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There are some people in this world who are naturally good at basketball, or writing, and for others, sales is something they can do just as easily as breathing. A lead (a potential buyer) will typically arrive from one of three places—they may be attracted through marketing efforts, brought in via referral, or connected with via outreach. No matter how they arrive, the next steps will involve nurturing their interest and eventually pitching them your service. For others, however, the process from lead to sales is far more unpredictable, which can leave money on the table or prospects taking their business elsewhere.
To combat this unpredictability, many companies turn away from on-the-fly sales and instead focus on more strategic methods such as sales pipelines. A sales pipeline is essentially a dedicated method of tracking leads, proposals, insights, and sales. This focused manner of tracking then allows companies to hone in on and improve their entire sales process. Since strategy and planning are key to growing sales, sales pipelines have been proven to be extremely effective in many businesses.
So how do you set up the sales pipeline stages? And how can you implement it successfully in your business? What is the sales pipeline in CRM? Before jumping into that, let us first take a look at what a sales pipeline is, including the various stages involved.
What is a Sales Pipeline?
A pipeline, in general, is a funnel that gets something from point a to point b (or beyond.) When it comes to sales, the pipeline is visual rather than physical and is an organized summary that tracks current and potential customers through the different stages of the sales process. This is where the sales pipeline stages start to make sense. At a glance, you can look at the pipeline and see each individual opportunity: where it is in the pipeline, what the next step is, and what the end result will be.
By following the sales pipeline stages, business leaders can stay on top of potential buyers and opportunities as they move from stage to stage and see where their money, deals, and efforts are located. Sales reps and managers can see what stage prospects are at, predict when deals might be closed, or even visualize potential future roadblocks or bottlenecks. And not every prospect will move through a pipeline at the same pace, but since they are all tracked to the same standards, it becomes easier to juggle multiple sales prospects and deals without letting one slip away from inattention.
What are the Sales Pipeline Stages?
Just like bends or splits in a traditional pipeline, a sales pipeline will follow various stages from start to finish. These are the sales pipeline stages, and having these be as streamlined as possible is key to ensuring client satisfaction. Each of these stages should match your prospect’s buying journey while still letting you, as the business owner, track progress and predict revenue.
You might now be asking yourself, how do you structure a sales pipeline? Luckily, it is fairly easy to go through the sales pipeline stages and determine the best strategy for your own business from that. From lead generation to discovery, and on to closing and post-purchase, here is how you will begin to structure a sales pipeline.
Also known as prospecting, this stage is essentially how and where you find your potential customers. Lead generation starts with identifying your existing client base and ideal customers so you know who to target, how, and when. Should you do online marketing or follow more traditional media strategies, and will your clients need your services more often in one part of the year versus another? These are only some of the questions that lead generation will help answer.
Once you know who you are looking to target, the next step is to nurture those leads. Here is where email marketing, drip campaigns, cold calling, and lead magnets all come into play. Using the information you discovered in lead generation, you can tailor your prospecting campaign directly to those you hope to bring in as clients. This starts moving leads downstream, further into the funnel as they become more interested in your product or services. Sales tracking CRMs such as Monday.com or Hubspot.com are incredibly helpful when it comes to keeping track of all your prospecting strategies.
You’ve got a few leads, so what next? You can’t reasonably reach out to every single person who seems even vaguely interested, which is where lead qualification comes in. At this stage, you will narrow down and focus on those prospects which appear more likely to make a purchase. This can be based on various factors such as the prospect’s budget range, responsiveness to inquiries, following up on marketing queries, and more. Various lead scoring systems are available for qualifying leads, and you should use the one that is best for your individual business.
This stage is where you get to really show off what you are offering. Meeting with prospective clients for the first time is an opportunity to put your best foot forward. During the meeting phase, businesses should offer product demonstrations, free trials, or more detailed information. You should be demonstrating your unique value and just what you have to offer to your client and why it is better to go with you rather than someone else. Essentially, the meeting stage should involve doing anything that increases the customer’s enthusiasm for your company.
Following a successful meeting, you should hopefully be able to present your proposal. This stage is where you can discuss with the client the scope of the work, manage expectations and hours, finalize pricing, and otherwise outline the terms of the deal between your business and the client. You should also make sure that you are presenting data on how and why your business or product is beneficial to the client. Many buyers comment that having ROI (return on investment) information goes a long way towards finalizing their decision.
You’ve made it! In the closing stage of the sales pipeline, you will be able to finalize the sale, move it towards fulfillment, and wrap up the sales process for your client. Very few clients reach this stage and back out, so this stage is essentially time to give yourself a pat on the back before moving on to the next phase or the next client in the pipeline.
Even after closing with the client, you should consider what comes after. Following up after the sale is one of the most important ways of keeping your clients happy and coming back in the future. This could be emailing the client to ensure product or service satisfaction or upselling them on other solutions your business offers. Essentially, you want to remain reliable and helpful when it comes to follow-up, leaving customers satisfied and more likely to return to you or refer you out to others.
What You Need To Create Your Sales Pipeline Stages
So now you have a little more information on the stages of a sales pipeline, and it seems like something you would like to implement in your own business. But how exactly do you structure a sales pipeline?
Lead Source or List of Prospects:
Starting off by creating your sales pipeline, you should first generate a list of people who would potentially be interested in your offer. Depending on how many there are, you might need a way of tracking and managing those contacts and your interactions with them to an even greater degree. Spreadsheet applications, such as Google Sheets or Excel or a dedicated sales CRM, are helpful when creating and managing these lists. You might find yourself working with both or either, though the rule of thumb is that spreadsheets are more useful when you have a limited number of clients, while CRMs are essential when the number of clients grows or when you need to work as a team with other salespeople.
Structured Sales Process:
After getting together that list of prospects, you will need to set up the actual sales
pipeline and various stages. This will probably take the most time but will also be the most helpful thing to do. By taking each stage and breaking it down into the individual tasks involved, you are also creating a much more manageable structure for yourself or others to follow in the future. And that in and of itself is the entire point of a pipeline in the first place. As you work on creating your own pipeline, use the stage framework above but do not hesitate to add, remove, or adjust the stages if something works better for you. You may also find that, as time goes on, you will need to make adjustments down the line and that is okay too!
Revenue Goal and Timeframe:
Finally, when creating your pipeline, you will need an end goal. This includes both an attainable revenue target and a timeframe that you want to meet at the end of each project. When determining your targets, you should ensure that they are reasonable, realistic, and match both your business goals and those of your clients. There is little worse than building your whole pipeline only to find out that you are cutting your realistic time frames in half, rushing the entire process and losing customer satisfaction in the process.
Tools To Help You Create The Perfect Sales Pipeline
Luckily, for those starting out on their own sales pipeline, or even those who may want to refine one already in place, there are multiple tools and apps to help. Spreadsheets are the simple way and will work, up to a point. Unfortunately, once things get a little more involved or a little bigger, spreadsheets are not nearly as useful as customer relationship management tools, or CRMs. One recommendation is Wingmate, an ultra-powerful CRM that can help with both the creation and implementation of your sales pipeline stages.
With Wingmate, you can even use multiple, separate pipelines based on products, services, customer needs, or other qualifications. Especially helpful for larger companies or those with multiple products or services, each pipeline can have unique lead captures, users, analytics, and more. Since the app itself is dedicated to customer and sales management, it is an excellent tool to assist you as you are building your own sales pipeline.
Time To Feed Your New Sales Pipeline
With a sales pipeline and useful CRM tools in place, it’s time to really get to work and put it through its paces. Your team will be able to move forward with ease, following a blueprint that should lead to more consistent results, and managers will be able to track their activities while adjusting as necessary.
As you get more experienced and comfortable, do not be afraid to make changes and improvements to your sales pipeline stages. Resources and research will change constantly, and you should be able to work with that and not against it. Flexibility and the ability to innovate will be key here. The end goal here is to bring in consistent revenue in greater amounts while also decreasing effort and unpredictability, both of which should be accomplished with a functional sales pipeline in place.
The end goal of the sales pipeline stages should be to bring in precise, progressive, and profitable results. When your entire business is organized through a sales pipeline, the whole team should succeed, and greater revenue for all. Wingmate hopes that by learning about sales pipelines, their stages, and what you need to do to create one, you will be able to experience the potential growth and profit for your own business.
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