I’ll cut to the chase.

A sales pipeline is a visual summary of business health. It outlines which deals are where and what needs doing. It’s a modern tool for salespeople to know what they’re doing. It’s essential. And do you know where we build one?

We build sales pipelines in CRM.

This article looks at absolutely everything you need to know about sales pipelines.

We’ve answered all the important questions like what a sales pipeline is, what are the stages of a sales pipeline are, how to build a sales pipeline in CRM, how to spot and unblock sales pipeline bottlenecks, and which key sales pipeline metrics to keep an eye on in your CRM system.

Let's get growing!


What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a visual snapshot made up of the different deal stages a lead goes through before they become a buyer.

It’s a simple tool to help businesses get organised, prevent any leads from falling through gaps, and maximise profits. It’s essential for salespeople as they juggle multiple deals at one time; it gives them an overview of all their leads, which concrete actions need to be completed, and how valuable that lead is for their business.

The underlying idea of a sales pipeline is to offer more visibility and oversight into your sales process, helping organise, dynamise, forecast, and bring in more revenue.

A sales pipeline in NetHunt CRM looks like this…

A sales pipeline example in NetHunt CRM
A sales pipeline example in NetHunt CRM

Of course, your sales pipeline could look different depending on the stages of your sales process. A sales pipeline is completely customisable depending on the business that it serves.

What benefits does a sales pipeline bring to a business?

A well-managed sales pipeline brings a whole bullet list of benefits to your business…

  • Improve your sales process
  • Provide accurate business forecasts
  • Provide accurate, automatic sales reporting
  • Offer insights into the success of different sales strategies
  • Allow you to allocate resources where they need allocating
  • Help you provide a more accurate, personalised outreach
  • Help you get on top of your deals and data
  • Align messaging and outreach between different teams
  • Quick-look task management
  • Prevent leads from falling off course

The benefits of a sales pipeline can be split into three categories.

First, a sales pipeline benefits your sales process. Basically, it standardises everything, telling you okay, this is where they are and this is what you need to do to get them to there. That’s oversight, collecting all your leads, deals, and customers and visualising where they are. At the end of that sales process, a pipeline also helps us report and see what’s going right and wrong in our process; what needs changing and what stays the same. Forecasting, too. All of these benefits drive revenue.

Second, a sales pipeline helps manage people - specifically, Sales and Marketing teams. A tool to which you log in in the morning and see in real-time what needs doing, who needs contacting, and what you’ll need to do. Sales and Marketing win from a sales pipeline, they always know what resources are needed and where. C-levels and team leaders better understand the health of their business and the productivity of their teams - and so that productivity improves.

Finally, a sales pipeline helps customers. It means a business can provide relevant, personalised content to leads based on their stage. Decision made, revenue in the bank.

The stages of a sales pipeline

Discovery

This is the initial stage of any sales pipeline.

It involves drumming up awareness of your business and product through the outlay of promotional activities, such as cold outreach, marketing campaigns, and ad targeting. Here, we’re specifically trying to fill this pipeline stage with prospects who are likely to want to continue their journey down the pipeline to conversion; they should fit your ideal buyer profile. The key question we’re trying to answer is…

What value can your product or service bring to these customers?

Qualification

A lead moves into the qualification stage of the pipeline when they are qualified. That is, they’ve indicated a willingness to engage with your brand. We can consider the download of an eBook, a whitepaper, or a webinar as a qualification activity.

Likewise when somebody fills out a web form, subscribes to your newsletter, or replies to one of your email campaigns.

Up to 67% of lost sales are a direct result of improper qualifying

🗣️ Spotio

An effective qualification stage of the pipeline depends on work put in during the Discovery stage, specifically how much high-quality data you collect about each prospect.

Demo

A scheduled meeting or demo is the first sign that a deal is going anywhere. Depending on your business model and sales process, a demo can either be held in-person or online. This is an opportunity to share your product or service and their value with your potential customers.

A good demo is personalised to suit your buyer’s exact profile. It should be based on prior research of a lead’s product, business model, and wider industry, which can be outlined in a discovery call before the demo has happened. A lead wants to know how your product can help them hit their business objectives. By the end of the demo, you should have a good idea whether there is a likelihood of a lead wanting and/ or needing a proposal.

If not… you should work on your sales demoing.

Proposal

The Proposal stage is where things start to get really serious in your sales process; make-or-break.

Here you’ll make a strong case for why your product, service, and company can address the lead’s problems, helping overcome the hurdles they face. Again, your proposal depends on your business model and product, but it’s always important to personalise it to some extent. That being said, here are some things to consider including in your proposal.

  • A summary of your prospects’ pain points
  • The solution you’re offering
  • Clear pricing information
  • Timeline for implementation and training
  • Exact terms as outlined by a written contract

Clarity is key during the Proposal stage. You should also remember that your customer’s representative for the deal is likely to show your proposal to their team members. Concisity helps in this respect, so as not to overwhelm any potential readers.

Negotiation

The main aim in the Negotiation stage of the sales pipeline is to find common ground with your potential buyer. There are a bunch of obvious - and not-so-obvious - things you might want to discuss.

  • Pricing and suitable subscription plan
  • Discounts or special offers that apply
  • How many users will be included in the subscription
  • Level of necessary support provided by the seller
  • Buyer-expectation management to prevent churn from broken promises
  • The scope of product development to suit buyer needs
  • The benefits your business offers over its competitors

Sometimes the negotiation is simple. You and your lead treat each other as equals, immediately finding common ground and coming to an agreement. Other times, it’s like eating a bowl of rice with a pin. You should be ready to have everything possible thrown at you as a lead tries to save a quick buck or two.

Rely on your experience to guide you.

Won

Well done, you’ve finalised the deal and can fulfil your order. It’s time to onboard your new customer.

Post-purchase

You thought the job was done - alas, it’s not. You need to retain your customers.

Regular communication with customers - i.e. regular assessment calls - helps clarify where problems or hurdles lie with a product and what can be improved. Feedback is an important tool for any business. With data gathered by the Sales team during these calls, Marketing creates feedback loops which the product team can close. Your product gets better, your customer is happier.

You might even have a seperate pipeline for existing customers if you want to try upselling or cross-selling to them. More on that later.

How to build an efficient sales pipeline

There’s not much point in your sales pipeline if it isn’t efficient. We’re talking about sales velocity, getting those deals through your pipeline as quickly as you possibly can. Furthermore, with an efficient sales pipeline, sales managers and representatives can manage the number of deals, determine potential revenue, find bottlenecks, and see the deals that require additional attention to be closed.

Finally, a sales pipeline lets you measure the performance of your sales representatives.

How to build an efficient sales pipeline
Everything you need to know about effective pipeline-building!

Here are four tips to building an effective sales pipeline.

Create realistic buyer personas

Simply put, your buyer personas answer two general questions about buyers.

  • What’s the typical background of your average buyer?
  • Do you know their specific needs from your product?

Your buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer. They’re based on your existing customers, segmented into the different categories of customer they are. Buyer personas are separated by demographics, psychographics, job roles, needs, desires, and any other defining characteristics of customer segments. You should have a few, but not too many - otherwise your message becomes diluted.

There are different ways in which you can collate information for buyer personas…

  • Look through your existing customer database and identify trends
  • Use web forms to collect information from customers or leads in return for gated content
  • Have Sales explain their understanding of existing customer personas to Marketing
  • Interview customers with Jobs to be Done (JTBD) questions

Learn how to make the best buyer persona in the Cold Outreach Guide!

Generate high quality leads

Good lead generation is the cornerstone of a healthy pipeline. What’s the point in having a pipeline at all if there are no leads to fill it?

There are a bunch of different ways of generating leads for your business. Inbound leads tend to be high quality leads - they’re the ones that come to you through web forms, email, phone and all that. Outbound leads are a little more tricky and depend on a high quality buyer persona in place before outreach from Sales and Marketing teams to generate them as leads.

Not to blow our own trumpets, but there are loads of ways to generate leads with NetHunt CRM.

  • Our LinkedIn integration scrapes leads straight from LinkedIn profiles
  • Our Intercom chat catches incoming leads and plonks them in CRM
  • Web forms can be placed on your website for leads to fill in their own data
  • We’ve got extensive email functionality - we’re a Gmail CRM

Want to hear more about lead generation in NetHunt CRM? Schedule a demo!

Align the stages of your sales process with sales activities

Again, your sales pipeline is your own, and your sales pipeline activities depend completely on your business and the image it wants to convey. Still, you shouldn’t send your sales teams in there all guns blazing, you should have a dedicated sales process that’s been tested and works for your business.

A standardised sales process is a key benefit of a good sales pipeline. It offers salespeople an idea of what to do and when in order to close any deal.

Tip! You can automate a lot of sales activities as leads more down your sales pipeline. Imagine a lead moves into the Won stage of your pipeline. You should probably send them a welcome email - an absolute free hit of email marketing. Within workflow automation software, you can send a pre-templated email triggered as soon as the customer moves into that stage.

Find out more about workflow automation, here!

Keep your pipeline clean and up-to-date

  • Well designed with no less than two stages, and no more than six
  • Effective by following all the steps we’ve given you
  • Intuitive by automatically alerting Sales when a deal is stalled
  • Easy-to-analyse for any team with access to it
  • Analytical so you learn from different metrics that come out of your sales process

The essential element of keeping the pipeline clean is by implementing a culture of keeping it clean.

Sales leaders share tips for a healthy sales pipeline
Dive in to discover the sales metrics and KPIs sales leaders monitor to stay on track, and how their pipeline review meeting looks like.

That means updating sales pipeline stages whenever a lead moves (automation helps), being realistic whenever a deal is dead and needs to be removed, and constantly reviewing and testing pipeline stages to understand whether they work for your business or not.

Do you need multiple sales pipelines?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It all depends on the makeup of your business and the products you offer.

A business implements multiple pipelines when they provide multiple products or services, when they have different sales processes for different customers, or to place a greater emphasis on their post-sales processes in order to maintain customer relationships. We’ve put together three broad case studies to examine exactly how multiple pipelines can benefit a business.

Multiple sales pipelines: How do they work?
Multiple pipelines get your sales teams even more organised, even more effective, and even more profitable.

When you’ve got multiple sales channels

For example, you might pursue an outbound sales model alongside an inbound sales model.

Outbound sales methods include things like cold calling, email blasts, trade shows, and television ads. They’re proactive, colder tactics. Inbound sales methods tend to be more holistic, with website forms and customers approaching you rather than you approaching them. It makes sense to pursue two different methods of sales, because it gives you a better chance of closing more deals.

In this case, having two different pipelines allows you to set out two different customer journeys for your leads to follow.

When you want to up your post-sales game

In modern sales, customer acquisition isn’t the be all and end all.

Sales used to be a numbers game; the more leads you get through the door, the more deals you can expect to close. That is true and always will be. But as times have changed, social selling is here to stay, markets are more saturated, meaning your lead pool is smaller.

You need a post-sales game plan to increase the value each customer gives your business.

Example. Any estate agent will tell you that a post-sales strategy is vital in the real estate world. One customer can be extremely valuable for a realtor as they buy a house, refer their friends in the area, and use the same estate agent again because it’s somebody they trust. Besides setting out the post-sales cycle for estate agents, a second pipeline also protects sensitive information from anybody who doesn’t need to see it.

When you’re one company, but you sell different products

It doesn’t make sense to have the same pipeline for different products.

After all, different products produce different results; it’s important for your business to fully understand where those results come from. One step in the product journey may need tweaking for one product, but might be perfect for the next. It just makes sense.

Let’s take a look at a SaaS company which provides both a world-beating CRM system for SME businesses as well as an enterprise-level system for big business, but with a whole lot of sales consultancy work thrown in as part of the deal. They need multiple pipelines for their products because one product’s sales cycle is much, much shorter than the other.

In fact, they wouldn’t be able to offer their consultancy product without having implemented a second pipeline. It’s a necessity.

Multiple pipelines for multiple products, multiple sales channels, and for a levelled-up post-sales strategy. Multiple pipelines get your sales teams even more organised, even more effective, and even more profitable. When we consider that NetHunt CRM is just $24 per user per month after a 14-day free trial, multiple pipelines give you a whole lot of bang for your buck.

Essential sales pipeline metrics

The following is a list of the key sales pipeline metrics that a business C-Suite needs to monitor, embrace, and champion as part of their continued quest for growth, revenue, and customer happiness.

A regular sales pipeline review helps answer key questions about your business.

  • What is the total number of opportunities in our pipeline?
  • Does the total value of those opportunities meet our revenue goals?
  • Do we have the resources to close the deals in our pipeline?
  • What percentage of our leads do we close successfully?
  • How many leads do we lose and why?

Read the full list in our article!

There are seven main pipeline metrics that’ll help your business answer these important questions about itself. The following list simply states them, but our in-depth article looks at what each metric tells your business, how to figure them out, and an exact explanation of what each metric is and means. You can read the article here!

  • Total pipeline opportunities
  • Win rate
  • Revenue growth
  • Churn rate
  • Average deal size
  • Average sales cycle
  • Revenue by region

The convenient thing for you is they can all be tracked in CRM. I guess it’s time to start your free 14 day NetHunt CRM trial.

How to identify bottlenecks in a sales pipeline

The health of your sales pipeline is a direct reflection on how much your sales team is selling; how much money your business is making.

Sales pipeline stagnation is a bad thing.

Why your sales pipeline is stagnant and how to fix it
A complete guide to sales pipeline stagnation and all the ways in which you can fix it.

Your sales process needs fixing. Deals aren’t wine, cheese, or George Clooney - they’re the opposite. They get worse over time. They bloat your sales pipeline and prevent focus on the deals that matter, diverting valuable resources from fresher leads who are more likely to convert. So, what causes sales pipeline stagnation?

Low quality leads

Low quality leads block up the sales pipeline by focussing valuable sales rep time on deals that just aren’t going to make the journey down the pipeline.

It should take around the same amount of time for each deal that enters your pipeline to get from one end to the other; to close. To this end, it’s essential to figure out your average sales cycle time to understand whether a pipeline is active and healthy. By making your average sales cycle length common knowledge, you can project, forecast, and plan your sales process.

It’s a key indicator of when your pipeline is all clogged up and stagnant.

Not enough follow-ups

Are you lazy? Or just scared? Your sales pipeline is constipated because you’re not doing the right things to get things moving down it. But we get it, following-up can be daunting.

There is, quite understandably, a lot of hesitancy and trepidation attached to following up. After all,  you’re a really nice person, you don’t want to come across as pushy. But it’s business, baby. You’re going to need to show some steel. Following up is not as hard as you think - just stick to the rules.

  • Reference to or forward your previous correspondence in the follow-up
  • Get the killer subject line spot on. If you’re not sure, head here
  • Keep it as short as necessary - sometimes one sentence is enough
  • Use a time-related trigger word: limited, expiring, soon, deal, now
  • Follow up 3 - 5 days after the original email, no sooner

At the same time, you can build a follow-up culture within your business by setting automated follow-up notifications for reps to get the deal done as soon as they should. Workflows by NetHunt CRM is a versatile, powerful workflow automation platform to automate different tasks.

Read more about workflow automation here!

One-track marketing channels

It’s important to diversify lead generation channels.

Think of it like this, single-channel engagement is like fishing in the same pond for your whole life. Great fish - but supply doesn’t meet demand. To make things worse, there are a bunch of competitors fishing around you, catching the biggest fish. Leads can’t enter a generation platform quick enough for you to generate them. Soon enough, things stagnate; the pond dies.

  • Identify multiple buyer personas for your brand
  • Have a cohesive experience across different marketing channels
  • Automate your multi-channel approach to cover all bases
  • Retarget ads if they fail before
  • Test, report and then test again

Read more about enabling multi-channel marketing for your business.

An unable Sales team

Sales enablements are the tools provided to the sales team to help them close deals faster.

It goes without saying that you should provide the buyer with the resources they want and need to go through the process - but you might not also realise that sales enablements include best practices, research, and tools for the sales team to complete a conversion. Sales enablements accelerate, improve, and effectuate your whole sales process. They help you win more deals, faster.

They're a no-brainer.

  • Use customer testimonials to get to the bottom of what they need
  • Provide prompts for phone calls and demos - not scripts, though
  • Optimise LinkedIn profiles to make yourself look like a big banana
  • Hold regular cross-team meetings to get insight into other areas of this business
  • Product comparisons, educational articles, individual sales decks

Read more about sales enablements here!

Poor objections to objections

Objections happen. Leads have their reasons for being hesitant or just outright saying no. It’s how you deal with them that decides whether a deal goes on to be successful or not. Objections to objections are a three step process. They might still say no, your product might just not be for them, but at least you gave it a good shot, eh?

  1. Anticipate. Have the mechanisms and things to say in place for when an objection does - I hear that. It doesn’t fully integrate with Gmail, that’s why ours costs more. It does.
  2. Validate. Empathise with your lead and meet them in the middle - Yeah we understand it’s hard to implement a new system - our Support team will help all the way!
  3. Follow up. If you don’t have an answer to their objection now, come back when you do - Oh you need this feature? Let me get onto the devs and figure that out.

Further reading

If you want to learn more about the topics we've written about in this article, check out some of our other ones!

  1. How to build an efficient sales pipeline
  2. Multiple sales pipelines: How do they work?
  3. 7 key sales pipeline metrics for C-levels to make better decisions
  4. Why your sales pipeline is stagnant and how to fix it
  5. 6 keys to perfect sales pipeline management
  6. Sales leaders share their tips on how to make sure their pipeline is healthy

You need a CRM sales pipeline because it gets all your business bits in order.

Start your 14 day free NetHunt trial today and book a demo with our Customer Success team. They’ll show you the real value of a well-implemented CRM sales pipeline.

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