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How to build a sales pipeline

Learn why and how you can build an effective sales pipeline that will increase the leads you generate and sales you close
Dino Ibisbegovic

/ Last updated on 5th November 2017

A series of dominoes set on a table representing each component and stage of the sales process and sales pipeline.

It doesn’t matter how good of a salesperson you are – most of your prospects just aren’t ready to buy from the get-go. To influence their buying decision, you have to gently navigate your leads through all the different stages of your sales funnel and to do that in the most efficient way possible, you’re going to need a system. In a nutshell, creating a sales pipeline allows you to methodically organise your outreach efforts, so you can maximise your sales without relying too much on luck or (ahem) your innate charisma.

Related: How to manage your sales pipeline

Why build a sales pipeline?

A standardised sales pipeline allows you to put your focus only on the things that require your immediate attention. While a decade ago you might have gotten away with just a pen and paper, things have gotten substantially more complex with time. With big data playing an increasingly vocal role in today’s lead management, having an automated software that highlights the relevant and filters out the noise is critical.

Furthermore, every step of your buying process likely requires a unique approach and a specialised outreach message. Having a pipeline in place helps you quickly customise your pitch for each stage, recognise the prospect’s needs and cater to them accordingly at any given moment.

Mapping out your sales pipeline

The most important part of a sales pipeline is clearly defining your lead stages. A conventional pipeline might look something like this:

  1. Initial contact
  2. Qualification
  3. Meeting
  4. Negotiation
  5. Proposal
  6. Follow-up
  7. Close

Of course, the final draft may vary significantly based on your product, your particular niche and even your own business model.

Once you’ve identified the main steps of your sales cycle, make sure to refine the approach for each of the declared stages. Not every step has the same ‘closing potential’, so modifying your message based on the prospect’s whereabouts within your pipeline is paramount.

Ask yourself – what do your prospective buyers expect in that particular stage? How will you tend to their needs? Which outreach format suits that step the best? If you’ve already taken the time to create your buyer personas, this process should be a walk in the park.

Leading the leads

It’s very important to ensure a seamless transition from one stage to another. While having a pipeline can be vital for automating your sales process, your leads should never feel like they’re being dragged through your internal sales funnel.

Create a clear-cut strategy for moving from stage X to stage Y. Once you’ve qualified a lead, how exactly do you approach scheduling a meeting? How does a proposal turn into a sale? Once you’ve mapped out your prospect’s entire sales journey, you’ll be able to identify any potential blind spots and create personalised calls-to-action to get the ball rolling.

While specific stages vary from business to business, try not to go overboard when creating the pipeline steps. Any more than seven stages in your pipeline is going to be counter-productive, according to some industry experts. The point is to create a lean system to streamline your outreach efforts – if you’re getting lost in the steps, it’s probably a good idea to trim down the fat.

Finally, there is a slew of sales automation software on the market, many of which provide you with all the tools necessary to create your own sales pipeline. Although the right CRM software largely depends on the scale of your business, some of the most popular choices include Salesforce, Pipedrive, Highrise and others.

Related: What is customer relationship management software?

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