In discussions of business growth and lead generation, you’ll likely hear the words “sales pipeline” being thrown around a lot. It may sound like just another buzzword to work into your corporate vocabulary, but it’s important to understand what it means and how to build it. This will lead to sustainable and predictable results and yield a more significant ROI.
Throughout this blog, we’ll answer these questions:
What Is a Sales Pipeline?
A sales pipeline is a list of businesses in your target market that you’d potentially like to sign on for your company’s products or services to generate more revenue. These lists of businesses you have compiled in the sales pipeline are referred to as prospects.
To move prospects through the sales pipeline, sales development representatives (SDRs) must contact them via email, phone call, or another communication channel and aim to convert them into a sales opportunity, or, better yet, a customer. While building a sales pipeline may seem like a simple process, it’s not easy. It takes a lot of time, dedication, resources, and reframing of your business growth strategy to engage prospects and persuade them to believe your product or service is beneficial for their business.
While any business can attempt to build a sales pipeline, many understand how large the undertaking is, and the thousands of consistent touches and messaging that has to be delivered to sustain it and achieve predictable results. To get the most out of your sales pipeline, it’s important that your SDR teams put work into it every day to keep prospects engaged. Additionally, it’s vital to make adjustments to your sales development process to generate better results each month.
Why Is Developing a Sales Pipeline Strategy Important?
Having a sales pipeline isn’t enough to get the results you want. You must also develop a sales pipeline strategy to move prospects through each stage of the sales funnel effectively. With a strong sales pipeline strategy in place, you have the opportunity to secure high-quality sales appointments with qualified prospects who are ready to buy.
Many B2B industries often have slow seasons. A sales pipeline strategy empowers small to medium-sized businesses to keep revenue consistent and predictable month after month, so you always know what new sales opportunities (and customers) are on the horizon. Additionally, it gives you the chance to forecast sales, giving you a more secure understanding of where your company will be financially in the upcoming months or the following year.
What Are the Core Sales Pipeline Stages?
When it comes down to it, there are six core sales pipeline stages that sales development teams should follow to maximize their business growth efforts:
Stage 1: Identifying Your Target Market and Ideal Sales Opportunities
What does your ideal sales opportunity look like to you? Before jumping into your outbound lead generation strategy, your SDR and marketing teams must have a consensus on what kind of business you want to target and generate appointments with.
Determining your target market is essential for getting the sales opportunities you want. As you look into your target marketing, consider the following:
- The region you want to target
- The industries you want to partner with
- The type of decision-maker you want to pitch
- The number of full-time employees they have
- The amount of revenue they generate annually
- And more
As you think about your target market, it’s important to be as specific as possible to ensure your SDRs set your account executives up with meetings likely to result in closed business. When you target anyone interested in buying, you risk low-quality sales meetings that could present a negative ROI.
Stage 2: Building Your Prospecting Pipeline
After pinpointing your ideal sales opportunities, it’s time to start building your prospecting pipeline. Prospects don’t just magically appear in the sales pipeline, which is why your SDR team must find prospective businesses that meet your ideal customer profile (ICP).
While there are many ways to get potential buyers implemented in your sales pipeline, many SDR and marketing teams get outbound prospects and inbound leads by:
- Purchasing prospecting databases
- Practicing outbound outreach (such as cold calling and emailing)
- Sending LinkedIn connections
- Writing buyer-focused web content
- Distributing engaging social content
- Asking for client referrals
- Networking with businesses at trade shows
Stage 3: Connecting With Potential Buyers
Ready to start putting your sales pipeline into action? This stage of the sales process is where your SDRs reach out to potential buyers and introduce them to your company.
As mentioned, SDRs can connect with prospects by sending sales emails or making phone calls. The first point of contact an SDR has with a prospect should aim to introduce them to your company and the products and services you have to offer.
More often than not, a decision-maker isn’t ready to make a purchase after the first conversation with an SDR. However, an SDR’s first conversation with a prospect sets the framework for a potential B2B partnership. If they’re ready to schedule a sales meeting after the first point of contact, great! However, if they’re not, your SDRs must verify their contact information so they can send them relevant marketing collateral, boosting top-of-mind awareness.
When you consistently follow up with these prospects, you have the opportunity to expand on relationship building questions, such as:
- “How often do you reevaluate contracts with your product or service providers?”
- “What’s important to you when considering hiring a product or service provider?”
- “When does your company determine the budget for this product or service?”
Asking these types of questions encourages a follow-up conversation between the prospect and the SDR. Therefore, when they call back in the future, they have the ability to build more trust in the relationship.
Stage 4: Practicing Lead Qualification
Lead qualification is essential for ensuring SDRs chase leads that meet your ideal customer profile. Without a lead qualification strategy in place, your SDRs risk wasting valuable time and setting account executives up with sales meetings that have no opportunity to convert into closed business.
Lead qualification is the process of verifying a prospect meets your company’s predetermined sales criteria. Once an outbound prospect is qualified, they’re labeled as a qualified prospect. Lead qualification criteria looks different for every business, depending on the industry they serve. For example, lead qualification could include having a certain number of full-time employees or over an amount of annual revenue generated. This should be confirmed during the first stage of the sales pipeline.
Lead qualification also involves verifying a company decision-maker’s information. As your SDRs qualify leads, it’s important that they gather their:
- Job title
- Email address
- Direct phone number
Asking the prospect about their professional contact information is vital to ensure sales and marketing content is sent to the individual responsible for making financial decisions regarding your company’s product or service. After the lead is qualified, they’re directed into a lead nurturing campaign to continue adding value to your business.
Stage 5: Nurturing Relationships With Potential Customers
Many leads in the sales pipeline remain in the lead nurturing stage for most of their time in the sales cycle. This is because, more often than not, it takes a lot of time for decision-makers to build trust with a company. Additionally, they need time to weigh their options and explore what’s in the best interest of their company.
This stage is essential to having a sustainable sales pipeline because it helps your SDRs and marketing provide top-of-mind awareness. Lead nurturing is the process of sending follow-up sales emails and making warm calls to prospects who aren’t ready to buy yet, but will be in the future. With a lead nurturing strategy in place, your SDR and marketing teams have the opportunity to continuously add value to your company and capture the right leads at the right time.
Many sales teams struggle with lead nurturing because they don’t know how frequently to follow up with leads or what platforms to engage with them on. As your lead generation experts nurture leads in the sales pipeline, they must use various communication channels. This could include sending lead nurturing emails, making warm phone calls, or engaging with them online through professional networking platforms like LinkedIn.
While using a wide range of platforms for lead nurturing is important, so is selecting the right approach based on the prospect’s buyer persona. For example, if you see that one of your buyer personas is engaging most with email marketing content, this lead nurturing method should be your primary source for setting sales appointments. However, just because this is the case now doesn’t mean it’ll stay this way. It’s crucial that you stay up to date on your campaign data to see where most of your impact lies.
Stage 6: Securing Sales Meetings With Verified Decision-Makers
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for—setting the sales appointment. Once your prospects have been qualified and your SDRs have consistently provided value to them through lead nurturing, it’s time to schedule a meeting between them and an account executive.
As your sales reps schedule appointments with qualified leads, it’s important that they set an agenda for the meeting. Setting an agenda for the meeting gives the prospect something to look forward to and reduces the risk of a no-show meeting. Additionally, it empowers your account executives to present them with a pitch deck that’s customized to their needs.
When your account executives prepare for the meeting with the sales opportunity, it’s important that they craft a pitch deck that aligns with what they’re looking for in a product or service provider. This presentation should focus on their pain points and how your company can provide them with relief. It should put them at the forefront of the conversation, showing that you’re here to present them with a solution that benefits them and their business.
What Are Ways To Advance Your Sales Pipeline Management?
Not getting the results you want from your lead generation efforts? Luckily, there are ways to approach your lead generation strategy. If you want to advance your sales pipeline management, you must:
Reconsider How You Move Leads Through Each Stage of the Sales Funnel
If you want to build and sustain a strong sales pipeline, it’s vital that your pipeline management process is seamless and easy to understand by everyone who’s working on your lead generation efforts. One way you can productively move leads through each stage of the sales funnel is by using your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform to keep track of each lead and where they’re at in their buying cycle.
Using your CRM for lead generation gives each department involved in the process the ability to have a 360-degree view of the types of leads you’re targeting and how to move them effectively to the next stage of the sales funnel. This empowers your SDR and marketing teams to pitch the right leads at the right time, reducing the amount of time they spend in the sales cycle.
Explore How You Measure the Success of Your Lead Generation Strategy
How are you measuring the success of your lead generation strategy? From the number of appointments set? The number of qualified prospects in the sales pipeline? The amount of revenue generated from your lead generation efforts?
If your SDRs aren’t setting your account executives up with high-converting sales meetings, you may need to explore the way you measure the success of your business growth efforts. When you reevaluate what success looks like to your business, it’s important to relay this information to your SDR and marketing teams so they better understand what to do to achieve the desired results. If they can’t reach the goals you have set for them, it’s important that you engage with them and explore where there may be issues in the sales process so your business can close more deals with qualified prospects.
Think About the Customer Journey and How You Target Leads
While you may think you have a solid sales process in place, it’s important to consider the customer journey. Are leads engaging with your content? Are they frequently unsubscribing from your email blasts? If you have a low open rate and high unsubscribe rate, it may be worth considering how often you send emails or make follow-up calls—you don’t want to scare them away with too-salesy content.
Additionally, it’s essential to consider the type of content you send to target leads. For example, if a lead is in the awareness stage of the sales cycle, you must send content highlighting their pain points and what can be done to solve them. However, if a lead is in the decision-making stage of the buyer’s journey, you must distribute content that showcases your company as a trusted leader in the industry. This increases the likelihood of them opening and engaging with your sales emails. Furthermore, it empowers your marketing teams to obtain more accurate lead scores and retarget leads based on their engagement with your emails, a sales and marketing concept known as behavioral targeting.
Use Various Platforms to Nurture Relationships With Qualified Prospects
As mentioned, using various platforms to nurture relationships with qualified prospects is important. While you should select your primary lead nurturing method based on the prospect’s buyer persona, using an array of channels is vital to ensure you catch them at the right time.
When you do too much lead nurturing through a single platform, you risk turning them off from your company because they believe you’re trying to spam their inbox or blow up their phone lines. However, when you implement a little bit of everything from emails to warm calls to LinkedIn prospecting, your sales reps have the opportunity to continuously add value to the relationship between the prospect and your business.
Outsource Your B2B Sales and Marketing Efforts to a Third-Party Provider
Today, more businesses choose to outsource their sales development and marketing efforts to third-party lead generation companies. Building a sales pipeline is a lot of hard work, and many small to medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources or expertise to sustain it for the long haul. Keeping a sales pipeline up and running requires constant action, and the work is never entirely done, which is why it’s vital that you put work into it every day.
Outsourcing your sales development efforts empowers growing businesses to spend more time focusing on everyday operations. Additionally, it’s much more cost-effective to outsource your lead generation efforts. When you add up all the sales team members’ salaries, benefits, comp plans, and expensive sales tools, you risk negatively impacting your company’s bottom line. However, when you outsource, you have access to an entire sales development team and the technology you need to find prospects and effectively move them through the sales pipeline.
Before you jump headfirst into hiring an outsourced sales enablement agency, you must ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s my long-term goal with sales outsourcing?
- How involved do I want to be with sales enablement?
- How much do I want to spend on my business growth efforts?
- What sales tools do I need to build and maintain my sales pipeline?
- What do I consider a “successful” lead generation program?
- How do I want to approach potential buyers in my target market?
Asking these questions before signing with an outsourced sales and marketing agency gives you better insight into what you want from your lead generation program. Additionally, it allows you to determine what you want from a third-party sales or marketing partner, giving you the chance to weed out potential business growth companies that don’t meet your expectations.
f you want to consistently bring in new business opportunities, it’s important that you build a sales pipeline full of prospects and take action to qualify and nurture them until they’re ready to buy. Sustaining a sales pipeline isn’t an easy process. However, when it’s done correctly, you have the opportunity to consistently grow your business. Additionally, you can see what new sales opportunities you have on the horizon, allowing you to forecast what revenue you have coming in.
At Sapper Consulting, we help growing B2B companies around the United States accelerate their business growth processes by helping them build a sales pipeline full of prospects and building relationships with them until they’re at the end of their buying cycle. When you’re ready to put your lead generation efforts in the hands of industry-leading sales development and marketing experts, contact Sapper Consulting!