Having a structured and effective sales pipeline in place for your team can help skyrocket sales efficiency and help enable your team to hit their goals more consistently. Thus creating a more reliable revenue stream.
But, you may be wondering where to start when it comes to how to build your sales pipeline and ensuring it will enable your team to be effective. We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll break down what a sales pipeline is, exactly how to build one, and how to measure its success.
What Is a Sales Pipeline Exactly?
Effective sales is a process. It is not a one-and-done action that results in a new customer. So, understanding what exactly a sales pipeline is and the process it entails will help you and your team start to seamlessly move prospects from leads to customers.
Unlike the sales funnel, which is from the buyer’s side of the process, the sales pipeline consists of every stage sales reps follow in the sales process drive a deal from being an initial lead to a closed deal. It gives your sales team a clear road map to get to the destination more effectively. They’ll always know what comes next in the process.
From a managerial perspective, with a sales process, you’ll be armed with the information needed to proactively move on growth opportunities, pinpoint leaks in the pipeline, forecast revenue, and plan for long-term growth.
There are four major aspects of a sales pipeline funnel, which then include specific stages within those:
- Awareness - Prospecting and securing the lead
- Consideration - Qualifying deals and pitching the solution
- Intent - Sending the proposal and negotiating the deal
- Decision Making - Closing the deal
The specific sales pipeline stages can vary depending on the business but they will always revolve around those four major aspects. It is often shaped like a funnel because the further along the process, the fewer leads are involved at a time.
How to Build a Sales Pipeline Step by Step
Building your team a new sales pipeline from scratch doesn’t have to be rocket science. Here are eight steps to follow:
Step #1 - Research the Target Audience
The first place to start is to pinpoint the characteristics that your target audience shares. You have to dive deeper than just standard demographics. Try to uncover what challenges and pain point your audience is really facing and how your team/products could help. Understanding what drives your prospects will help make your sales pipeline more effective and easier to complete.
Use hard data to put together the most accurate picture. This data can be pulled from places like:
- Your CRM
- Your customer service agents
- Customer surveys
- Social media insights
- Your website’s Google Analytics demographics and interests data
Step #2 - Create Buyer Personas
Now it’s time to take that research and bring it to life by creating buyer personas. Group your customers into a persona based on what your customers want from your product, how they will use it, and the most beneficial features for them. Then you can craft a detailed sales journey for that persona. (See step #3)
Make sure to create a buyer persona for each main group in your audience and use them to guide your team’s sales process.
Step #3 - Map Out What Your Pipeline Might Look Like
Now that you have more information about what the target audience and buyer personas look like and how your products or services may be solutions for them, you can start to map out what the sales pipeline might look like.
Remember, an effective pipeline will mirror the buying stages (sales funnel) of your team’s prospects. This means the stages of the pipeline will revolve around the sales actions necessary to go from the initial lead being found to a closed sale.
Part of this step should also include looking at the average win rate and determining the number of deals you need in each of the early sales pipeline stages for your team to meet their sales goals.
Step #4 - Prospecting to Find New Leads
This is where your sales reps start doing the work to move prospects through the process. It starts with driving new leads into the pipeline through effective prospecting. They should be letting the target audience and your industry guide where leads are found. For example, CRM mapping tools with built-in lead generation can help, but if your audience is active on LinkedIn that could be another go-to as well.
Your reps need to find the routine that works the best to drive in leads that fit the target audience and fill the top end of the pipeline.
Step #5 - Separate the Qualified Leads From the Unqualified
This is where your reps start to move leads from the Consideration phase of the pipeline to the Intent phase. Not all leads are going to be ready to buy right away. So, the leads need to be qualified and those that are not quite ready to go to a conversion stage need to be separated out. This will laser focus your team’s efforts where it matters most.
Once the leads are separated and qualified, your team can get to work in engaging these leads even further and moving them down the pipeline.
Step #6 - Build Consistent Engagement
When your team has a good amount of qualified leads, it is important to contact them quickly, start to engage them, and build a rapport. The key here is that your reps become useful sources of solutions that will meet the needs of the prospects.
Engaging with the prospects and starting to build a beneficial relationship means ensuring they get content that will help answer their questions. Your team can use a variety of different ways to determine the type of content or engagement that works best for your target audience. Then work that into the sales process moving forward. Creating a sales cadence with consistent communication and engagement schedules can help with this.
Step #7 - Convert Prospects Into Customers
At this part of the sales pipeline process, there should be a good amount of prospects who are more educated on your company’s product or service and have developed a sufficient interest. This is where your reps can use a variety of tactics to give the final push needed to close deals. To make this as effective as possible, it’s important to remember to:
- Keep sales pages and proposals clear and simple
- Use images or video when possible
- Test multiple calls to actions (CTAs)
- Make it easy for them to become a customer
Step #8 - Ensure Your Sales Pipeline is Scalable
By now, you should have a good idea of what works and works doesn’t when it comes to converting prospects. This is where you ensure that this sales pipeline process can be repeated over and over again systematically.
Test each part of this pipeline to determine where it may need to be tweaked or where bottlenecks might be occurring. Also, work sales automation into parts of it that involve tedious, time-consuming tasks. This will free up your reps to focus on strategy and building long-term relationships.
You also want to ensure your sales reps and customer service agents are keeping in touch with existing customers and fostering those relationships. They can be a great source of feedback to help you and your team continue to improve the sales pipeline.
Tips to Ensure Your Sales Pipeline Is Successful
Evaluate if Your CRM Is Really Still Working For You & Your Team
Even thinking about shifting your data into a new software is enough to make any manager twitch. But, it’s best to decide to fix your CRM situation as quickly as possible.
Re-evaluating your needs and wants when it comes to a CRM service will/should take careful thought and a fair amount of time. Do you really understand what is converting your customers? Is it collecting the right data for your sales pipeline to understand new opportunities and overall trends? Does it display it in the right way?
Invest in Content That’s Actually Useful For Your Prospects
This may sound like a no-brainer, but a little content planning can go a long way. Take an honest look at the educational materials and marketing content that you’re offering your customers.
Does your content feel fresh, on-trend, timely, and relevant? Is it actually answering real questions your prospects have, or is it useless fluff? Think about how you can stand out from the crowd when it comes to your sales content.
Think About the Quality of Your Lead Sourcing
Chances are, your team’s lead sourcing probably could use a refresh. What new lead generation tactics could your team use for your new sales pipeline? Are your salespeople researching actual decision-makers who can use your product, or are they wasting their time with irrelevant leads?
You want to ensure lead sourcing efforts are driving not just dozens of random leads in, but leads that have a higher chance of being quality prospects. Your sales reps shouldn’t be wasting time pitching leads that have no chance of converting.
“Improving lead quality means measuring, better targeting, educating, creating strategic conversion paths, and optimizing based on the data you build.”
Make Sure Your Sales Pipeline Mirrors Your Customers’ “Buyer Journey”
It’s human nature to make processes easier for ourselves, especially if it is something that is being done over and over again. But it’s a good idea to picture the sales pipeline from the other side.
For each step in your sales pipeline, examine what voluntary action your customer must make along their buyer journey. For instance, say you’ve already had an initial meeting and they’re using a trial version of your product. What do you think that looks like? What additional information may they need to use your product in a way that encourages them to convert?
Considering the pipeline from their perspective can help you determine where changes may need to be made.
Focus on Early-Stage Opportunities in Your Pipeline
The point of regular pipeline reviews is to spur more sales. So, the best place to start is by looking at what happened at the beginning of a sale or where opportunities for improvement may lie in the early stages of the pipeline.
Plus, managers have more clout at the beginning versus the end (when a personal relationship has been cultivated between the salesperson and their customer). Course correction is easier and more effective before a lot of investment has taken place.
“Early-stage opportunities are essential for proper pipeline management… Because late-stage opportunities are out of a manager’s hands.”
Don’t Overcomplicate Your Pipeline
Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Your pipeline shouldn’t look like a convoluted flowchart or cluttered infographic. If there are lots of steps on your road to success, consider re-evaluating the process.
According to a study by Hubspot, shorter, more direct pipelines provide clearer insight into the opportunities within them, such as which opportunities have had their close dates pushed back or their expected deal size lowered — both reliable indicators that it is unlikely to convert. Plus, a more simple pipeline will also free up your employees to spend more time selling and less time on non-selling activities.
If you have a very thorough process, try testing out a simplified version. You might be surprised by your success — and by solving redundancies, you’re making your salespeople more efficient, too!
Examine Your Oldest Prospective Customers
How quickly does your average sale close? For some lucky companies, it may be a matter of hours, but for others, closing deals may take months. Regardless, keep your current average number in mind as you examine your oldest leads.
Considering the factors that caused them to stagnate could illuminate more information, giving you direction in where to make improvements. Also, pairing the age with the step in the funnel or pipeline can reveal very telling trends. Or, at the very least, it may communicate where more training would be helpful for your sales staff.
Clean Everything Up
Salespeople are generally very optimistic but a dose of realism needs to happen every so often. Make a routine out of cleaning up, organizing, and assessing the quality of your records. All of the sales data and records should be current, updated, and reasonably formatted.
“Many sales funnels tend to look like a messy fridge — filled with moldy leftovers and expired bottles of salad dressing.”
A smaller pipeline with great leads is better than a huge pipeline filled with low-quality and hard-to-understand opportunities. Plus, keeping it neat will make your analytics more accurate, which will only help you report accurate numbers and forecast helpful trends.
Key Sales Pipeline Metrics to Measure Success
There’s no better way to gauge success than through tracking metrics and KPIs. But, with hundreds of different business metrics, it’s no surprise that information overload can happen quickly. As a sales leader, the last thing you want is to confuse the sales analysis and have a pile of worthless data.
There are some core sales pipeline metrics you can focus your attention on tracking to ensure you are accurately measuring the success of your pipeline. These include:
New Opportunities Gained
Tracking the number of new leads going into your pipeline will help you and your team understand what fuels your pipeline’s success. You should be tracking both the number of leads and exactly what channel they are coming from. This metric can also give you insight into your market dominance and the demand for your product or service.
Measuring the number of leads that turn into qualified leads will help you gauge the success and quality of your team’s prospecting efforts (the first pipeline stage). Tracking this metric will also give you an idea of how effective the lead qualification efforts, especially if they are qualifying a lot of leads but not achieving a high close rate.
Tracking pipeline conversions means knowing the percentage of leads moving from one stage of your pipeline to another. You can track this metric both on a team level and individual level to quickly pinpoint any bottlenecks and specific stages of the pipeline that are failing to deliver as expected.
This metric measures the number or percentage of wins based on the opportunities gained. With this, you can effectively gauge the success of your pipeline both on a team level and an individual rep basis. The win rate can also help you pinpoint the number of opportunities needed to meet required business targets and set measurable goals for your team.
Past just tracking revenue, it’s important to understand the deal size and how much revenue each deal is bringing in. Look at things like how the larger deals are moving through the pipeline. Understanding deal size will enable you to proactively boost pipeline efficiency and results.
Sales Cycle Length
Of course, most sales are not going to happen immediately, but tracking your sales cycle length will help you make sure that the cycle is not taking too long. When that starts happening, your team will be letting too many opportunities fall through the cracks. Measuring your sales cycle length will ensure your sales process is optimized for the best effectiveness.
Tracking your team’s sales velocity will show how much revenue is generated daily and help you and your team understand the worth of their efforts. Of course, your pipeline is not dependant on your sales velocity but tracking it can help your team maximize their time and the efficiency of the pipeline.
Check out this sales velocity calculator from Lead Forensics to help you measure this metric.
A well-executed sales pipeline strategy will result in highly loyal customers. These customers can continue to provide new leads in the form of referrals or even more deals in the form of upsells or cross-sells. So, tracking retention can help you understand the success of your current pipeline.
Sales Pipeline Template Examples
If you don’t have a CRM that can help you build and track your sales pipeline, you need a way to visualize where currents prospects are in the sales process. Here are some options of sales pipeline template examples you can start with:
This free, easy-to-use, and customizable template is perfect for new businesses who are just launching their sale efforts.
If you are looking for a more detailed view of your sales pipeline, check out this free template built by Microsoft Office. This template includes detailed forecasting abilities, built-in calculations, and a visual forecast graph.
This spreadsheet template from Close, built for use in Google Sheets, is an easy-to-use visual dashboard that enables you to track deals all the way through the sales pipeline and summarize current sales efforts. The pipeline stages and opportunity status can be easily customized within the template. Plus, since it is in Google Sheets, you can easily share it and collaborate in real-time.
Even though an Excel or Google Sheets sales pipeline template will be easy to use at first if you are a new business, it will not be able to scale with you as your business grows. Once you’ve outgrown a simple template, it will be time to invest in an intuitive CRM (like Map My Customers) that can help you track your sales pipeline and grow with you.
You’ll be able to effectively track, analyze, tweak, and expand your pipeline as needed, ensuring the continued success of your sales team.
A Sales Pipeline Will Enable Your Team to Drive More Deals to Close
As you can see, having an effective sales pipeline in place is critical, ensuring your team is consistently closing deals and meeting sales goals. If you follow the steps and tips above to build your pipeline, as well as continually track the key metrics, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring the success of sales efforts.
Start confidently building out your sales pipeline today!