Can you confidently predict with some level of certainty who your next five clients or customers will be, when they are most likely to purchase from you and how much income you’re likely to receive from them? 

I regularly ask small business owners these questions and most of them struggle to answer. 

This is usually because they don’t have a system in place that allows them to track prospects. That system being a Sales Pipeline.

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline provides a visual way to track where your prospects are in your sales process.

Your sales pipeline should contain the typical stages you go through to convert a prospect into a paying customer. Each step in the sales process should be a seperate stage in your sales pipeline, with clearly defined criteria or milestones that would indicate that a prospect should be moved into or out of a particular stage. 

The number of stages in your pipeline will vary based on the length of your sales cycle and the number of interactions needed to close a deal.

Prospects sit within your sales pipeline as ‘deals’ and you (or your team) are responsible for moving those deals between the stages when appropriate milestones are met. Moving between stages is often done manually, but can alternatively be automated in some instances, provided you’re using a system that allows you to do so.

You can also setup automations (e.g. apply/remove tags, create task, send an email, etc) to trigger when a deal moves into or out of a stage.

You can have more than one pipeline, contacts can be in a pipeline more than once, and you can move contacts between pipelines if required. 

Most businesses do have a step-by-step sales process that their prospects go through, even if it’s not documented, but stumble at the point of being able to easily identify who is at which stage of the process, as they don’t have a sales pipeline set up. Unfortunately a lot of prospects end up falling through the cracks because of this.

Stages of a sales pipeline

For most businesses, they will have a minimum of the following stages in their sales pipeline:

  • Lead generation (or uncontested lead)
  • Lead nurturing (or working lead)
  • Lead qualifying
  • Offer presented (or proposal sent)
  • Negotiation (or follow up)
  • Won
  • Lost
  • No ready (or revisit later)
  • Not suitable

You can add additional stages as required, or rename any of the stages as appropriate to the language used in your business, but this is a great starting point. 

At the same time as creating the stages in your sales pipeline, you should also identify the criteria for moving a deal between stages and the activities that need to be undertaken when a prospect is within a stage and when they enter or exit each of the stages. 

Don’t get stuck on the fact that not everyone goes through the same steps. Prospects can skip steps, and often it is ideal when they do. But the idea here is to document the full customer journey through your sales pipeline and then when you use it, you can skip steps if appropriate, based on the behaviours of the prospects within your pipeline.

Lead value calculations

So how much value is in your sales pipeline? You won’t know the answer to this unless you have determined how you will calculate the value of a prospect. 

A sales pipeline that includes lead values can be an incredibly powerful motivator. This involves determining how you will measure the value of a lead. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, it just has to be applied consistently and reflect the nature of how you charge for your products and/or services in your business. 

You can determine lead values based on the value of the:

  • Project – The full value of the project to be undertaken
  • First payment – The initial guaranteed payment you will receive once the deal is won
  • Monthly – The value of a monthly recurring service
  • Quarterly – The value of a quarterly recurring service
  • Yearly – The value of an annual recurring service
  • Lifetime – The lifetime value of a customer
  • Average order value – Based on the average order value of all your customers
  • Other

The great thing about setting a lead value is that you can then calculate the value of all of the leads in your sales pipeline, or within each stage, and then use that as a motivator to convert those leads into customers. 

Sales pipeline tools

At the most basic level, you can create a sales pipeline using nothing more than a pen and paper or sticky notes on a wall. Often this is a great place to start, particularly if you don’t have a CRM and all the data about who your current prospects are resides in your head. 

Using simple tools like this can allow you to do a brain dump of your prospects, placing them within the appropriate stages of your sales pipeline. You can also adjust the steps in your pipeline as necessary whilst you go. 

If you’re using a the pen and paper method, I would just suggest using a pencil for when you enter the detail of each deal. Then you can rub them out of one stage once you’ve added them to the next. This is why sticky notes are great, as you physically more them, with all the information relating to that deal remaining on the sticky note as they move through your sales pipeline. 

If you want to go low tech with creating your sales pipeline, then a spreadsheet is a fairly easy next step. All you need to do here is transfer the analogue pipeline you previously created into a spreadsheet of stages. You can then cut and paste your prospects through as they progress through your sales process. 

Tools that have a Board layout, like Asana and Trello, provide a bit more functionality than a spreadsheet. These types of tools allow you to easily record more information associated with each deal and easily move those deals from stage to stage as appropriate. You can also use third party tools, like Zapier, to trigger off automations if you are techie enough to hack that together. 

But the best tool to use to create your Sales Pipeline is your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, as that allows you to associate all the information related to each deal in your pipeline with the relevant contact and/or company. 

Keap is my tool of choice for this. 

Keap has a brilliant easy-to-use drag and drop sales pipeline that helps you move leads faster, close more sales, and know the status of every deal in one place. You can also trigger automated follow up and tasks to nurture leads through your sales process.

Keap allows you to create automations right in the pipeline, trigger actions based on pipeline stages, set up easy automations, or assign specific tasks to team members.

Using a tool like Keap that has an inbuilt sales pipeline also allows you to gain greater visibility into the performance of your sales pipeline through pipeline analytics. 

You can see reports such as:

  • Deal conversions by stage
  • Average deal duration
  • Average time in stage
  • Deal revenue forecasting
  • and more

Investing in a decent CRM that includes a sales pipeline allows you to optimise your sales process, whilst also saving you time and providing a better and more consistent customer experience.

Unconventional alternative sales pipeline uses

If you don’t think that a sales pipeline isn’t relevant for your business, then I challenge you to think again. 

Yes, a sales pipeline does lend itself more to service based businesses or other businesses where a conversation needs to be made prior to a purchase, as is often the case with high priced products.

But for ecommerce stores, where you often don’t know who your next customer will be until they complete the checkout process, there are other ways that you can use a sales pipeline within your business. 

The sales pipeline concept can be used for potential:

  • Clients
  • Suppliers
  • Sponsors
  • Partnerships and collaborations
  • Affiliate partners
  • Influencer outreach
  • Podcast guests
  • Speakers at events
  • Employees or contractors

For all of the above activities there is a need to ‘sell’ the value of your business, track the progress of those potential ‘deals’ and perhaps even trigger off automations as people progress between the various stages. 

Instead of saying this is not for me, I would challenge you to investigate how you can make this work for your business, as a sales pipeline is a super powerful digital marketing conversion tool. 

Where should I start when creating a sales pipeline?

Your sales pipeline should match the journey your prospects take as they go from lead to sale. The best way to start is to get out a pen and paper and document those stages to create your sales pipeline.

As part of this process you will need to identify the triggers that determine when leads progress through the various stages of your sales cycle, as well as the various actions that need to occur when people progress between stages, and which of those actions can be automated.

Ideally once you’ve done this you would then build out your sales pipeline in your CRM or other tool of choice, setting up any relevant templates and automations (if possible) at the same time.

Automating appropriate aspects of your sales process, particularly around the nurture process and follow up, will allow you to provide a consistent customer experience.

Before you start populating your sales pipeline with those deals that are already in progress within your business, set parameters for determining the value of individual leads so that you can assign lead values as you populate your sales pipeline with your current deals. 

Then once you’ve loaded the deals and their potential value, take a good look at your sales pipeline to see if it’s telling you anything. Can you see any potential quick wins, bottlenecks or trends that might inform you of changes that might need to be made to your sales process or perhaps even the products/services themselves?

It’s important that you integrate the use of your sales pipeline with your lead generation activities so that no opportunities fall through the cracks. That will involve progressing any deals through your sales pipeline and continually improving your processes as you go. This will allow you to streamline your sales process over time, allowing you to produce consistent and predictable results.

Where can I learn more about this?

I feel so strongly about your sales pipeline being a super powerful digital marketing conversion tool that I dedicated a whole module towards this as part of our Click Engage Convert Academy. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to set this up for your business, then I encourage you to join the Click Engage Convert Academy. The training on this is already locked and loaded, so you could get started on implementing this for your business as soon as today! 

We run weekly masterclasses, Q&A sessions on the most important digital marketing topics that will shift the dial in your business success. We also have regular virtual coworking/implementation sessions each month, where you have direct access to our team of digital marketing experts to help you get things DONE!

You can find out more here: https://clickengageconvert.com