What is a sales pipeline and how to build it?

sales pipeline, building sales pipeline, build sales pipeline

Getting sales is a never-ending process that needs to be cultivated so that your business is a success. But how do you make this process more comfortable and more efficient for you? 

The answer is with a good sales pipeline. But to build a sales pipeline that is effective requires a lot of thought, so the journey from a prospective client to a purchaser is both secure and frictionless.

 In this article, we will look at how this can be done. 

What exactly is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a model that sets out every stage of your sales process. Customers move step by step through your pipeline as they progress towards making a sale. The start of the process will begin when a potential client becomes aware of your products and will end when they commit to buying and have exchanged money for a product or service you sell. 

We say that a sales pipeline is funnel-shaped because, at the start of the process, there will be many prospective customers, but as they move through each stage, more and more will drop away until you are left with the few who buy. This is why it is so important to have an active and frictionless pipeline, so more customers pass along the funnel and become actual buyers. 

Each stage of the sales pipeline will represent a step within the sales process. The steps you need will depend on the type of business you run, but if we consider the process of buying something in a supermarket, we can get an idea of how a sales pipeline works. 

A customer in a supermarket may know what they want, but they may not be sure which brands are right for them. They read the labels, starting their interaction with the sales pipeline. 

Customers make a choice and put the item into their shopping basket. They navigate to the checkout. Once there, they scan the item, and it is added to their bill. The final step is to pay using whatever method they favor. It is at this point that the sales pipeline ends. 

The customer owns the item now, and their interaction with the sales funnel is over. They could have changed their mind and left the pipeline at any time by putting the item back, but they chose to keep it, and at each stage, they increased their commitment to the item.

Of course, this is a simplified version of how a sales pipeline works, and most businesses will have far more intricate processes. It is rare to find two companies employing the same pipeline as all companies are different and have different needs. 

You’ll sometimes find different pipelines employed within one business for various products, allowing them to adapt to the needs of their customers.

How do you create an effective sales pipeline?

It can be tricky to find an effective sales pipeline that fits your needs and those of your business. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the number of post-it notes stuck to your notice board, or become disheartened by how full your email inbox is growing, then it could be that your sales pipeline requires refinement or change. 

But how do you change what you are doing while keeping customers happy and easing their path to a sale? That’s the million-dollar question. 

Here are a few ideas to help you build a sales pipeline that works for you:

1. Figure out what your ideal pipeline will look like

Start by mapping out your pipeline so you can see what it looks like. Begin by figuring out your audience – who are the people and companies that you could sell to. How do you approach these people? What do you think they would want from your sales process? Answering these questions is the start of mapping out your pipeline. 

From there, you can start thinking about the individual steps required to get customers from potential buyers to the actual buyer. Some will fall by the wayside (it’s impossible to catch them all), so ask yourself, “How do you prevent them from leaving the pipeline before they complete?” 

The model you are designing is an overview of your ideal pipeline. It doesn’t have to be fleshed out yet, but it should give you an idea of what your sales process should look like. 

2. Think STEPS

So you have your general model describing your customers and what they are looking for in your pipeline, but you don’t yet have any concrete steps that get them from browsers to purchasers. Here are some of the stages you might need to include:

Finding targets (people who you haven’t contacted but may be interested in what you do). :

It may seem strange to have a step about finding customers in a pipeline about moving customers towards a sale, but for many businesses it is essential. After all, if you cannot find customers, you can’t sell anything. This will be the first step in your pipeline.

Contact potential customers:

This is a step where you have already called or emailed a potential customer and have a little understanding of them. You will use this step to make decisions as to what to do next.

Proposal or estimate given.:

You’ve given the customer a formal proposal that explains what they will get and for how much. You now need them to commit.

Payment portal:

The customer has committed and just needs to give you a method of payment. This is generally the last step and most people who get here will complete the purchase.

It’s also important to remember that the steps you include in your sales pipeline have to mirror the expectations of your customer. If your customers expect to receive an estimate, then neglecting to put it in your sales process will put them off. 

3. Compile a strong database 

If you want an effective sales pipeline, you need a good customer database. Any database is going to be filled with a variety of clients in different sizes and with different propensities to buy from you. Categorise customers based on how likely they are to bring money to your business and if they do, how much that will be. 

Marketing funnel

4. Work out “the numbers.”

Start to think about how many potential customers you need at the top of your pipeline to ensure enough filter to the bottom. How many do you foresee falling away at each step? How many do you think will make it to the end? These are all questions that need answering so you can understand exactly how many clients you need to make your business a success. 

5. Make sure you build momentum in your pipeline. 

You’ve figured out the steps you need in your pipeline and are ready to go, right? Not yet. Just knowing what the steps should be doesn’t necessarily lead to an effective pipeline. You need to compel your customers to move from one step to the next.

Making your pipeline too complicated or, for lack of a better word, “sticky” is a sure-fire way to alienate customers and increase their bounce rate.

Think to yourself, what factors and variables are required to ease customers to the next step? What might slow them down or cause them to bounce? Remove the hindrances and add incentives to keep your pipeline flowing. 

6. Refining your sales pipeline is a never-ending task

If you follow the few ideas above, you’ll get results. But don’t think that just because you have a pipeline in place your job is done. Making sales is a continuous process, and refining your sales pipeline is a never-ending task. Keep track of your results. Look for where customers leave your pipeline and look for ways to improve steps that are failing you. Keep on top of this, and you’ll continue to find customers and make sales. 

Tools you need to be using in your pipeline

There are many tools available aimed at helping you create an effective sales pipeline. But with so many available, how do you know which ones are right for you? Before we jump in and answer that question, let’s have a look at the benefits of using sales pipeline tools in your business.

— They can help you to simplify your workflow. Many offer the opportunity to view your workflow as a timeline that can help you manage time more effectively. Combine this with a drag and drop interface, and you have something simpler and more intuitive than using a spreadsheet.

— Better networking and contact management. A lot of tools give you ways to source customers more efficiently and manage and prioritize contacts better.

— Accurate statistics monitoring. Some pipeline tools allow you to see detailed statistics about the number of sales you are making. This makes it easier to forecast sales in the future accurately.  

Here are our favorite tools to help you build a sales pipeline.

LinkedIn

Bear with us on this one. LinkedIn has changed drastically over recent years and has evolved into more than a job search engine. It has grown to become an excellent resource for research and networking, with powerful tools to identify prospects based on location or business area.

Salesforce

Salesforce is the most commonly used Customer Relation Management (CRM) software in the world. This cloud-based suite was designed to help businesses grow the number of customers they acquire while making it easier to close the deal with them. 

Pipefy

Pipefy is a cloud-based sales management tool geared towards centralizing the different steps of your sales pipeline into an easy to manage solution. With Pipefy, you can integrate things like marketing, customer support, financial management, and payment options into a seamless process that works for you. All the different parts of Pipefy can be customized, and you can even automate processes like sending and acquiring emails. 

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is a great way to automate and create professional email campaigns. With Mailchimp, you can create great-looking emails and have them sent automatically to customers.

Stripe

Within your sales pipeline, you are going to need a way to take payments from customers. Stripe, is one of the most popular methods for making card payments online or through mobile apps. With a simple and effective interface and a wide range of accepted currencies, you can’t go wrong using Stripe as your payment portal.