If you're not sure what steps your customers need to go through prior to making a purchase, a sales pipeline might help you. We recently added this feature to Platformly so, in this article, we'll show you how to use them in order to sell more and improve your relationship with customers. 🤝 But first of all, what is a sales pipeline? Basically, it is related to the steps that each salesperson needs to take in order to achieve sales. Even though they seem similar, sales pipelines are not the same as sales funnels. Whereas a sales pipeline shows you the sales stages your sales team needs to do in order to close a sale, a sales funnel refers to the conversion rate your team is able to achieve.
In a sales pipeline, you set out all the actions needed to convert in your sales process. In a sales funnel, you're measuring how many of your prospects eventually convert, and they can jump into your funnel at any point of it, which does not happen in a sales pipeline.
That's why it is called a funnel: at the top, you have a lot of prospects. But when it comes to the final stage – the purchase – there is only a very small fraction of your prospects that actually buy.
Your conversion rate measures the percentage of your qualified leads that turned into buyers.
What do you need to build a sales pipeline?
In this section, you'll learn the prerequisites and criteria you need to build this structure.
A list of your prospects
Your prospect list will include every person that you think might be interested in buying from you. We recommend collecting as much information about each of your prospects as possible, including, but not limited to: name, contact information, their company, their work position, and how they got in touch with you. Sales pipeline metrics are essential to create a sales opportunity. If the prospect never got in touch with you but you think they could be interested in your product or service, you should have a reason to follow up.
If you're in touch with that prospect already, where do you think they stand in your sales process and your sales cycle? Don't worry if you can't place a lead in a specific stage in your pipeline for now. You can always change that as you go. 🏃♀️
Your revenue goals
It's impossible to know if your company is successful if you don't have goals. Therefore, your revenue goals define how your pipeline should work. In order for you to set up your pipeline, you need to first understand how many deals you have to make with your customers.
These revenue goals will define how many people you need to get in your sales pipeline for your company to be successful. Knowing you need to make an X number of sales will tell you how many prospects you need to get in your pipeline according to your conversion rate to optimize your results. 💵
A meeting with your colleagues
Your pipeline is something that needs to be implemented across all departments. However, to ensure company-wide changes, you need to listen to your sales manager and sales teams. They can help you achieve a model that's based on the reality of your business and your sales process.
From sales to marketing, your pipeline will guide the way you achieve your goals and where should you direct your efforts. Your team will help you define the percentage of deals you are getting from your pipeline.
Now, we'll dig deeper. In the section below, you'll learn the common pipeline stages in a healthy sales pipeline.
Sales pipeline stages
Now that you have an understanding of the techniques needed to develop your pipeline, we'll go through a sales pipeline template that you can replicate for your own use. Usually, the stages that your prospects have to go through will be similar to the ones we're going to mention, but every business has its own milestones. So, what we're going to show you is just a sales pipeline template that you can adapt to a visual representation.
You can add steps or remove them according to your own sales process and other relevant criteria.
This is usually the first step in a sales pipeline: looking for prospects that have either contacted you or that fit your buyer persona. 👀 Every company uses different techniques for prospecting: it depends on the company size, its product, the size of its sales teams, and the way the company is structured.
All these factors influence the way you find new prospects. Is your sales team proactive by reaching out to cold leads? (We're going to cover cold leads and what to do with them in just a bit.) So, when you're prospecting, you are at the beginning of your sales pipeline: every possible lead or prospect sits there, ready for you to engage with them. Let's find out how.
Qualifying is the process through which you discover if you're talking to a cold lead or a hot one. It would be good if everyone wanted to buy your product or service, but, unfortunately, there are many leads that will not become customers. There are, of course, questions you can use to weed out the cold leads. These leads shouldn't be ignored either. Cold leads have a role in your sales pipeline, but usually, they shouldn't be a priority for your sales manager and team in your sales cycle. These questions should help:
- Can your prospect afford your product?
- Is it your prospect a decision-maker or do they need to ask someone else?
- Does your prospect actually need your product?
- Is your prospect ready to buy now?
These four simple questions tell you all you need to know to qualify your prospects. If the answer to all of them is “yes”, then it's time to get your sales leaders to get in touch. However, if your prospect does not meet any of these requirements, they are probably a cold lead – which means they are not ready to buy yet. Sometimes, you'll also discover that your product does not match their needs, which disqualifies that lead. It's not only about selling, it is also about selling to the right people. 🧍 Of course, you should keep the cold leads in your pipeline to follow up later. Their position in the sales process might change and you want to be there for them when they want to buy.
If you're in doubt about how to get qualified leads, if you use Platformly, you get an automatic lead scoring for each lead. Lead scoring allows you to distinguish cold leads from hot ones and helps you distribute resources and define a deal size for each prospect.
The name says it all. In this phase of your sales pipeline management, you're going to get in touch with your prospects. You can use calls, emails, or even text messages. The right channel will depend on your customers and your company as well. At this point, you already decided on a deal size for the customers you're reaching out to; however, that deal size can change once you assess your customer needs through your sales processes.
Reaching out through social media is also a common approach, but in some cases, this might be too personal. 📱 In the beginning, you can test out different practices for contacting your prospects until you figure out which channel has the best conversion rate.
This sales pipeline stage can relate to any touchpoint between your customer and your brand. Building relationships with customers starts from making sure your customer support is effective and helpful in answering questions that any prospects or customers may have. Sales velocity is important in your monthly budget, but developing relationships is more important.
The goal is to keep your brand in your prospects' minds and making sure that every point of contact with your company is perfect and to the point. 🎯 Nonetheless, remember that you shouldn't pester your prospects. Sharing articles that are related to your product, interacting with users on social media, email, and other common channels, and generally establishing communication that is not only related to sales but is also informative and enjoyable, are recommended good practices.
Now let's move on to the last step in our sales pipeline template.
No sales pipeline analysis would be complete without the most important step: closing. When you have your prospects where you want them, it is time to improve your sales metrics by getting some closed deals. Sometimes you might have to make a few concessions here and there in order to sell, but make sure those concessions do not make you lose any of your monthly ROI.
Sometimes a prospect will “ghost” you, by disappearing right before closing the deal. When that happens, try to re-establish contact by emailing or texting them. If that doesn't work, mark that prospect as a cold lead and move them to the relevant step in your sales pipeline so you can make sure you get to your sales quota.
What do I do with cold leads? 🧊
We've mentioned cold leads quite a few times already, but it begs the question: what do you do with these kinds of leads?
What we recommend is to keep a list of your cold leads and contact them every now and then.
On each interaction, send them new offers and discounts that might pique their interest. Don't push it too hard, just remind them that you're there. Maybe their situation will change in the future and they may become interested in purchasing your product, or have the need to do so. Cold leads can give you that necessary push in your sales goals.
How do you know when a lead is ready to pass from one stage to another?
There should always be a certain action that is associated with each sales pipeline stage. These actions can be something like getting in touch with your prospect, receiving a message, scheduling a meeting, and so on.
Sometimes, though, it won't be so clear, and you need to define exactly what actions are part of each stage. This can also mean breaking down each stage into different activities that need to be completed before moving on. The easier it is to check if every activity has been completed, the clearer it becomes whether you can move that prospect along the pipeline or not.
Nonetheless, if you have too many stages, you'll need to combine some of them together in order to make it easier for your sales reps to understand your sales flow. ↪️ Now, after all this, we're ready to explain to you how to get the show on the road. Let's go!
How to Make a Sales Pipeline
If you are a Platformly customer, you probably know we just launched our Sales CRM, which allows you to easily put all the abovementioned advice into practice. Sales pipeline management, analysis, and creation is the number one feature of our new tool, so let us explain how to use Platformly to design your sales pipelines and define sales targets.
As an example, let's say there are four stages in your pipeline: Lead, Contacted, Qualified, and Proposal Made. You can pick more stages or less as you need them, and attribute different color tags for each of them. If for some reason you need more than one sales pipeline, you can of course create more than one (if you run several businesses or your business has different sources of sales leads).
The first step in your new pipeline is creating deals from company to company. For each lead that you have in your pipeline, you can add a specific deal. If you create a manual Deal, you can set up prices and deadlines. You can also automate deals (we'll discuss that soon). 🤖 Now that you have imported your leads and added deals to them, you can start your sales efforts, moving them further along your sales pipeline as you execute each step that you have defined as part of each stage.
Our tool also allows you to add multiple contacts to a deal, in case you are dealing with several people in the same organization.
Each deal is then assigned to one of your sales reps. To make it easier for them to manage their tasks, you have Deal Activities, which tell your sales representatives what to do next – do they need to schedule a meeting with a lead, or maybe give them a call back to pursue the sale? Every single one of your sales activities can be found in our Sales CRM. The included Deal Activities in our templates are Call, Meeting, Task (which can mean a lot of different things according to your own sales pipeline), Email, and Lunch. 👔 By the way, you can also create Organizations in the Platformly Sales CRM – there is a dedicated tab in which you can gather different contacts from the same company to make it easier to keep track of how they are all progressing in your pipeline as a whole. As an example, maybe you've had a meeting with the marketing manager, but you still need to have a meeting with the CEO, whose contact details you have as well.
It is easy to access activities for each contact. If one of your leads gives you a call to further discuss an opportunity, you can check their deal and activities easily from their profile.
You can also view sales opportunities for each representative in your team, by creating a “salesperson profile” and giving them access to the pipelines that they will be working on.
You can also automate your pipeline management just as you would with any other activity on Platformly. There are many triggers, conditions, and actions that you can set in order to perfectly automate your pipeline.
And last but not least, our Sales CRM tool is completely mobile friendly. Need to check a deal on the go? No problem, you can just log in using your smartphone and you will have access to all the information you need, all readily available in the palm of your hand.
You don't use Platformly yet? Now you know what you're missing, and that's not even the half of it. Platformly is a powerful, all-in-one marketing automation suite that will make managing your marketing activities easier – and now, your sales too.
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