Stages of a Sales Pipeline [Infographic] — People First Content
What happens in between attracting a lead and making a sale? Why do some sure leads drop off, and others follow through? What could we do to close more sales?
There are the questions that haunt markers and keep us up at night. So to try to fill in that blank, marketers have created what’s known as a sales pipeline.
A sales pipeline is the pathway to a sale that marketers guide leads through.
It’s critical to an organized marketing effort. Without a data-informed pipeline, you’re essentially throwing darts at a board and wondering why half of them end up hitting the wall or going through a window.
So in this article, we’re going to break down exactly how you define a sales pipeline, what the different stages are, and what you need to focus on!
What Is a Sales Pipeline?
A sales pipeline is a graphical representation of an organization’s customer acquisition process.
It’s the visual story of how Joe Random goes from knowing nothing about your business to becoming your biggest fan.
The chart’s top (or however you choose to orient it) represents new leads or prospects entering the company’s sales funnel. The bottom represents conversions or closed deals.
The stages in between represent different points in the customer relationship cycle during which a company might engage with a lead or prospect, such as contact, qualification, negotiation, etc.
Sales pipeline vs. sales funnel
Some people define sales funnels and pipelines the same way, and they’re not totally wrong. The processes are similar enough that they often get grouped.
Sales funnels refer to the process of converting a lead into a customer by focusing on getting more leads to move through the funnel. Sales pipelines are more about the sales process and its relation to your marketing efforts.
The difference between sales pipelines and sales funnels is that while funnels are what you need to get leads into, pipelines are what you need to turn those leads into customers.
The names are helpful because you can picture a sales funnel pouring into a pipeline.
Why Is Having a Sales Pipeline Important?
As I mentioned earlier, a pipeline is primarily important as a way of organizing and tracking exactly how a customer moves from point A to point B.
A pipeline is a valuable tool for tracking and managing the sales process as it provides a clear view of what stage each opportunity is in. This can be used to:
- Track progress
- Identify bottlenecks
- Set expectations with clients about when they can expect to hear from you again
Once you’ve created your pipeline, you can isolate specific steps and focus on making them more efficient and effective. It can also help shorten the time it takes to make a sale.
Your team might be great at gathering leads. But if those leads aren’t converting into sales, you can check on the pipeline to figure out where you’re losing people.
Sales Pipeline Stages
The graphical representation below is the simplest version of a sales pipeline. You can add more steps depending on your sales process. Some businesses and industries need fewer stages, while others, especially those selling big-ticket items and services, may require more.
A Closer Look
Once you’ve obtained a lead, you need to decide what to do with it. Pursuing leads takes time and money for your business. So qualifying leads is a process of determining how much a lead is worth to your company.
There are many ways to qualify leads, but here are some of the most common:
- The lead is not qualified if they do not fit your target market or don’t have enough money to buy your product.
- If you contact a lead, and they don’t respond after a couple of tries, they are not qualified. (Note: they might become qualified later, so keep their information close by).
- The lead is qualified if they request more information about your product or service.
- The lead is qualified if they consistently interact with your content.
A lead qualification process should be customized for your business and marketing strategy. The process should also be updated as your company changes its goals and objectives.
This step is essentially the sales pitch where you personally communicate the benefits of your product or service and what it can do for the customer.
Hopefully, the previous steps will weed out those who aren’t as interested in your product or service. So at this point, you should spend more time personally interacting with the customer and making sure their questions are answered.
You should address any concerns they may have about purchasing from you by demonstrating why they should buy from you instead of someone else.
That should set you up to make the sale!
Managing Your Pipeline
Sales pipeline management is the process of tracking and managing a sales process from lead generation to conversion. Handling a pipeline uses a step-by-step method comprising several marketing tactics directed at identifying prospects in the market and presenting opportunities for conversion.
Use your pipeline for sales forecasting and planning, forecasting revenue, and evaluating performance.
You can manage your pipeline with marketing automation tools and predictive analytics to create specific targets that are followed through on.
Lastly, a sound pipeline management system will allow you to manage your leads, opportunities, prospects, and deals separately — so that each one can be prioritized appropriately.
Where you need to focus your efforts
Lead generation always is the most important part of any sales process. If you aren’t generating enough leads, then you won’t be able to qualify them and convert them into paying customers.
You should also make sure that you are spending your time wisely. It’s not uncommon for companies to spend more than 50% of their time on lead generation activities. Obtaining quality leads significantly decreases the number you’ll have to sort through in the following few stages.
If, for example, you have to discard many of your leads in the qualification stage, you should examine your lead generation process. Maybe you need to refocus your marketing efforts, refine your messaging, or change where you’re marketing to find people who are more interested in your product.
Read our article ideas on how to attract leads!
After the Pipeline
While these are the steps leading to a sale, there are some loose ends to tie up after making a sale (the drain portion of the pipeline, if you will).
- Post-closing — this stage is when you follow up with customers after they have purchased to make sure they are satisfied.
- Review — you want your customers to give feedback for possible improvements, so make sure you have a way for customers to have a say.
- Referral — this stage happens when the customer refers your company or product to other people, which can be a fantastic way of getting new business.
You have to think about marketing as a journey. Digital marketing has opened up a whole world of possibilities for connecting with customers. And optimizing your sales pipeline is one of the best ways to walk interested potential customers through the process.
A good pipeline starts with high-quality leads. And there’s no better way to find high-quality leads than through content marketing. Content marketing will have interested potential customers seeking you out, saving you time, energy, and resources.
If you’re looking for quality content to draw in customers, People First Content can help! Our team of writers can construct content that matches your brand and attracts the right people. Contact us and start your content journey!