7 Steps to Building a High-Quality Sales Pipeline
Sales pipeline management, the practice of examining each part of the sales process to see how each customer goes through your sales funnel, is an essential aspect of every business.
With pipeline management, you can monitor sales deals and team performance. You can check the status of each deal, catching small problems before they grow. You can also see the number of deals and, from there, estimate how much your sales team needs to close over a given period.
Optimizing your sales pipeline can also create more accurate revenue projections and resource allocations and build and maintain relationships, which contribute to business success.
But what does creating an optimal, high-quality sales pipeline entail? We’ll walk you through the steps.
What a Sales Pipeline Is
A sales pipeline is a visual representation of how prospects move through the sales process. It provides a snapshot of your business’ health by seeing which stage of the sales funnel the customers are at, what deals are getting held up, and which activities are contributing the most to revenue.
With all the sales terms available, it’s easy to confuse “sales pipeline” with other terms such as sales funnel and sales forecast. Here are their differences:
Sales Funnel vs. Sales Pipeline
Both visualize their respective processes, but that’s where their similarities end.
The sales funnel is the prospect’s journey to being a customer: from discovering the business to making a purchase. Meanwhile, a sales pipeline is the business’ journey: from its efforts to generate leads to closing a sale.
Sales Pipeline vs. Sales Forecast
A sales pipeline is completely different from a sales forecast.
A sales pipeline is a view of your opportunities, while a sales forecast estimates the opportunities likely to close in a given period.
Advantages of Building a Sales Pipeline From Scratch
There are several sales pipeline templates available online. While it might be easy to copy these templates, there are several advantages to creating your own.
Personalizing your own sales pipeline lets you:
See how far along your leads are on the sales pipeline,
Accurately predict revenue and growth.
Give your customers a better sales experience.
Steps for Building a Sales Pipeline
Now you know what a sales pipeline is and its importance, let’s get into the steps to building one.
1. Create a Profile of Your Ideal Customer.
The first step is determining the buyer persona, a detailed description of your ideal customer. If you need help, several free buyer persona templates are available online to guide you.
You’ll need these buyer personas to plan the buyer’s journey — a version of the sales funnel tailored to your business.
Here’s a recap of the buyer’s journey to refresh your memory:
Awareness: Customer has a problem they need solving.
Consideration: Customer determines the problem, develops criteria, and looks for potential solutions.
Decision-making: Customer decides on the solution.
2. Connect the Buyer’s Journey to the Sales Pipeline Stages.
Once you know how your ideal customers behave through the buyer’s journey, you can connect it to the sales pipeline.
Here’s a recap of the sales pipeline stages:
Lead generation: Businesses attract and engage prospects through campaigns to capture contact information.
Lead nurturing: Marketing teams further qualify new leads and send the best marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) to the sales team for follow-up. Companies use marketing automation technology to nurture leads.
Sales accepted lead (SAL): At this stage of the pipeline, sales teams choose from the leads marketing sends and pursue them — usually with a phone call. According to HubSpot, only 27% of B2B leads are sales-ready.
Sales qualified lead (SQL): SQLs represent a quantifiable business opportunity. They have a clear need, timeline, and budget and are ready to purchase. The sales department further qualifies SQLs and assigns them to an account manager.
Closed deal: The sale is made. According to HubSpot, 6% of opportunities are closed sales.
Post-sale: Many B2B sales teams treat a closed sale as the end of the pipeline, but it shouldn't stop there. Retaining customers cost less than acquiring new ones.
Connect these steps to the information in steps one and two. For example:
Note: Your sales pipeline will look different depending on how complicated your sales process is.
3. Determine How Deals Continue Through Each Stage.
Once you’ve mapped out the sales pipeline, input your current data and do a pipeline review of both successful and unsuccessful deals.
Measure and calculate sales pipeline metrics. Having data on hand helps you make realistic estimates.
By studying those deals and metrics, you can:
Determine how long each prospect spends in each stage. The longer they spend on each stage, the longer your sales cycle length, and the more ineffective your sales process becomes.
See how your funnel performs by checking the percentage of opportunities that advance to the next stage. For example, if you see that 70% of prospects become leads, it means you’ve got a good lead qualification process. In contrast, if you see that only 20% of leads become SALs, maybe you need to work on lead nurturing.
Make monthly or quarterly revenue projections.
4. Calculate the Number of Sales Opportunities You Need at Each Stage To Hit Your Revenue Goal.
With the data you have from the previous steps, you can now work backward to see how much you should target at each stage.
Start by dividing your target monthly or quarterly revenue by your average deal size. If you have a $100,000 monthly revenue target with an average $8,500 deal size, you’ll need to close at least 12 deals per month.
Then, divide your target deal number by your yield probability per stage. If you need to win 12 deals, and your reps typically close 80% of deals in the negotiation stage, you need at least 15 opportunities in the negotiation stage each month.
Repeat this process for every stage, working backward. Divide each target number by the total number of people on your sales team.
For example, if you have six salespersons and need to close at least 12 deals per month, each salesperson will have a sales target of two deals per month.
Note: When setting your team member’s KPIs, remember that each sales rep’s conversion rate may vary per stage.
For example, they must work on their closing skills if they're excellent at prospecting but are not very good closers. They may also have to refine their prospecting process or work on getting more quality leads.
5. Examine Commonalities Between Successful Opportunities at Each Stage.
Using the data from steps three and four, examine the tactics you implement at each stage. From there, you’ll see which sales activities are effective and which aren't.
For example, if sending marketing emails via an email list works at both lead nurturing and SQL stages, then you know it’s an effective channel that potential customers respond to.
When you’ve identified these effective behaviors, create or adapt them as part of your sales strategy.
6. Keep Adding Leads to Your Sales Pipeline.
A healthy sales pipeline flows.
Prospects must move from one stage to the next following a determined timeframe. However, not all prospects will convert, so you’ll need to continue sales prospecting even after establishing your sales process.
Continuously adding new prospects and leads ensures a constant stream of new customers, allowing you to test your sales pipeline’s effectiveness consistently.
7. Monitor and Clean Your Sales Pipeline.
Image Source: HubSpot
Besides adding a stream of leads, part of good sales pipeline management is ensuring you have consistent data about each opportunity.
Update pipeline information quarterly or biannually. Marketing automation tools speed up the process, and more people are using them. A 2020 LinkedIn study shows that 43% of salespeople used intelligence tools for tracking the sales pipeline — a 54% increase from 2018.
In addition, more leads in your pipeline don’t always translate to closed deals. If the leads aren't serving you, it’s time to let them go — they waste valuable resources and skew your projections.
Clean your email list by sending verification emails to determine who wants to remain on your list. Make integrates with the HubSpot CRM to automate the process.
Final Thoughts: 7 Steps to Building a High-Quality Sales Pipeline
Effective sales pipeline management ensures business success.
With an optimized sales pipeline, you can accurately create forecasts, allocate resources, focus on building relationships, improve the sales process, and grow revenue.
Sales pipelines look different for each business, so building one from scratch is recommended. Start by identifying your target customer, map out their buyer’s journey against the sales pipeline stages, and work backward to determine key metrics.
Remember to constantly add leads to keep the pipeline flowing, and monitor the pipeline regularly to keep the information updated. And leverage automation tools like Make, which integrate with your CRM software.