October 16, 2020

What Is a Sales Pipeline?

By sh4dyy

A standard sales pipeline includes the following five stages:

Lead generation
Qualification
Consultation
Proposal
Sale
You should customize your sales pipeline to suit your organization and business model, though it is useful to have a baseline standard from which to start – future iterations of your sales pipeline can be altered to suit your unique circumstances.

Lead generation
The first stage is when your company is actively looking for potential customers. Efforts focused on increasing brand awareness are important at this stage. While few leads are ready to buy at this point in the pipeline, they will likely buy in the near future.

At this stage of the pipeline, attempt to gather leads through:

Social media ads
Google ads (pay per click)
Traditional print and media ads
Organic content, such as a blogging
Digital advertisements and content have the benefit of being interactive. Where print ads inform consumers about your brand, digital ads can capture leads. For example, if a user clicks your social media ad, they could be directed to a lead capture form.

Once you capture a lead’s contact information and consent, you can continuously market to them. That’s when you’ll get to move on to the next phase of the relationship, or sales pipeline.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

Lead generation is the foundation of the entire pipeline, and it begins with knowing your ideal customer through the use of buyer personas. Use these semifictional representations of your customers to determine your marketing and sales efforts.

To develop a detailed buyer persona, consider the following:

What type of media do they prefer to interact with? Examples may include:
YouTube videos
Instagram
Facebook Lives
Twitter
Specific magazines
Certain apps
Certain brands
What are their problems, and how can your products or services help solve them?
What channels are they most active on or likely to see? Consider digital channels like social media or email, as well as traditional methods like signage or billboards.

What type of content or free offer would they instantly say yes to?

What would be an easy, fun and on-brand lead magnet for your company to create?
Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to plan, create and distribute content through your omnichannel marketing campaigns.

Qualification
Once you’ve captured the interest of an individual, you have to determine if they are a good fit for your business, which is known as qualification. To qualify your leads, ask questions about your customers’ needs in a survey. Alternatively, you could extend free offers or send targeted email campaigns around specific products or services and gauge which customers respond to which types of content.

A qualified lead is one step closer to becoming a customer. Once you have a qualified lead, your sales team should invest time and effort into trying to make a sale. At this point, it’s time to move on to the consultation stage of the sales pipeline.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

This step will be especially important if you have many leads that were generated before you knew who you were talking to. However, it’s important to ensure your pipeline has a step in place that checks qualified leads to determine if they are cold or hot leads.

A hot lead is someone who:

Has the budget for your product and service
Can make the purchasing decision
Wants what you’re offering
Is eager to buy what you’re offering
How you determine whether a lead is hot or cold depends entirely on what you’re selling. For example, if you’re selling a luxury car or an expensive service such as private coaching, you may need to have sales reps initiate the conversation with a phone call. This initiation can become a consultation, in which your rep finds out what the potential client needs are and determines if your products and services can meet their needs.

Consultation
During the consultation stage of the sales pipeline, the sales rep speaks directly with the prospect in person, on the phone or via video conference. The rep asks about the prospect’s needs and discusses solutions that can be offered by the company.

A purchase may or may not happen at this stage. For B2C businesses, this might be a browsing customer who is still comparing their options. For B2B companies, it could be an exploratory call to discuss services. Either way, if the consultation doesn’t result in a sale, follow-up is essential. The final decision will come during the proposal stage of the sales pipeline.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

Make yourself available to prospects. Whether that’s by email, social media messages, live webchat or some other channel, be sure to stay in contact with prospects, and be readily accessible to answer any questions they might have.

Timely responses are essential. Whichever channels your customers are able to reach you through should be monitored regularly and responded to as quickly as possible to keep prospects and customers happy.

Proposal
The proposal is when a sale will be made or a customer will choose not to buy. On the B2B side, this usually comes in the form of a formal agreement. An agreement typically outlines services and pricing, and requires the signature of both the prospect and the business. If the agreement is signed, the prospect becomes a client.

On the B2C side, repeated proposals come in the form of marketing content. Perhaps that customer that was browsing signed up for your email newsletter – proposals come in the form of email content related to their interests. E-commerce customers might abandon their cart, but sending reminders to complete the checkout process serves as a proposal as well.

Ideally, these appeals lead to the ultimate goal of every business: closing the sale.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

Once the sales rep has developed a relationship with the client, it’s time to make an offer in the form of a business proposal. The proposal should be modeled after what has been the most effective strategy thus far for your business. Take that strategy apart line by line and organize it so that it can be replicated by all your sales reps.

Sale
When a sale is made, the pipeline isn’t finished. The business still must meet the client’s expectations. The customer service team should work to ensure the satisfaction of every customer by monitoring every account and responding proactively to issues. The sales team should continue to offer cross-selling and upselling opportunities to existing clients wherever applicable, focusing on maximizing value to the client. The marketing team should continue to educate and inform clients about the products and services available to them that meet their needs. Existing customers should be nurtured into repeat customers by consistent contact and excellent service.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

If your potential client is an instant yes, then your next task is to fulfill your promise and put them into your post-sale nurture pipeline until they’re ready to be moved back into your main sales pipeline.

But what if they initially say no? Or, worse, what if they say yes and then ghost?

Create a system for follow-up contact. An automated version of this type of follow-up is cart abandonment sequences. For a sales rep, this may look more like a follow-up email or phone call that either results in a sale or marks the lead as being not ready to buy.