Does your sales pipeline feel more like a drinking straw?
Running a business is full of unknowns, surprises, and challenges, especially regarding predicting future revenue. That’s why it’s important to have a reliable indicator of how much new business is coming your way.
That comes in the form of the sales pipeline: A visual representation of how many prospects you have and where they are in each sales pipeline stage.
Your sales pipeline offers an estimate of how much business your salespeople expect to close in a specific week, month, or year. This estimate, in turn, helps with revenue forecasting, planning for growth, and preparing for whatever’s around the corner.
Sounds obvious, right? Of course, you’d like to have all this information as early and as accurately as possible. But how exactly do you go about building a sales pipeline in the first place?
We hear you. That’s why we put together this list of the basic steps to building the sales pipeline of legend.
- 1. What is a Sales Pipeline?
- 2. How to Build a Sales Pipeline
- 2.1 Step 1: Design Your Sales Cycle
- 2.1.1 Stage 1: Engagement
- 2.1.2 Stage 2: Meeting
- 2.1.3 Stage 3: Education
- 2.1.4 Stage 4: Proposal
- 2.1.5 Stage 5: Close
- 2.2 Step 2: Identify Your Ideal Customers and Target Accounts
- 2.3 Step 3: Find Internal Contacts at Those Target Accounts
- 2.4 Step 4: Move Qualified Leads Through the Sales Cycle
- 2.5 Step 5: Use a CRM Tool to Make Your Sales Pipeline More Efficient
- 3. Remember: Sales is a Fluid Process
What is a Sales Pipeline?
Establishing a strong sales pipeline is a great way to gain visibility into the successes and failures of your sales efforts. By tracking your opportunities’ progress through the sales pipeline stages, you can gauge the average length of your sales process and identify ways to make it run more smoothly. You can also more accurately predict future revenue and spot resource or skill shortfalls.
Once you’ve established your sales pipeline stages, filling that pipeline up is crucial. The more sales opportunities cross your threshold, the more chances you have to convert them into customers—and the more chances you get to generate revenue.
A HubSpot study found that 72% of companies with fewer than 50 new opportunities in their sales pipeline each month miss their revenue goals. But as the number of opportunities increases, so does the likelihood of hitting your targets. Only 15% of companies with 51 to 100 monthly opportunities fall short of projections; for companies with 101 to 200 opportunities, that number is just 4%.
Ready to dive into establishing your own sales pipeline? Read on.
How to Build a Sales Pipeline
So how do you build a sales pipeline that works? Here are five steps for building a pipeline that brings the deals rushing in:
- Step 1: Design your sales cycle
- Step 2: Identify your ideal customers and target accounts
- Step 3: Find internal contacts at those target accounts
- Step 4: Move qualified leads through the sales cycle
- Step 5: Use a CRM tool to make your sales pipeline more efficient
Learn more about each step below.
Step 1: Design Your Sales Cycle
A sales cycle is a journey you create, from awareness and education to negotiation and sale.
According to a study from Vantage Point Performance, the greatest indicator of year-over-year revenue growth is a well-defined sales cycle. The study found a 15% difference in revenue growth between companies with a formal/defined sales process versus those without one.
You probably already have a solid sales cycle, but we’ll outline the five essential stages below so you can compare them to your own.
Stage 1: Engagement
Sales reps connect with a buyer who shows interest by connecting via prospecting emails (or videos!) or having them come in as inbound leads. Sales then qualifies that lead by connecting the buyer with useful content, warming them up, and getting them ready to talk seriously about what your product can do for them.
Stage 2: Meeting
Your reps schedule and run a brief discovery meeting with the buyer. They’ll discuss the buyer’s pain points, show how your product can solve those issues, and maybe take the buyer through a quick demo, whether live or pre-recorded, to show them how it works.
Stage 3: Education
Teach the buyer more about your product’s features using educational videos, in-depth content, or case studies. The goal is to make the buyer feel informed about the product and personally engaged with the sales rep. (Video is a great way to do both. You can explain complex topics in just a minute or two on camera; plus, seeing a sales rep on video makes buyers feel like they’re engaged in a real conversation, not impersonal email back-and-forths.)
Stage 4: Proposal
It’s time to nail down the scope of your solution, lay out the exact terms of the deal, and write up a contract for the buyer to sign. Video is a great tool here, too. Quick videos can clarify the scope and answer buyers’ questions, all in a format that can be easily shared with other stakeholders.
Stage 5: Close
Deal signed! Now to fulfill the product they bought. This is also where you’ll pass your shiny new customer off for post-purchase activities like product onboarding.
Step 2: Identify Your Ideal Customers and Target Accounts
Sit down with your sales team and identify the list of potential companies your business could sell to. Characteristics of your ideal target customers will render the total number of customers your business is able to sell to based on your sales strategy. This list is organic—you should update it as often as possible.
The Pareto Principle notes that the top 20% of your customers are responsible for 80% of your revenue, so it’s important to tier your accounts in order to devote the right amount of energy on the front end to identify which prospects will be both efficient and revenue-generating.
Step 3: Find Internal Contacts at Those Target Accounts
Salespeople don’t talk to companies—they talk to humans. The best salespeople are the ones who build authentic relationships. That’s why locating specific internal contacts within a company is important. Get their names, do your research, and find out who or what you have in common. Be genuinely curious about their businesses and help them create value.
Don’t overlook video’s power to build human relationships while prospecting. A 30-second intro video is all you need to build an authentic connection from the very first touch. The buyer gets to experience you being “there,” putting you ahead of all the other salespeople that they only know through email sign-offs and LinkedIn profiles.
Step 4: Move Qualified Leads Through the Sales Cycle
Divide and conquer! Work as a team to reach out to your prospects and walk them through the process and the journey you’ve created.
Collaborate with your marketing team to create videos, webpages, blogs, demos, and other lead-generating resources that help prospects understand the value of your solution. And mix up your tactics as you go in order to find various messages that resonate and things that work.
Sales training and development are always helpful, even for sales veterans…sometimes, especially for sales veterans.
Here’s a peek at Salesforce’s six-step lead management process:
Step 5: Use a CRM Tool to Make Your Sales Pipeline More Efficient
Take your pipeline to a whole new level with a customer relationship management (CRM) tool (like Salesforce). A CRM gives you a real-time view of your sales pipeline and lets you filter by team, rep, or territory for customized insights into your business. Pipeline management features can also help you spot and troubleshoot problem areas in your sales process.
Salesforce Essentials, created specifically to help small businesses get started with CRM offers customizable tools for creating dashboards, reports, and alerts to help manage your pipeline. Here’s what it looks like in action:
Remember: Sales is a Fluid Process
As you go, keep in mind that selling is a process that should change and evolve continually for the best results. It can be as simple or as complex as you make it, but there are no sure bets, no failsafe techniques, no guarantees.
So be sure to take time each month to iron out what’s been working and what hasn’t. Where does your pipeline get clogged? Do you need to change up your tactics or teams? What feedback have you heard from customers about the process? Stay fluid and flexible to maximize your team, pipeline, and revenue.
Interested in learning more about creating a powerful sales pipeline? Try this free interactive Salesforce Trailhead module for hands-on training on how you and your team can work together to build a strong sales pipeline.
Watch Salesforce’s top tips for managing your sales pipeline.
Watch Salesforce’s top tips for managing your sales pipeline.
This post was originally published on June 11, 2019. It was updated on November 16, 2021.