How to Plan a Sales Pipeline

Having a sales pipeline is critical to a healthy process. It acts as the core to understanding your business and is an essential component to selling. A transparent pipeline will convert more leads and generate income.

And isn’t that the whole point: maximizing opportunities to grow as a company? Don’t take our word for it though. Companies that excel in pipeline management see a 28 percent higher revenue growth.

But how do you plan a sales pipeline, especially if you are a startup or establishing yourself as a business? It can be confusing knowing which steps to go through and how to measure whether or not it’s achieving the required success.

We take a look at the steps involved to create a sales pipeline. Steps that will bring clarity and visibility to your sales process.

But First: What is a Sales Pipeline

Illustration of sales rep pointing at a brain

The pipeline is the granddaddy of your sales process. No one pipeline is the same, with each company using steps that fit their business needs. However, there are some similarities between pipes.

In a pipeline, each opportunity moves from left to right, one stage to the next until a lead is either won or lost. There are more chances of a lead closing if the deal is at an advanced stage in the pipeline.

“Meeting One”, “Meeting Two”, “Proposal”—these are the most concrete stages of a pipeline. Some sales deals might skip certain stages, while others go through the process at varying speeds. The pipeline encompasses every opportunity handled by a salesperson and provides them with a clear route to finding a successful end goal.

Most pipelines are encapsulated within a CRM tool or lead management software.  

Why is a Sales Pipeline Necessary?

Illustration of a sales rep holding a laptop

We touched on some of the benefits of a sales pipeline, but the key reason for needing a process, and as a result, a pipeline, is your staff. Selling isn’t about the performance of one rep. Sure, there is always that A-star seller, but they are few and far between.

That’s why it’s important to have a sales process that everyone in the company follows with ease. One that means even staff turnover isn’t going to suddenly grind your process to a halt.

There is also a marketing benefit to a pipeline; managers can provide their reps with marketing material that corresponds to each step of the pipeline.

When everyone is following a clear sales process led by the pipeline, the chances of increasing deal conversion improve.

How to Plan a Sales Pipeline

Illustration of someone writing information down

A) Conceptualize your Pipeline

Many companies tend to opt for a template for their sales pipeline management. While this is the quickest route to establishing your pipeline, it’s not the most effective way to get the best results with your prospects.

Every company is different and will therefore have steps unique to their setup. You want to match the buying journey of your prospects—and the only way to do this is by understanding how the minds of your customers work and the difficulties they need to overcome.

In fact, each step corresponds to finding the answer of one difficulty aspect. Even if you name your step “Meeting Complete”, the reality underneath is that the “service presented” solves the problem of the customer.

So, before building your process, think of the difficulties you need to solve and how to solve them. Qualifying prospects is often done by calling. And by “qualifying”, we mean making sure there is a project, a budget, and that you’re talking to the correct person.

The number of stages that you have will depend on your customer’s buying process. Complex products may require more stages, while others might be more simplistic.

B) What do you Want to do With your Customers?

The obvious answer to the heading of this section is that you want to convert them. Getting to that stage again requires a process to reach out to new prospects and take them through the pipeline. Or in other words, “filling in your pipeline”.

One of the best ways to do this is with a defined next step. Having a clear, actionable next step not only simplifies the process; it also helps sales reps to know exactly what it is they need to do next.

You might set a first port of call for email outreach, followed by a phone conversation. You can either make tasks separate steps in the pipeline or group them together as one. The most important part is figuring out a method for outreach and the frequency of when it needs doing.

C) Naming the Steps of your Pipeline

Defining the names of your steps is another essential part of setting up your pipeline. Calling a step “meeting” or “calls” is too vague, as you won’t have specific details as to whether a meeting has been attended or if calls were made.

You want to create steps that act as a symbol towards reaching your final goal: Winning leads. Each step needs to point to an evolution that brings your lead closer to becoming a converted customer.

Make sure that you give them a defined name that helps reps understand what is required during the conversion process.

A mock-up of how potential pipeline names might look like for a specific company

  • Incoming Prospect
  • Lead Qualified
  • Decision-Maker Identified
  • Meeting Scheduled
  • Meeting Attended
  • Proposal Sent
  • Closing

 

D) Which Tool do you Use to Manage your Pipeline?

The best sales pipelines are managed through software. CRM is the tool often associated with creating a pipeline. It’s not always the most efficient, however. Some CRM systems prolong the overall process by placing too much of an emphasis on over-complicated data entry .

Before automatically assuming that CRM is the best method to create and manage your pipeline, first look at the options available. Ask yourself what you need it for. The idea of the pipeline is to have clear, actionable next steps that move leads through the cycle.  

CRM systems are designed to wear multiple hats, acting as marketing, sales and data management, which can make them hard to keep up with. Another option is Lead management software, which focuses solely on the sales process.

Whatever your choice of software, it’s important to have a clear view of your pipeline and use a tool that helps move leads through the sales process with no complications.

Ready for the Pipe

via GIPHY

Once you have named your steps, it’s time to start putting the pipeline to work. There are many aspects involved to maintain the sales pipeline, to stop it from becoming clogged, and making sure leads aren’t dropping off.

We will cover those in future articles. For now, though, you should you have a clear understanding of the sales pipeline, as well as an idea of how to set one up that acts as the ideal tool to help your company maximize leads.