If you’re in sales, one thing's for certain. You have heard the term “pipeline” before. Whether it’s been about building a sales pipeline, getting prospects into a pipeline, or filling the pipeline, the term is always floating around sales circles. But what does it mean, and why is building a sales pipeline important? If you have never built a sales pipeline, we break down what it is, the importance of each stage, and how to build a sales pipeline to make sure you’re getting the best insight into your process and making the most impact. 

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a visual snapshot, a sales framework, and a defined process for your sales team. It serves as an important tool and can mean the difference between consistently closing or losing deals. Adding a visual queue when evaluating a sales process can help reps and team leaders understand where leads drop off, what activities impact the bottom line, and if the current process is effective. 

If your sales operation leans only on cold calling and crossing your fingers, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Creating a streamlined and organized process helps sales reps stay on track and meet goals. By increasing visibility into your sales process and goals, including implementing a sales scorecard, your reps can quickly and consistently identify problem areas or where they’re making the largest impact. Read on to find out how to build a sales pipeline and regularly track towards goals. 

The stages of a sales pipeline

Each and every business has different needs and goals. Because of this, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to building a sales pipeline. While a bakery may measure how many cakes they make in a month, a real estate agency may measure how many showings they have per week. While the goals and industries may be different, there is always a need to track what causes buyers to make a purchase or sales decision. 

A pipeline is divided into stages of a company’s sales process. It’s a way of illustrating where prospects are in their journey towards making a positive or negative buying decision. 

When starting to build your sales pipeline, make sure you have an understanding of:

  • Target accounts or buyers
  • Current prospects 
  • Your team’s current sales process
  • Company and team goals

It’s important for sales leaders to think through what they want more visibility into, how prospects discover their product or service, and what data (such as calls made, demos booked, leads qualified, etc.) they are most interested in seeing. This will be a starting point into how you build your sales pipeline.

These are some of the most common steps of a sales pipeline and a great place to get started.

  • Prospecting
    • This is the most common step in the sales process for any company. Depending on how your business operates, this could be cold calling, prospecting potential good fits on LinkedIn, or working with a lead generation team to send out downloadable content and build your lists. This can also happen organically when a potential customer expresses interest in your product or service.
  • Qualifying
    • Qualification means that the prospect or lead that has either downloaded content, found your product or service, or has responded to a cold call is actually a good fit. Reps shouldn’t waste time on a potential customer who isn’t ready or willing to purchase. It is extremely important in this step to research and discover if your lead has the budget, is right for your product or service, or if they are actually the decision maker.
  • Communicating
    • This is the most straightforward of all of the steps in a sales pipeline. Whether over the phone, email, in person, or during a demo, this is when the rep actually makes contact with the prospect. This is the first step in building a relationship and nurturing a lead. Another great way to keep track of what communications and activities are being made is with a sales scorecard. Check out these free templates to get a head start.
  • Building trust
    • All customers like to feel special. If they are spending their hard-earned money and valuable time discussing a big purchasing decision, they want to feel comfortable with you. This doesn’t have to be constantly calling or emailing them. This can be simply connecting on LinkedIn, forwarding useful articles they might find interesting, or practicing active listening and responding thoughtfully.
  • Closing
    • Now it’s time to close the deal. Once you’ve built trust, explained your product or service thoroughly, and answered any questions or concerns they may have, it’s time to make it final. At this stage, the customer often says they’re ready to close. If you’re still not getting a straightforward answer, it might be time to negotiate. If the customer ghosts, make a few more attempts at getting them back in the conversation before marking them as closed or lost.
  • Nurturing
    • This is for those prospects who went cold right before a sale or who told you it isn’t the right time. Checking in periodically can help nurture that relationship and trust. It could be that they now have the green light or budget to make a decision that they didn’t have before, so continue to check in with them. 

The foundations of a successful pipeline

  • Organization + Process

    • However you decide to manage your contacts, make sure you keep track of your prospective buyers. You want to be able to manage what stage your prospect is in, move them from one stage to another, and allow managers to keep an eye on an entire team’s progress.
  • Defined Stages 
    • When setting the steps, you want to break out your goals. If you think too big, the goals can seem overwhelming and unachievable. Your pipeline should be used as a framework for your reps. Consider the steps mentioned above (prospecting, qualifying, etc.), and start building your activities and goals beginning with those.  By breaking goals down into activities, your team is more likely to stay on target. Check out these free sales scorecard templates here to get started on measuring these goals.
  • List Health 
    • Once you have rolled out your sales pipeline, you can begin to see the impact it makes. Your sales team can stay organized and focused on their tasks and activities at hand, but this doesn’t mean to set it and forget it. As new contacts and opportunities roll in, your process might need to change. Always make sure you are keeping your sales pipeline up to date and team in the know.
  • Coaching
    • This is an area for all sales leaders to understand and develop. As sales leaders, you should be consistently meeting with your reps in 1:1 sessions and as a team. This will help you understand if the sales process is working, where it needs updating, and how your team is doing. Need a place to start? Check out these free coaching templates and start setting up your 1:1 agendas today. 

Time to build a sales pipeline 

You did it! Now you have what you need to build your sales pipeline and lead your sales team to even more success. With a structured and clear framework, you have the tools you need to organize your sales process, gain more visibility into your team’s performance, and encourage your reps to keep crushing those goals. 


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