Any business requires a sales pipeline to ensure steady growth and successful sales closing. Today we review all the ins and outs of the sales pipeline management to help you improve your business.
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One of the reasons why we decided to compile this comprehensive sales pipeline analysis is the confusion that the sales pipeline definition creates. Too many people confuse the pipeline with the sales funnel, and it’s time to break this bad habit.
We believe that your business should do deep enough research and list all the sales pipeline stages to interact better with your customers. This is our view on the interactions that should become sales, and we know what you should do to make it happen.
Remember the ABC rule from the Glengarry Glen Ross? Always Be Closing. Yeah, it was super-stylish and epic, but it’s time to learn more about what happens in between the moment you get the attention of the prospect, and the moment he/she becomes your customer.
What Is a Sales Pipeline?
Let’s just start from the basics and make sure you remember the sales pipeline definition to avoid that confusion with the sales funnel.
First and foremost, the sales pipeline describes a particular set of stages that your prospects walks through while they stop being leads and move on closer to becoming your customers. From being just a lead, prospect moves one stage forward and discovers or evaluates your company becoming closer to the sale. All of these stages form the one and only unique sales pipeline of your business.
It is imperative to build your own and get the sales pipeline reports based on it, so you could be sure that it’s adapted to your business. Universal solutions suck, that’s why you read this sales pipeline building guidelines, right? Let’s move on.
While the stages vary from business to business, we want to highlight the basics ones that often pop up in the average sales pipeline template:
Asking all the necessary questions through your sales rep to see if this prospect has the budget and the need for your product.
Finding the best solution to meet every basic expectation of your client to avoid a defective deal.
Sending a quote for the picked product or services. Costs, timeframes, and every detail the client may need.
Signing the deal and making your prospect an official customer of your business.
This is a very basic set of stages. Here is a more detailed infographic to help you understand that there can be more stages, they can be more detailed and more well-tailored to the specific needs of your company.
What Is a Sales Pipeline Report?
When we talk about the sales pipeline report, we mean the basic numbers showing the quality of deals on all stages of your sales pipeline. So doing a pipeline report means evaluating the results on each stage to see the effectiveness of your sales process on every step.
Here’s an example of the basic sales pipeline report template.
How Are the Sales Pipeline Stages Different from Funnel’s?
Now let’s dive a bit deeper to make sure you understood the basics before things become more practical.
First of all, sales funnels are about leads, and sales pipelines are about sales. Let’s be honest, that’s already a huge difference. They both are different in data and presentation because of this distinction.
Now let’s make it straight once and for all:
A sales funnel consists of stages your lead moves through to become a customer.
A sales pipeline includes every stage of the sales process that a sales representative should take to move the deal and close it after all.
We would also like to highlight that unlike the sales pipeline reports, funnel reports are focused on the quantity and conversion rate of the deals.
Confusing these two may lead to many problems, and your sales process will become chaos. So read on and let’s make an excellent sales pipeline for your business.
Essential Steps Towards Building a Successful Sales Pipeline
First and foremost, you’ve got to be ready that it takes a lot of studies to work out the most effective sales pipeline stages. Research is now your best friend; it’s fundamental to make it as deep and as precise as possible to ensure the success of your sales pipeline template.
You can save, add to bookmarks or even print out this cheat sheet to remember every essential step of sales pipeline building. We will also provide a useful sales pipeline template in our article to help you start from scratch. Here are the fundamentals for your consideration.
1. Learn Your Product
No jokes. Of course, you’re now thinking that you know it one hundred percent clear. Well, you’ve got to know its ins and outs and study every inch of it. You’ve got to know the pros, cons, benefits, and potential problems that may attract or scare your prospect.
This is what you’re gonna sell to your prospect, and it has to solve his problems or provide real value for him to be able to move forward from the starting point. Only with this knowledge, you can proceed further with confidence and actually nail it.
2. Learn Your Prospect
Now it’s time to move to the prospect you plan to work with. You’ve got to know your target audience, those people who have a need for your services or products. To make that happen, you’ve got to make a research of the market and niche you work in.
Highlight the key characteristics of the prospect that your sales rep will target and now you have two crucial parts of the great sales pipeline puzzle. We can move on now.
3. Prepare Your Pitch
What is the opening pitch that moves your sales rep from the ground zero to the initial meeting and discussion of the prospect’s needs and desires? That’s right; a perfect pitch deck is a sauce that you need to make that gears grind and start the engine of your sales pipeline. Without the pitch you won’t move further, that’s like gasoline for your imaginary machine called the sales pipeline.
4. Determine Your Sales Pipeline Stages
Starting from scratch might be tough, so we decided to show you the sales pipeline template with the stages that every small business needs. Please make sure you understand that this is just a template to start with and you’ll have to customize it to your needs and add the necessary additional steps into it. Here are the fundamentals:
- Qualification Passed
- Custom Stages
- Deal Closing
Here is where the knowledge of the particular product and prospect comes into play. When we talk about the custom stages in between the passed qualification and deal closing, we’ve got to apply the knowledge we get from the studies of your own product and target audience research.
Only knowing the specifics or you can call it features/peculiarities/whatever, you will be able to add the stages that your prospect will have to move through to become a customer.
5. Segment Your Prospects
Speaking of the prospects, make sure your team considers the segmentation approach. This is one of the ways to double the effectiveness of your sales pipeline and make it bring you real value.
To put it easier for you, we can call it a prospects breakdown into groups by:
This one groups prospects by their age, income, education, etc.
This one groups prospects by their purchase frequency, ways of buying things, buying patterns in general.
This one groups prospects by their current location and, therefore, preferences that are based on their locality, city, community, or whatever.
- Psycho portrait
This one groups prospects by their lifestyle, beliefs, life values, and personality traits.
Segmenting your potential clients is a great way to make the approach of your sales rep more flexible and, therefore, more effective. It will help him move to the appropriate stage depending on the affiliation with the particular prospect group.
6. Determine Behavioural Triggers
So every stage of your pipeline has it’s starting and ending point. What makes your prospect move to the next stage?
An efficient sales pipeline requires movement, but what makes your client move from one of the stages onto the next one? That’s the information that might be very useful for the effective use of your pipeline.
Determine what triggers your prospect to move forward onto the next stage, there might be many examples of prospect’s actions:
- Taking a quiz on your website (if it’s online business)
- Requesting a demo of your product
- Taking a test drive of the car
Find that triggers and exploit them in your pipeline.
7. Prepare Necessary Content for Each Sales Pipeline Stage
Now let’s talk about your sales reps and the tools that you can give them to power their work. Every stage of your sales pipeline will require appropriate content: it can be a sales pitch, it can be photography or necessary forms/documents.
Sending out your sales reps without the most up to date and well-tailored content is like sending them to war with chopsticks. This won’t end well for all of you.
8. Adjust The Pipeline Based on Most Successful Deals
Yes, most of the times your sales pipeline will remain the same for years. When the company knows their audience perfectly, studies every trigger to guide their prospects and keeps seeing great results, the sales department won’t touch the pipeline at all.
However, if you see that the process is not ideal or you can highlight the obvious obstacles on the way of your prospect, you must do something about it. That’s why we genuinely believe that keeping track of what’s happening in your sales pipeline and making necessary adjustments are two basic details of the healthy sales process management.
Sales Pipeline Stages Management Tips
Now you know the fundamentals that will help you build your perfect sales pipeline or a business you run. What’s next? You shouldn’t slow down and relax, thinking that this is the end of your work. Do you know how to maintain it? Don’t you need the management tips? Well, we have those anyway, so watch your step when you get up cause we’re about to drop some knowledge here.
1. Identify Key Metrics
Make sure you know how to evaluate the work of your pipeline and the work of your reps. Here are the most important things to watch out for:
- Time spent on each stage by your prospects
- Cost of each opportunity your team works on
- How long till the deal is closed?
- Lead conversion rate
- ROI numbers
- Number of closed deals
2. Focus on Small Improvements
We’ve already told you about adjustments. We decided to take this opportunity and remind you that they should be small, no need to break your pipeline if you experience problems with one or two stages. Work with them closely to improve them and make them more effective. Introduce adjustments slowly and carefully.
3. Collect The Data!
Make sure you collect all the data from the necessary departments to make sure you see the whole picture and your evaluation makes sense after all.
One of the best ways to keep track of these things and keep the data in one place is a CRM. Those can make your life way easier; you should try.
Summing things up
We want to remind you that an effective sales pipeline can ensure the growth of your business and a successful return of investments. Without it, you will just live in a chaos of random sales and be one on one with the questions about how you can improve your sales numbers.
We’re sure that our comprehensive guide can be useful for any business: small or big, online or offline. The sales pipeline is a unique feature that can either multiply your success or simply exist on paper without real use. It’s your choice which way to go, just remember that our guide is here to help you, we’ve got you covered.