By developing a comprehensive process to identify and record the various stages of your sales cycle, you will set yourself up for success and be able to close more deals using better data. Here are the three most important ways that having a sales pipeline can impact your business:
- Having a sales pipeline helps with collaboration and consistent messaging. When everyone is on the same page, your team members can close deals faster and individual sales reps can check to see if they’re on the right track.
- By developing a system for discovering, qualifying, nurturing, and tracking each lead, you can collect better insights and have all the right information in one place when you finally get to the negotiating table.
- Having a proper sales pipeline can enable you to make accurate revenue projections, which in turn can assist you when developing quarterly budgets and measuring sales performance.
The 4 Stages of a Sales Pipeline
Your sales pipeline is made up of multiple stages that often vary based on your product, industry, and buyer intent. However, these are the four stages that are typical to most sales pipelines, irrespective of industry or offering:
- Prospecting: At the prospecting stage, your sales and marketing teams are trying to generate as many leads as possible and turn them into prospects by initiating contact. There’s a range of inbound and outbound techniques that can help salespeople prospect, including cold calling, email marketing, trade shows, and online advertising.
- Qualifying: Once you’ve managed to generate a consistent flow of high-quality leads, you’re ready to start qualifying those leads using several criteria. The idea is to pinpoint the leads with the highest conversion rate so that you can focus the majority of your marketing efforts on deals that actually close.
- Proposal: Once you’ve generated new leads and qualified them for conversion, the next stage is to ease them towards a proposal for your product or service offering. There are several ways of making a proposal to your prospects, but the best way is to schedule a direct consultation where you can discuss pricing and talk about the nitty-gritty.
- Closing: The last stage of your sales process involves finalizing deals with your clients and customers. Once you’ve agreed on a pricing structure and feature set, it’s time to collect payments using a payment form and to sign a detailed contract containing the terms of your agreement.
Your sales pipeline may extend further beyond the closing stage to assist with onboarding, provide after-sales service, collect referrals, and more. You can also build multiple sales pipelines for each stage of the buyer journey or each buyer persona type.
How to Build a Sales Pipeline From Scratch
Now that you’re familiar with the various sales pipeline stages, it’s time to build a pipeline from scratch. Let’s walk through the steps you need to take to build your very own sales pipeline.
Create Your Buyer Personas
The first step towards building a sales pipeline is to identify your market segment. A buyer persona is a fictitious representation that relies on available metrics and educated guesswork to define your ideal customer.
Depending on the size of your business and the nature of your product or service, you can have one or more buyer personas that you should focus on at any given time. These personas will enable you to market more empathetically as you’ll be aware of your customer’s potential needs and requirements.
Define Lead Generation Sources
Once you’ve defined your buyer personas, you’re ready to go out there and get yourself some leads. Leads are the lifeblood of your sales process and you’ve got to keep your pipeline full of fresh incoming leads at all times if you want to make any sales.
You can rely on a variety of outbound and inbound marketing techniques to generate leads, such as content marketing and advertising campaigns. If you need qualified leads for B2B sales, Datanyze’s Google Chrome Extension can provide you with verified contact information on high-converting sales prospects through LinkedIn.
Practice Lead Segmentation
As you start generating leads and initiating contact with them, you’ll need a process for lead qualification based on how likely they are to convert into new customers. One way is to have an internal lead scoring system that ranks sales opportunities based on their interest.
You’ll also need a system for categorizing potential customers based on their demographics, such as company size, industry designation, and purchase behaviors. Lead segmentation can do just that by creating separate list segments for each type of lead.
Draft a Strong Proposal
Making a good sales proposal is key to converting your sales targets. An ideal proposal should do more than just outline the terms of your agreement. Use text, images, and branding to position your solution as a reliable and trustworthy resource for solving the client’s problems.
These days, building a good sales proposal is a lot easier than it used to be. You can use sales proposal software like Prospero or Qwilr to draft powerful proposals from pre-defined templates. You can even add your own branding to make your proposals stand out.
Prepare to Close
At this point, you’ve successfully sent your proposal to the client and got them to accept it. Now is the time to collect your payment and sign the contract. You can use a variety of payment methods to accept money online, such as Stripe and PayPal. For invoicing, there’s a host of popular invoicing software to choose from.
It’s not necessary to physically sign every contract: e-signatures are every bit as legally binding as physical ones. Moreover, there’s a number of e-signature tools, such as HelloSign, that use cryptography to provide enhanced security and hold clients accountable in case of a breach.
Some Tips for Effective Sales Pipeline Management
Building a high-quality sales pipeline is crucial, but it doesn’t end here. You’ll want to keep optimizing your sales pipeline every day to make sure it’s functioning at its best. Here are a few sales pipeline management tips to make your pipeline more effective as you grow:
- Never let your sales pipeline go dry. Use a variety of lead generation techniques to keep your pipeline full, be it through cold calling or content marketing. However, it’s also important to focus on quality over quantity.
- Use a customer relationship management tool (CRM). CRM software is an application used by decision-makers to keep track of their sales pipeline. It gives you a birds-eye view of your pipeline and uses visual representations to convey important information.
- As your business grows, you’ll want to have a pipeline that can manage a vast amount of leads at scale. Automation is the perfect way to achieve this. Using tools to automate your sales emails, for example, can help you send lots of emails within a short time.
- You should also use tools to track and analyze your sales-qualified leads in real-time. Keep a record of important metrics such as click-through rates and track your leads’ progress through the sales journey over a given amount of time.
Use Prospecting Tools to Fill Up Your Sales Pipeline
A healthy sales pipeline has a consistent flow of fresh and high-quality leads at all times. There are many different techniques you can use to generate leads for your business, such as content marketing, email newsletters, trade shows, and more.
Cold calling and emailing are the best ways to gather leads fast. In the old days, salespeople would dial through long lists of contacts to find and qualify interested leads. But today, you can use sales prospecting and lead generation tools to make the process faster and more efficient.
A good sales prospecting tool works by helping you conduct lead research and develop high-quality lists for your cold calling and email marketing campaigns. That way, you can hit your sales goals easily by focusing your marketing efforts on pre-qualified leads.
Datanyze: The Ultimate B2B Sales Prospecting Tool
Datanyze is a powerful lead generation and sales prospecting tool for startups and small businesses. It works by helping you obtain accurate and verified contact information on B2B leads through social media platforms like LinkedIn.
But that’s not all! Datanyze also helps you break into that first conversation with your prospects using meaningful icebreakers, and it provides accurate professional data on every single lead. With just a few clicks, you can obtain email addresses and phone numbers as well as pertinent information like job titles and industry designation for all your leads.
The best part? Datanyze’s Google Chrome Extension helps you do all this from an intuitive dashboard where you can manage leads and follow up with prospects. It’s the ultimate tool for busy sales leaders to hit their revenue goals and close a large number of deals in a short time.
Want to take Datanyze for a spin? Just sign up for a free account and install the browser extension to get started!