How to Build a Sales Pipeline: A Step-by-Step Guide to Success

How to Build Sales Pipeline

Sellers enjoy sealing the deal, but it’s important to remember that concentrating only on closing sales is like a marathon runner attempting to cheat their way to victory – you might gain a temporary advantage, but you’ll end up disqualified. Just like top runners who track their steps and relish the journey, successful sellers build a strong foundation through a healthy sales pipeline. This approach provides the framework and direction needed to form strong connections and consistently win deals.

Having the right sales pipeline strategy is a crucial part of business growth for any company. Without a well-established process for building sales, you might find yourself scrambling to achieve success.

If you neglect to manage your business development effectively, you might encounter some challenges:

  • Prospects and leads could lose interest.
  • You might miss out on valuable insights.
  • Conversions may be limited.
  • Your business might miss out on potential revenue.

So, what exactly is a pipeline in the world of business development, and how can you create and handle one that works well for your organization? It might seem like a big task, but don’t worry – we’re here to guide you through the process of building a robust sales pipeline, step by step.

 

What is a Sales Pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a graphic depiction of the potential business opportunities you have and the actions your sales team follows to initiate and finalize them.

Imagine it as a visual guide that helps you see which sales are likely to happen, how much they might be worth, and how well your sales team is doing. Breaking down the sales process into specific phases and tasks, the pipeline makes everything more manageable. It’s like having a checklist for each deal. Plus, it’s great for spotting where things might be going off track. You can figure out if your team is hitting its goals, see which deals are most likely to work out and pinpoint exactly where deals are getting stuck.

This guide covers everything you need to know, from understanding the different stages of a sales pipeline to crafting and maintaining a successful strategy, along with the key metrics to keep an eye on. Let’s make the journey to a healthy sales pipeline simple and effective.

 

Sales Funnel Vs. Sales Pipeline

People often use the terms “sales funnel” and “sales pipeline” interchangeably, but they’re two different strategies.

Think of a sales funnel as a map of the customer journey from the customer’s point of view. It shows how buyers move from recognizing their needs to exploring solutions, comparing options, and finally making a purchase. This is mainly used in marketing, but sales teams also play a role, especially towards the end of the funnel.

Now, a sales pipeline is like a map from the sales team’s perspective. It outlines the steps a sales team should take, starting from identifying potential leads, investigating opportunities, meeting with leads, and ultimately closing deals. This tool is exclusively used by sales teams. So, while they may sound similar, these strategies focus on different aspects of the buying process!

Sales Funnel VS Sales Pipeline

Creating a Sales Pipeline: Benefits

A sales pipeline shows you a big picture look at where each deal is in the sales process and spots any hurdles that could get in the way of a successful sale. Armed with this info, you can address obstacles and increase the likelihood of closing the deal. A smoothly run sales pipeline brings a bunch of perks to your organization:

  • Increased Closing Rate

A sales pipeline guides reps to spend their time wisely on leads that are well-qualified and nurtured. By concentrating efforts where they matter most, more deals get sealed, leading to better revenue.

  • Enhanced Customization

Sales pipelines offer a detailed view of each prospect. This allows salespeople to personalize interactions and tailor their messages to match the prospect’s unique needs and concerns. This personalized touch builds trust, making prospects more likely to get involved and eventually turn into happy customers.

  • Improved Efficiency

A sales pipeline, fueled by the right platform automates everyday tasks. This way, sales folks can focus on the important stuff, like building relationships with clients and planning smart strategies. It makes work easier, cuts down mistakes, and results in a more reliable and efficient sales process.

  • Better Visibility

A sales pipeline is like a peek into where potential customers are in the sales journey. By knowing each prospect’s unique path, companies can make smarter choices about where to put their efforts and tweak their sales game plan accordingly. 

  • Enhanced Revenue Prediction

Forecasting revenue is crucial for planning in any organization. A sales pipeline provides a live snapshot of deal status, enabling more accurate revenue predictions and helping organizations set achievable goals.

 

Behind the Scenes: Decoding the Functionality of a Sales Pipeline

A sales pipeline traces how potential customers go from first contact to buying. After a lead is confirmed as a good fit, they become a prospect, and the sales reps monitor their journey through sales talks. As prospects meet certain requirements for each stage, they move forward. Usually, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool keeps track of this, showing the pipeline’s health and performance in a dashboard.

Think of the sales journey like a river. If there are issues upstream, you’ll face problems downstream. Imagine deals getting stuck in the meeting/demo stage. Prospects attend but don’t progress, creating a bottleneck. To fix this, assess your demo videos, tweak content, and review recent demo recordings for improvements. Provide extra training for reps on leading effective demo calls.

Now, let’s explore the different stages of a sales pipeline and how they guide a prospect toward making a purchase.

6 Different Stages of a Sales Pipeline

 

Your Roadmap to Revenue: Exploring the Stages of a Sales Pipeline

  • Prospecting

Think of prospecting as the starting point on the road to building valuable connections with potential clients. Here, sales pros dig in to find possible leads and gather crucial details about them. The aim? Spot those prospects who match the organization’s dream customers and need what it’s offering. Getting to know potential clients’ traits and needs helps the sales team create a strong pool of prospects who are ready to make a move. This sets the stage for smoother sales efforts in the next pipeline steps.

 In the hunt for new customers, teaming up with marketing and other departments is key, making sales enablement a star player during the prospecting stage. Imagine content marketing as your trusty sidekick, swooping in to tackle the issues bothering your target audience. Share helpful content on social media, blogs, and emails, and watch as potential leads flock to your door, ready for some meaningful chit-chat. The magic doesn’t stop there – effective content marketing not only brings in leads but also paints your company as the go-to expert in the industry. Picture this: your sales pipeline is now filled with engaged prospects, all set and excited for the conversion journey. It’s teamwork at its finest! 

  • Assessing Leads 

In the quest for successful conversions, sales folks take the lead in sizing up potential prospects. Why? Well, qualifying leads is like having a secret weapon that stops the sales team from running after leads that might not be ready, able, or in charge of making a purchase. It’s all about working smarter, not harder. Imagine this: preliminary chats, deep-dive questions, and a keen eye on a prospect’s interest and authority level. That’s the lead qualification dance. And guess what? It helps sales wizards prioritize their time and energy, boosting the chances of turning leads into loyal customers at every stage.

  • Reaching Out to Prospects and Establishing Relationships

Once you’ve pinpointed, investigated, and given the thumbs-up to your prospects, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start weaving those lasting connections. This stage is all about kicking off conversations, earning trust, and diving headfirst into what makes your prospect tick. Imagine it as the dating phase of your sales journey!

So, what’s on the agenda? Think outreach through various channels, setting up those crucial intro meetings, and serving up info that’s custom-made to tackle your prospect’s worries.

Building relationships steals the spotlight in this act. It’s the foundation for all the good stuff that comes next in your sales adventure. Sales pros, your mission is to create a vibe with your prospect, proving that you’ve got their unique challenges on your radar. Show them you’re not just here for a quick sale – you’re here for the long haul. That trust-building magic you work at this stage? It’s the secret sauce that boosts your prospect’s confidence to take the plunge deeper into the sales pipeline.

  • Presenting Proposals and Engaging in Negotiations

Now comes the grand finale – the proposal and negotiation stage. It’s the moment when all the behind-the-scenes hustle boils down to a fancy offer for your prospect. Picture it as the big reveal in a magic show!

The star of the show? Your detailed and downright captivating proposal. It’s not just about showcasing what your organization brings to the table; it’s about hitting the bullseye on those specific pain points your prospect has been grappling with.

Once you’ve unleashed your proposal, it’s negotiation time. To all the sales pros, this is your chance to flex your collaborative muscles, showing that you’re all in for finding common ground. The game plan? Striking that sweet spot where the organization’s goals meet the prospect’s expectations.

  • Finalizing and Sealing the Deal 

Now finally the closing stage! This is the game-changer moment where the prospect takes the plunge and officially becomes a customer. Here the sales squad kicks into high gear, working hard to lock in that final agreement. It’s all about getting those contracts signed, processing payments smoothly, and making sure the prospect gets all the support they need for a seamless onboarding.

You can expect some last-minute curveballs – objections or concerns might pop up. But fear not! This is your moment to shine. Address those worries with confidence, provide the reassurance needed, and clarify any lingering questions.

  • Following Up After the Purchase

Welcome to the post-purchase phase – the part where our sales superheroes roll up their sleeves for some long-term relationship magic! So, what’s on the nurturing menu? Everything from heartfelt thank-you notes to friendly post-purchase surveys and collaborating with the team to offer extra support and guidance. It’s all about making sure our customers feel the love!

Why all this effort? Simple. We’re on a mission to keep our customers grinning from ear to ear. Any hiccups or questions post-purchase? We’ve got them covered.

But remember- this follow-up isn’t just about good vibes. It shows our commitment to a top-notch customer experience, paving the way for repeat business. Plus, it’s our chance to tap into some insider info – feedback from our customers. Think of it as the GPS for refining our offerings and fine-tuning the sales process.

And the cherry on top? Happy customers spread the word like wildfire, becoming our biggest cheerleaders. It’s a win-win for ongoing success!

 

How to Build a Sales Pipeline: Easy Steps

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to whip up a sales pipeline? Well, it varies for everyone! Just like cooking – the ingredients and recipe change based on what you’ve got in your kitchen.

Now, let’s dive into the basics of cooking up a sales pipeline. It’s like making your favorite dish but for business!

1. Outline the Phases within Your Sales Pipeline

Sure, you could take the fast track and snag a ready-made sales pipeline template. But trust me, crafting your own is like customizing a playlist for your business – worth the time and effort!

Why? Because your pipeline stages need to sync up with your prospect’s buying journey. Now, let’s break it down in simpler terms – customers usually follow this typical journey:

  • Awareness: The lightbulb moment! The buyer realizes they’ve got a problem or a golden opportunity.
  • Consideration: Time to dive deep! The buyer figures out his pain points, sets criteria, and scouts out potential game plans.
  • Decision: It’s showtime! The buyer finalizes his game plan, compares some potential vendors, and finally selects the ultimate winning solution.

 Considering this, your sales pipeline phases could be as follows:

  • Initiate: The prospective buyer interacts with your company via various means such as a salesperson’s email, a webinar, or content.
  • Appointment Scheduled: The buyer agrees to a meeting to delve deeper into how your offerings can benefit him.
  • Appointment Fulfilled: The buyer attends the meeting, and you solidify the subsequent actions.
  • Solution Presented: The buyer expresses interest in utilizing your product to address his challenges or leverage an opportunity.
  • Proposal Dispatched: The buyer examines the proposal or contract you have provided.

2. Determine the Usual Progression of Opportunities at Each Stage

It’s important to track how much time potential customers spend at each step, both overall and specifically for deals that successfully close. For instance, on average, folks might take about two weeks in the demo stage, but those who end up making a purchase might spend around three weeks.

Understanding the proportion of opportunities that move on to the next step is crucial too. And don’t forget about figuring out the likelihood (or conversion rate) of turning a prospect into a buyer at each stage. Maybe during the demo, there’s a 70% chance, but in the negotiation stage, it’s closer to 90%. Assigning these probabilities to each stage allows you to create monthly or quarterly estimates for your revenue.

Having these benchmarks handy helps your sales team and managers make more accurate predictions about which opportunities are likely to close successfully.

3. Compute the Required Number of Opportunities in Each Stage to Meet Your Objectives

Now, let’s take a step back and figure out how many chances you need at each step of the sales pipeline development process. Begin by dividing your desired monthly or quarterly earnings by the average amount you make per deal. This gives you the number of deals you need to successfully close.

After that, divide your target number of deals by the likelihood of success at each stage. For instance, if you aim to close 135 deals and your team usually finalizes 90% of deals during negotiations, you’ll need 150 opportunities to reach that negotiation stage in a month.

Repeat this calculation for every stage of the sales process. Once you have the total milestones, distribute these targets among your sales team members. It’s a straightforward way to plan and allocate opportunities effectively.

4. Recognize the Shared Characteristics of Successful Opportunities at Each Stage

Now, let’s zoom in on what makes opportunities successful at each sales pipeline development stage. Look closely at what actions your sales reps take, such as sending a follow-up email, and how prospects respond, like taking a demo.

Identifying these common traits will not only give you valuable insights but also allow you to fine-tune your sales approach. 

5. Develop or Adjust Your Sales Procedure Based on this Information

Now, build a sales process or spruce up your current one based on these actions and figures. A robust sales process acts like a trusted guide for your reps, making it easier for them to seal the deal consistently.

Blend in your sales pipeline data, and you’ll be able to tweak your sales process strategically, nudging your prospects and opportunities closer to that successful close. It’s like tailoring your approach for a smoother journey to closing those deals!

6. Consistently Introduce New Leads into Your Pipeline

Setting up a sales process is just the beginning. Yet, here’s the thing: many reps are more interested in something other than the prospecting part. It’s like building a pipeline, but if you don’t keep filling it, it could end up dry.

Here’s the deal: lots of sales teams are all about closing deals, and sometimes they forget to focus on finding new prospects for the upcoming month. Then, the next month hits, and they’re in a rush to catch new prospects.

In a perfect sales pipeline, you should always have more opportunities in the prospecting stage than in the closing stage. If you are planting seeds; you need more at the start, and as they grow, the chances of a successful harvest increase. The same concept applies here also to keep your pipeline floating.

Even when you’ve got a solid set of leads for the month, it’s smart to mix things up with a diverse prospecting strategy. Think beyond the usual like cold calling—encourage your reps to explore various approaches. Such as:

  • Content marketing
  • Social selling
  • Email marketing
  • SEO
  • Referral programs
  • Webinars and workshops
  • Influencer collaboration

7. Sustain the Vitality of Your Pipeline

Ever wondered why 60% of prospects need to say “no” four times before saying “yes”? Yet, shockingly, nearly half of salespeople skip the follow-up. To avoid losing valuable leads, make sure your sales pipeline includes a robust five-step (or more) follow-up process.

Equip your team with a follow-up system that nails the right timing, consistency, and communication methods. Lay down clear expectations, like:

  • Make sure to reach out to every inbound lead within six hours.
  • Each lead should get 10-12 thoughtful interactions over a month through emails, calls, and social media.
  • Every touch should share fresh info or useful resources.

This consistent follow-up plan isn’t just about staying in touch – it helps your reps keep their pipelines in top shape. If a prospect hasn’t responded by the final touch, it’s a sign to remove them from the pipeline. Clean and efficient!

8. Regularly Assess and Streamline Your Pipeline

It’s super important to tidy up your pipeline if you want a spot-on sales forecast. Most forecasts check the stage of each opportunity to gauge its likelihood of closing, not how old it is.

Imagine you pitched a $1,000 deal a month ago, and the buyer hasn’t responded to your calls or emails since. It’s a sign that the deal might not be happening. Time to spruce up that pipeline! But here’s the twist: because deals in the negotiation stage usually close at a whopping 90%, your sales forecast would mark this deal as potentially bringing in $900 next month.

Here’s the kicker – your sales forecast is now off by $900. And the more stale deals you have, the wider the gap grows between what you expect and what’s happening. Watch out for those gaps! 

Sales Pipeline Development Strategies

 

Crucial Metrics: Monitoring Your Sales Pipeline for Success

Imagine your sales pipeline as a well-oiled machine, where deals move smoothly through each stage, turning into successful purchases. To keep this engine running strong, keep an eye on key metrics like the number of qualified leads, conversion rates, and deal ages. Tracking signals such as lead source, industry, and decision-maker role also helps make sure you’re focusing on the best-quality leads. It’s like fine-tuning your pipeline for peak performance! 

For a spick-and-span data and to keep those deals on the fast track, pop some trackable metrics and prospect details into your CRM. Give them a regular check-up, and you’re golden! While there are tons of metrics to watch, the real metrics are the ones directly linked to the number of deals in your pipeline and how smoothly they’re moving from prospecting to closing. Here they are:

  • The Overall Count of Opportunities

As mentioned earlier, a qualified lead is someone whose needs match what your product offers, and they’re ready and able to make a purchase. The greater qualified leads you’ve got, the better your chances of turning them into happy customers! 

  • Total Deal Value

While the thrill of chasing big wins is undeniable, don’t overlook the power of a string of smaller victories. They can swoop in, convert faster, and play the role of a sneak peek into some exciting revenue action!

  • Average Success Rate

Getting a grip on your general win rate is like unlocking the secrets to benchmarking and opportunity calculations. It’s not just numbers; it’s a treasure map to spot where things can get better. Knowing this rate helps you find weak spots and plan actions to supercharge your sales team’s performance! 

  • The Ratio of Leads to Opportunities

Loads of leads may jump into the pipeline, but not every one of them will blossom into a qualified opportunity. That lead-to-opportunity ratio? It’s like a sneak peek into how awesome your leads are and how hard your sales team is hustling!

  • Duration of the Sales Cycle

The journey a potential customer takes through all six sales pipeline stages can be a bit like a rollercoaster – it varies for each business depending on what they’re selling and how big the deal is. But hey, even with these twists and turns, having a clear picture of how long the ride takes is key! 

  • Cumulative Value of the Entire Pipeline

Picture this: having a grasp on the overall value of all possible deals in your business pipeline is like having a superpower to predict revenue. It not only gives you the full picture but also empowers you to enhance strategies for securing a higher closing rate! 

 

Pipeline Mastery: Tools You Can’t Do Without

Keeping your sales pipeline in top shape requires nifty tools to steer deals smoothly through every stage. Think of tools that tidy up customer info, coordinate team actions, and give your sales reps a clear roadmap to tackle tasks. Ready to meet some pipeline management superheroes? Here they are!

1. Software for Managing Customer Relationships (CRM)

Imagine having a sidekick for your business – that’s what CRM software is! It’s your go-to tool for wrangling customer info, keeping tabs on interactions, and keeping a watchful eye on your sales pipeline. This superhero of software centralizes everything, from customer details to lead tracking, making tasks a breeze and turning you into a customer engagement wizard.

Here’s the exciting twist: equipped with AI capabilities, it effortlessly integrates data from emails, calls, and meetings into your deal records. Plus, it cleverly suggests the next best moves, ensuring your deals stay on a winning streak! 

Here’s a selection of excellent CRMs in the market for you to consider.

  • HubSpot CRM
  • Salesforce
  • Pipedrive
  • Freshsales
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365
  • Mailchimp

2. Tools for Analyzing and Reporting Sales Data

    These tools are like treasure chests, giving you precious insights into important pipeline metrics such as conversion rate, deal age, and the count of qualified leads. With this info in hand, you can spot trends, measure your current sales against key performance indicators (KPIs), and use data to supercharge your sales strategies. The magic ingredient? Real-time data! It lets you tweak your game plan on the fly, steering clear of any possible road bumps. 

    Here’s a list of good analytics tools for your consideration!

    • Hotjar
    • Tableau
    • Zoho Analytics
    • Microsoft Power BI
    • Domo

    3. Communication and Collaboration Software

      Imagine having your communication superheroes—email clients, messaging platforms, and video conferencing tools! They let reps reach out to prospects, have real-time chats, and even hold video meetings from anywhere. These tools aren’t just for talking; they’re like secret lairs where sales teams can discuss leads, share updates, handle customer questions, and coordinate activities. 

      Picture this: in the world of lightning-fast moves, having a tool like REVE Chat is your secret weapon! This AI-powered customer support wizard lets you jump into action, reaching out to your potential customers on your website, mobile app, and even social media hangouts like Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Viber, and WhatsApp. What’s the magic? It offers help even before they hit you up for it! And here’s the real kicker – it’s not just about being friendly; it’s a sales powerhouse. By dishing out the perfect info and assistance at just the right moment, it’s the deal-sealer you’ve been waiting for.

      Ready to experience REVE Chat’s wonders? Grab your 14-day free trial now! Dive in and discover all the fantastic features. Don’t miss out—SIGN UP today! 

      4. Sales Empowerment Tools

      These handy tools use content, coaching sessions, and training courses to assist salespeople in getting started, enhancing their abilities, and sealing deals with ease. In a changing market and evolving buyer demands, sales enablement equips reps with the tools to adapt to the latest prospect requirements, resolving concerns promptly to ensure deals progress smoothly to completion.

      Here are some tools you can opt for!

      • Brainshark
      • SalesLoft
      • InsideView
      • Highspot
      • Slack
      • Microsoft Teams
      • Hoopla

       

      Wrapping Up!

      Don’t forget: A sales pipeline is like a roadmap that guides customers through the journey of making a purchase. It’s your secret weapon for keeping tabs on how customers are doing, predicting future earnings, and boosting sales. Although companies might have their unique pipeline designs, most follow some key stages like finding leads, figuring out which leads are the best, giving those leads some extra care, and finally, sealing the deal.

      Here are some handy tips for your sales journey:

      • Check your numbers regularly—whether it’s every month, every quarter, or every six months.
      • Fine-tune your sales plan as your customers and business evolve.
      • Make life easier with CRM tools—they help organize customer info and can even automate parts of your sales game.

      Start Using REVE Chat Now!

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      Suvashree Bhattacharya
      Author’s Bio

      Suvashree Bhattacharya is a researcher, blogger, and author in the domain of customer experience, omnichannel communication, and conversational AI. Serving as a content marketing strategist at REVE Chat, she develops contextual and interesting content for customers from different industries and segments like customer service, customer satisfaction, engagement, messaging platforms, etc. Passionate about writing and designing, she pours her heart out in writeups that are detailed, interesting, engaging, and more importantly cater to the requirements of the targeted audience. Her interests include reading, painting, and traveling.

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