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How To Build a Sales Pipeline That Empowers Your Business Goals

October 14, 2021 | Tanya Goncalves  
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Sales don’t just come to you. At least not as often as you’d like if you want to meet your targets. 

Your sales and marketing teams need to go out and find them. To identify leads and qualify them. To let prospective customers know why they need a product or service like yours. There are calls to make and proposals to send and eventually, in some cases, deals to close. Then it’s all about keeping customers happy so that they stick around long after the contract is signed.

Organisations rely on their sales pipeline to visualise all of those leads and prospects and keep the entire process moving. Getting it right, though, relies on strong pipeline management to ensure there are always enough leads at every stage to meet your sales quotas. With that in mind, consider:

What Is a Sales Pipeline?

Chances are, even if you aren’t in sales, you’ve heard of a “sales pipeline.” And for those that are in sales, you know how important a tool it is. Your sales pipeline helps you visualise the journey you take prospective buyers through on their way from initial brand awareness to final sale and further on, to retention. For example, a sample sales pipeline may look something like this:

Building a Sales Pipeline 1200x360_Image 1
The sales pipeline is often confused with the sales funnel—but while both have important roles to fill, the two actually take different perspectives. While the pipeline looks at the sales journey from your own organisational perspective—the stages you follow to build a sale—the sales funnel represents the journey from the prospect’s perspective instead. How do they get to the purchasing decision and what can you do to facilitate each stage? A sales funnel example, then, might look something like this:

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While good sales pipeline management relies on an understanding of your sales funnel, building a successful pipeline also requires an understanding of your own sales goals, territories and Ideal Buyer Profile—as well as a clear idea of how leads funnel through your sales process from beginning to end. 

To make your sales quotas possible, it pays to put the work and thought into building the right pipeline for you.

Stages of a Sales Pipeline

Before you start putting the steps in place to build out your sales pipeline, take a moment to revisit every stage along the way. Here’s a quick overview of what they might look like:

Stage

Description

Prospect

This stage is all about lead generation. That means finding prospects that meet your Ideal Buyer Profile and building awareness and interest within that target market. 

Qualified Lead

A qualified lead is one that your team has identified as worth pursuing. To identify a lead as “qualified,” you’ll want some kind of program in place that allows you to score leads or determine what makes up a quality lead.

Sales Call

The sales call, or calls, may not be a call at all—maybe it’s an email or in-person meeting (or a combination of all three). Either way, it’s when your sales team initiates contact in order to further determine the quality of a lead and answer any questions to determine specific needs. It’s also where the prospect gets an in-depth look at what it is you’re selling.

Proposal

This is where you get down to the details. At this point, you’ll send a proposal and pricing quote to the prospect, to discuss the specific terms of sale. 

Closed Sale

Finally, any last-minute negotiations are taken care of and the sale is closed, converting the prospect into a customer.

Retained Customer

But of course, closing the sale is just the start. Retaining the customer is just as important if you want to continue building revenue. That makes retention an important (but often overlooked) stage of the sales pipeline.

Not surprisingly, the prospective revenue represented in your pipeline will decrease the further you move through it, as leads fall out and prospects go cold. Ensuring you have the pipeline coverage you need to make your revenue goals takes a steady flow of leads at every stage. For that to work, you need a solid sales pipeline management process that will take prospects from beginning to end and ensure there are always enough leads to follow.

It’s time to get to work building that sales pipeline. 

6 Steps To Building a Successful Sales Pipeline

Building a successful sales management plan means putting the steps in place to identify and nurture your leads and move them down the sales pipeline. For that to happen, you need to start with a strong sense of who your ideal customer is—that is, who needs your product and is likely to buy it—and to always look ahead at each stage of the pipeline and how it affects the others. 

With that in mind, the following steps will help you build a strong sales pipeline:

1. Look Back To Look Ahead

Look back over the trajectory of your most recent sales to better understand your historical conversions, average deal size, velocity, actuals versus forecasted results and stage conversions. How did you calculate previous targets and where did you land? This can help you build out your targets and goals, helping to guide your sales pipeline going forward.

2. Identify Your Ideal Customer

Using data you have on your current customers, along with your team’s market knowledge, create an Ideal Customer Profile. Understanding who exactly buys your product and who your target audience is will allow you to better understand where to source new leads and how to identify a solid lead once you find it. Using that Ideal Customer Profile to pave the way, begin to build out a list of target accounts—companies and prospective customers that would be a good fit with the products or services you sell. Identify the best contacts within each of those target accounts for your sales team to approach.   

3. Segment Your Sales Territories

Use those past results and Ideal Customer Profile to inform your sales territory planning in order to determine the best way to segment your target accounts. From there, build out the ultimate sales quotas your team will be working towards to accomplish your overall sales goals.

4. Build Out Your Process

Provide your sales reps with a framework they can work with to guide prospects in their territories towards final sale. Having clear selling points and differentiators from your competitors will help—allowing your team to better sort opportunities based on need and demonstrate how your product or service stands out. Ongoing pipeline data can help iterate this process over time, for even better results. 

5. Continue Adding Leads 

Build an integrated effort between marketing and sales to ensure leads are always flowing into the pipeline and moving through each stage. This will also help you keep sales increasing over time.

6. Measure and Refine

Continue to measure your results to see how leads are maturing through your sales pipeline and whether you need to tweak your process or change your targets in order to achieve the overall goals you’ve set out. Evolve your Ideal Customer Profile as new trends emerge in the pipeline sales data and as market changes occur in order to recognise new opportunities that pop up. It’ll probably take some time to get every stage of your process right, as well as constant adjustments to keep up with new opportunities and goals.

Managing Your Pipeline

A healthy pipeline is critical to your sales success, so understanding exactly how yours works and how to keep leads flowing into sales is a key part of any sales team’s role. As is juggling those leads and managing leads at different stages, to continue moving them through your pipeline. The right technology can also help as you manage those leads, prioritise the best ones and update the sales pipeline over time, to ensure it’s as efficient as possible. 

Just remember—your sales pipeline is a constant work in progress. Measure its effectiveness and make changes when necessary to keep leads flowing. The ultimate objective is to support your sales team and to build towards your goals—not to create a static pipeline that never needs to change.

Find out more about how Vena can help your sales team with our sales performance management solutions.

Tanya Goncalves

Tanya Goncalves

Tanya Goncalves is a brand leader and marketing trailblazer who has an interest in refreshing brands through content creation. As the Content Marketing Manager at Vena, she often innovates and develops new ways to build brand recognition through interesting campaigns and creative content.

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