Take a look at your sales figures from the previous years. In a blink of an eye, a pandemic arrived, and several lockdowns were put in place. The world suddenly seemed to have come to a stop, and sales traffic immediately slowed. If you have a solid sales pipeline of potential buyers that you can tap into and a strategy in place, then the pandemic would not affect your business as much.
However, you’re in trouble if you’ve neglected your sales pipeline management during the good times, like many sales reps and managers. When disaster strikes, you never know what will happen. As the coronavirus pandemic fades, it’s an excellent time to take control of your sales processes, declutter your pipelines, and plan for success in the years 2022 and beyond.
What is a sales pipeline?
First, let’s talk about what a sales pipeline is, because you can’t build a good one if you don’t know what it is. It’s also called a customer pipeline, and it shows the path a potential buyer takes from the first time a sales rep tells them about a product or service to the time they decide to buy it.
A sales rep or sales manager will be in charge of several sales prospects at different stages of the sales cycle. With a good sales pipeline, the marketing team and sales team will always know who their potential buyers and prospective buyers are.
Tracking it will give you valuable information about the number of proposals and deals per month over a period of time. It will also give you detailed records of your contacts. Sales managers can find out how much the average deal is worth, which helps them make plans and budgets.
But you shouldn’t mix up a sales pipeline and a sales funnel. While they are similar, they focus on different parts of the sales cycle. The stages of the sales funnel are all about sales leads and show in detail the customer’s journey, from the first time they hear about you to the time they make a decision.
From the sales rep’s point of view, the sales pipeline is the customer’s journey through the sales cycle, from when the sales rep qualified the lead from the marketing team and introduced the prospect to the product or service to when the deal was closed.
In a study by Harvard Business Review, it was found that companies with a formal sales process had 18% more revenue growth than companies without one.
The study also found that B2B companies that did a good job of managing their sales pipelines had a 28% higher growth in revenue than companies that hadn’t figured out how to do it well.
A sales pipeline’s primary role is to provide a quick snapshot of key sales elements, such as:
- The number of open deals or opportunities and how much each one is worth individually and as a whole.
- The sales potential of each seller and the sales team as a whole for a certain time.
- The different steps that make up the sales cycle or process of a company.
- How far along each open deal is in the sales cycle and what actions have been taken to move the opportunity forward.
- What needs to be done for each opportunity to move to the next stage of the sales cycle
Benefits for B2B companies, in particular, include the following:
- A more efficient method of generating sales.
- Improved forecasting data for the future of business.
- Adaptability in analyzing and implementing business sales plans.
- Management and allocation of business resources to assist sales representatives with the management of and the closure of transactions.
- Having the ability to track sales over time.
What makes a sales pipeline so important?
Visibility into sales opportunities is provided by the sales pipeline, which also provides a quick snapshot of the health, profitability, and growth of a business. Revenue forecasting, efficiency analysis, problem areas, and other strategic actions can all be done with the help of sales pipelines.
Visual representations of the sales funnel show how quickly each opportunity is progressing through the sales funnel. In this way, it is possible to determine the suitable speed for each type of customer or product, as well as the revenue efficiency of the sales team. To close more high-value deals faster, sales teams benefit from visual representations of their sales pipeline.
Salesforce did a survey and found that a staggering 68% of businesses haven’t found or measured their sales funnel. Another thing is that 79% of marketing leads don’t turn into sales. By itself, this is a pretty good reason to build a sales pipeline.
Marketing teams come up with leads that sales reps then follow up on. These leads go through the sales process and are kept track of until they are turned into sales. There is no growth without conversions. Gartner’s 2020 CEO and Senior Executive Survey found that CEOs of medium- and large-sized companies care most about growing their businesses.
With a well-run sales pipeline, salespeople can keep in touch with leads until they become customers. When you combine this with a growth strategy, you can learn things like where leads are coming from, how long it takes to close a deal, and how valuable they are to the business.
With a great and accurate sales pipeline, a business will surely be able to:
- Plan for new and upcoming business.
- Create key performance indicators (KPIs) that keep track of sales activities that matter in the pipeline.
- Check out your sales plans and find the holes in your sales process.
- Take care of your sales leads and prospects.
- Monitor sales performance.
- Plan how resources will be used to make sure sales reps have the tools they need.
Stages of building a sales pipeline
A detailed sales pipeline follows the sales process from the first contact with potential buyers to the point where a lead is turned into a sale. It has six key stages in total.
The first step is to find people who might want to buy your product or service. Depending on how their lead generation process works, each company has a different way of finding prospects. There are services like bant.io that can help you find new leads.
Most of the time, lead generation comes from the marketing department’s activities, such as posting on social media, offering downloadable content, and using other marketing channels.
Also, sales reps can look for cold leads based on a profile of an ideal customer. For example, companies can find hot leads with the help of tools like Zopto’s automated LinkedIn lead generation solution.
This is one of, if not the most important step in the sales process. It is important to make sure that prospects are the best fit for your product or service by qualifying them. By qualifying the prospect, sales reps can avoid wasting time on leads that aren’t likely to turn into customers. Remember that you need qualified leads and opportunities.
At this point, the hot leads are also separated from the warm and cold leads. After the first contact with a lead, you need to do customer research to figure out who your target audience is. For instance:
- Do they need what you have to offer?
- Are they ready to buy now or in a certain amount of time?
- Have they saved up enough money to buy your product or service?
- Are you talking to the person who makes the decision, or should they ask someone else?
3. Set goals for lead generation
Before you start a lead generation campaign, you need to know what you want to get out of it.
The Pareto Principle says that about 20 percent of your leads will bring in about 80 percent of your income.
Lead generation goals will help you focus on your target audience, which is made up of people who are interested in your product or service, ready to buy, and likely to become customers. Sales goals help salespeople stay on track and make the most of sales chances.
4. Reaching out
Each salesperson has their own way of making the first contact with a prospect, whether it’s through email, text, social media, or the phone. The goal is to set up meetings with prospects, even if they happen online these days, so you can show and sell your product or service.
5. Build the relationship
Sales reps no longer use the “hard sell” method. Today, sales reps should keep in touch with possible buyers and get to know them. It’s a great way to build trust with prospects and make sure the relationship will last beyond the first sale.
Any salesperson’s goal is to close the deal. This step also depends on how a sales rep closes a deal. Some B2B prospects will be ready to buy quickly, while others might need more time. According to research by CSO Insights, 27% of sales reps say that a long sales cycle is one of the biggest things that gets in the way of making sales. The sales process is more likely to lead to a better result if it is kept short.
So how exactly can you build a strong sales pipeline?
The data in your sales pipeline determines how well it works. By figuring out who your buyer is and matching them up with the sales stages, you can build a solid base of prospects.
Try not to have too many steps in the sales process. Some experts in the field say that having more than seven stages can be bad. Make the sales process faster so it doesn’t take too long. Make sure that moving from one step of the sales process to the next is smooth and a natural part of the buyer’s journey.
Managing the sales pipeline is an important part of making sales. A strong sales pipeline is made by keeping track of contact records and making sure they are as detailed and up to date as possible. Take the time to look back at your pipeline over time. If you have contacts in your pipeline that stay at one stage of the sales process for too long, re-qualify or re-classify them as a future prospect or a dead lead.
Make a plan for following up with prospects and staying in touch with them. Buyers have more options than ever before, so they will do research to make sure they make the best choice. It’s just as important to keep a customer as it is to close a deal. Make sales pipelines for the short, medium, and long term. Be prepared for every possible scenario life might throw at you. The short pipeline should have prospects who are likely to buy in a shorter amount of time.
Lead scoring can help you figure out who your best prospects are and speed up your sales pipeline. Leads that aren’t ready to buy or don’t have the money to do so shouldn’t be in your pipeline.
It’s important for sales teams and marketing teams to work together to keep prospects interested and make regular content. The sales process is improved by using consistent messaging and keeping track of feedback. A study by Sirius Decisions found that companies with sales and marketing teams that work well together will grow 24 percent faster and make 27 percent more money over the course of a year.
How to manage your sales pipeline metrics like an expert
“You can only improve what you can measure” is a business saying that is especially true when it comes to sales pipelines.
Your sales pipeline will always be growing and changing. Key sales metrics will help sales reps constantly improve how well they do their jobs. Using metrics to track and measure your sales pipeline will tell you a lot about how healthy it is. These are the sales metrics:
- Conversion/close rate: How many of the prospects in the sales pipeline are turning into customers? The closing rate and conversion rate are two important ways to measure how well a sales rep is doing.
- How big are the deals on average? How big are the deals for the prospects who become customers?
- Prospect acquisition cost: On average, how much does it cost to get a new customer? This metric will help you figure out how much your money is worth.
- Number of new qualified leads: How many new qualified prospects are ready to buy and have the money?
- Average sales cycle: How long does it usually take to make a sale? If it’s too long, you might want to cut down on the number of steps in the sales cycle.
- Proposals per month: How many new proposals are sent each month?
- Deals per month: How many deals are closed each month? The number of closed deals each month helps figure out if sales goals are being met and if they are in line with the organization’s overall strategies.
- Win/close rate: How many prospects are turning into customers? This is the average win rate and the percentage of deals that are being closed.
While it’s true that no sales representative wants to see a deal fall through, it’s important to look at it as an opportunity to figure out why a potential customer didn’t end up buying from you. It could be a variety of factors, including the cost, the characteristics of the product, or even the quality of the customer service.
Tools that will help you create the best sales pipeline
Lead generation is a top priority for many sales managers and sales teams. There are a variety of sales tools that can help generate new leads and track a prospective buyer’s journey through the sales process. If you’ve not developed a sales pipeline before, using a sales pipeline template tool is a great way to start.
Zopto’s solution enables companies to attract hot leads through LinkedIn by targeting your ideal customers on the social media channel. Zopto’s automated campaign tools search for prospective buyers via LinkedIn Premium or Sales Navigator, and generate a list of hot leads per month.
You choose your filters, such as location, company size, industry and seniority level, as well as the level of engagement you wish to initiate with prospects. From there, Zopto’s features like connection invites, Twitter engagement, profile view generator and sequential messaging, helps to determine the hot leads.
The benefit of a solution like Zopto is that it can be integrated into your marketing team’s lead generation process. Acquiring new leads that are outside of your sales reps’ network allows companies to enter new markets, and adds value to their sales pipelines. A live dashboard incorporating detailed contact information and statistics provides a visual snapshot of the sales pipeline. It enables sales teams and sales managers to monitor and track their Zopto campaigns, all in the cloud.
Here are some other tools to help you create that perfect sales pipeline:
- Sales tracking and forecasting
Sales managers and C-level executives can make better decisions when they can track and predict the sales pipeline. The right amount of resources can be put in place based on sales projections and predictions of how things will go in the future. With accurate sales data, it is also possible to make budgets.
- Activity reports
Sales tracking solutions will give you up-to-date information on your leads and where they are in the sales process. It lets sales reps know how many times a prospect has been contacted, how they were contacted, and if they need to be re-classified. For sales managers, they can track and evaluate the progress of their sales reps and come up with better ways to sell to improve sales as a whole.
- Loss reports
Lost deals are inevitable. Keeping track of the deals that have been lost and why they were lost helps to make the sales process better. It also helps predict sales.
If you don’t track and measure sales pipeline results, you can’t get a true picture of how much money your company makes. Sales metrics are useful because they show what’s working and what’s not. This lets marketing teams put their efforts into sales strategies that are working.
Tricks to keep your pipeline full
Keeping a full sales pipeline and spending time looking for new leads is an ongoing task. You don’t want sales to stop because there are no hot leads in the pipeline.
- Build up your list of prospects
Every day, set aside some time to work on developing and caring for your prospects. Don’t forget that a lost prospect is gone for good.
- Follow-up that works
Always keep in touch with new leads and prospects at different stages of the sales cycle. Even if a prospect isn’t ready to buy right now, they might be later. If you don’t care about them, they will switch to a competitor. Don’t forget to keep in touch with your current customers as well. Follow-up that works builds a relationship with the prospect and makes sure they remember you.
- Upsell and cross-sell to your current customers.
Upselling and cross-selling are tried and true ways to keep customers coming back. Think about the product or service the customer has already bought. Are there any related products or services you can sell to them? Don’t try to sell a current client something that has nothing to do with their business.
- Ask for referrals
If you want to build a strong base of prospects, don’t be afraid to ask current customers for referrals. Think about social selling. Social media is one of the main ways that many B2B companies find new customers. Use social media to find your ideal customers and get them more involved with your business.
After a rough year for businesses around the world in 2020-2021, and with 63 percent of professionals agreeing that businesses don’t manage their sales pipelines well, now is the time to focus on sales pipeline development to make the most of opportunities in 2022.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is sales pipeline development?
It is the development of a company’s sales process that identifies the sales cycle stages in a company’s action plan to generate and manage leads, or prospects, from the first contact to the sale.
How do I put together a sales pipeline that consistently closes deals?
To make a solid sales pipeline that consistently turns prospects into customers:
- Define your sales cycle stages.
- Figure out how many hot leads you need to reach your sales goal.
- Make sure your sales process is in line with your marketing and sales strategies.
- Create a strong base of prospects.
- Use a good way to keep in touch with prospects in your sales pipeline to keep them interested and build relationships with them.
- Make a plan that includes follow-up calls for your sales process.
- Always keep an eye on, measure, and track your sales pipeline.
How do I get my sales pipeline in order?
The data in your sales pipeline is what makes it useful. To clean up your sales pipeline:
- Review your sales process and the items in your pipeline. Find out how long your sales process is, or how long it takes to close a deal. If it takes too long, look for ways to cut down on the steps and speed up the process.
- Make a plan with concrete steps to get back in touch with your prospects.
- Pressure test your sales pipeline.
- Don’t put off until tomorrow things that you can do today.
How do I run a review of the sales pipeline?
It’s important to track and measure your sales pipeline if you want to close sales deals and make money. Sales managers will often ask sales reps to run a sales pipeline report to make sure they are on track to reach their goals and to find out if they need help with anything. To do a review and figure out how well the sales pipeline is doing:
Ask the sales rep to run a report that summarizes how things are going so far. The summary should include the number of new prospects and new proposals, as well as the number of new qualified leads and deals, the average size of deals, the average sales cycle, and the conversion/close rate.
Find out what problems might come up and what challenges the sales rep might be facing, such as being behind on their goals, closing fewer deals, or having problems that keep prospects from becoming customers. This includes how they handle the sales presentation stage.
Make an action plan with clear next steps, like qualifying new leads, talking to the decision-maker, and negotiating the price.
Stop the problem from getting worse by taking care of all action items as soon as possible.
After some time, check in with the sales rep to make sure that the action items from the review have been taken care of.