Whether you know it or not, you’re using a sales pipeline already. Congratulations, you’re a pro.
You don’t have to be a career salesperson in order to develop a sales pipeline. In fact, virtually every sale maps to a sales pipeline, whether intentionally or not. That’s because sales pipelines organically adhere to whatever sales tactics and processes you’ve already established. And they’re super easy to build.
Although not advised, you can even analyze a particularly serendipitous sale and edit your sales pipeline and processes so that your future sales are more like that one.
🤫 Here’s what they don’t tell you:
Sales pipelines are always changing, always morphing, and it’s impossible to nail it on your first try. Creating a sales process is more like perfecting a recipe. Every time you implement it, you see what works and what doesn’t and refine it little by little.
It’s not math, it’s science.
What is a sales pipeline?
A sales pipeline, in its simplest form, is the series of ordered steps that a prospect travels through on their journey to becoming a customer. Sales pipelines are defined by stages, which are loose categories that define how the prospect should be interacted with.
The way you and your salespeople interact with a prospect, based on pipeline stages, is called a sales process.
Sales pipelines vary from business to business, and even from product to product, and are meant to serve as a way of knowing which route is the best route a prospect can take to become a customer. It's also easy to analyze a sales pipeline and determine which stages need more fine-tuning based on how easily prospects convert between specific stages.
For instance, if about 25% of prospects make it to each next stage, except only 10% make it through the pitching stage, it might mean that your pitch requires some work, or maybe there are other details that aren't being properly addressed leading up to this stage.
So to summarize, the sales pipeline is a series of stages, and the sales process is a series of actions that correspond to each pipeline stage.
Common sales pipeline stages
No two sales pipelines are identical, but a lot of them are similar. 😏 Here’s a straightforward example that most successful sales pipelines are built upon:
The qualification stage is where you, your company, your salespeople, etc., are determining whether or not a prospect is even a good fit for your product or service. In the olden days, before CRMs, this was basically asking someone, “Hiya pal, can I interest you in a fountain pen?”
It’s a bit more tactful these days, but the qualification stage really serves to save you time, because trying to pitch your product or service to someone who’s not interested will only hurt you in the long run.
After 2020, this stage became mostly virtual. The meeting stage exists for the prospect to get a good, personalized look at what your product, service, or offer really does. Most of the time, this can be accomplished during a Zoom meeting or a phone call.
The meeting stage is also the point in your sales pipeline where video demos and webinars come into play. Especially for online businesses and b2b sales models, pre-recorded videos are an excellent way to consolidate all the questions that a prospect typically asks, and answer them upfront in a constructive way.
If (and only if) a prospect is a good fit, the pitching stage is where you demonstrate your solution. The goal is to generate a bit of interest, and your sales process should be thoughtfully crafted in order to do this as best as possible.
Remember that this stage is a two-way conversation with the prospect, and it’s important to invite them to share questions and objections so you can learn how to serve them better. And if you’re trying something new, their feedback will directly inform your sales process, so that your pitch keeps getting better and better for future prospects.
The closing pipeline stage is the stage wherein the actual deal is negotiated. Any last-minute questions will need to be answered by you or your sales team, and a contract or bill will be sent to the prospect for signing.
The sales pipeline versus a sales process
Although often used interchangeably, the big difference is:
- A sales pipeline is the set of stages that a prospect travels through.
- A sales process is the set of actions you take for each stage.
- Each stage in the sales pipeline warrants its own sales process steps.
Remember, your prospect works their way through the pipeline, and you work your way through the sales process. The process serves as a tactical playbook of sales techniques that help get the prospect through the pipeline more effectively.