A sales pipeline is a visual representation of the sales process divided into stages. These stages range all the way from sourcing a new lead to delighting a customer post-purchase. Each stage of the pipeline serves its own purpose to further accelerate the conversation toward closing the deal. Yet, creating and managing a sales pipeline is not just about closing one sale. It’s about finding, qualifying, and winning sales opportunities throughout the year and beyond.
As it happens, 63% of sales reps say that their companies are poor at managing their sales pipelines. In today’s ever-developing digital world, sales teams have access to a significant number of resources to help bolster their sales pipeline. Consequently, there are certain sales pipeline tools that help sales reps create, manage, and improve their pipeline throughout all sales stages.
In this article, we’re revealing best practices and tools for all seven sales pipeline stages to maximize sales success.
Why is a sales pipeline important?
Before we dive into the seven stages, let’s discuss why a sales pipeline is crucial to sales success. An effective sales pipeline enables more accurate revenue forecasting, often providing insight beyond 90 days. This enables reps to better predict, on average, when and how long it will take to close a sale. Another important aspect is targeted resource allocation. Understanding which stage of the pipeline an individual prospect is in, helps sales reps better distribute relevant sales materials to that prospect. Moreover, reps can also determine which opportunities are more critical and better prioritize those that will require more time and attention. This enables reps to manage their workload more efficiently.
Additionally, a well-managed pipeline increases total deal volume, size, revenue, and velocity. As a matter of fact, companies with strong pipeline management have an average growth rate of 5.3%. Ultimately, companies without a worthwhile sales pipeline are at a disadvantage and risk losing leads to competitors. Now, let’s take a look at each of the seven sales pipeline stages below.
Stage 1: prospecting and lead generation
The first step in a sales pipeline is to begin prospecting and generating leads. This stage may look different for each company as some may focus on paid advertising, content creation, social media, or other promotional avenues. However, the main goal here is to target your most ideal buyer and attract a large number of leads.
At this stage, sales enablement strategies help sales reps navigate how to best target net-new buyers with the right messaging, content, and tools. Sales enablement technology allows for a seamless prospecting experience. This is because sales reps have all the materials and tools they need right at their fingertips. Now, reps are enabled to go after new prospects with impactful stories and messaging to attract their attention. A CRM helps to organize these efforts and house net-new leads as they’re uncovered. From here, you can manage and track their lead status as they head into Stage 2.
Stage 2: lead qualification
Have you ever heard of the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink?” Even with a great prospecting strategy, not all leads are good leads and some could end up wasting a rep’s valuable time. This is where Stage 2 of the sales pipeline comes in — lead qualification. Lead qualification is the act of determining which prospects are most likely to convert into a customer.
The right sales enablement platform can help sales reps qualify and track sales leads with analytics. Sales reps can see in real-time where their prospects currently are in the sales pipeline. This enables sales reps to gain deep insight as to the content that leads have already engaged with and see which types of content resonated with the prospect based on time viewed, click-through rates, and other interactions. Based on these insights plus characteristics like job title, company size, industry, and more, you’ll be able to understand how to best qualify new leads at this stage quicker and quicker over time.
Stage 3: demonstration or meeting
Stage 3 is truly where the fun begins. At this point in the sales pipeline, sales reps must provide proof that the product actually does what the sales material claims and offers a solution to the prospect’s acute and unique needs. But how can sales reps create such an impactful demonstration or presentation during the meeting that will motivate leads to purchase? You want to make your prospect feel engaged with an interactive and personalized presentation.
Through our years of experience, we know that interactive sales content can be up to 25% more effective in communicating a message than traditional presentations. The right sales enablement tools will unlock potential in a sales meeting to narrow in on exactly what your buyer is interested in seeing, like product variations specific to their use case. Take a look at the video below showcasing an interactive presentation in action.
Once the sales rep believes the prospect is ready to receive a proposal, it’s time for Stage 4.
Reminder: Multiple touchpoints, meetings, demos, and many conversations may take place before Stage 4. Sales enablement tools like interactive and dynamic presentations unlock the greatest potential in every buyer interaction at this stage.
Stage 4: proposal
If you’ve done your job right and “wowed” your buyer in the demo, your buyer will be ready to see a proposal! Stage 4 of the sales pipeline is creating and sending a proposal. When drafting a proposal, be sure to summarize just how your company addresses the prospect’s needs and delivers enough value to offset the initial cost of purchasing. Additionally, create a personalized proposal relevant to each individual prospect to ensure they each know you understand their needs and how your service will bring them value. Don’t forget to state the competitive advantages that make you stand out from your competition.
For effective sales pipeline management, it’s also important to determine which tool will be most beneficial when sending out a proposal. For example, a great sales enablement platform will allow you to integrate your email account with the platform itself. This enables sales reps to increase sales velocity by not having to switch back and forth between multiple digital tools like an email account and a sales enablement platform. Instead, the rep is able to send the proposal via their work email address directly through the sales platform. In addition, sales enablement technology will also deliver engagement analytics, letting reps know if the prospect opened the email and whether or not they engaged with the provided content. Based on these results, the sales rep is better able to determine if the prospect is ready to purchase.
Stages 5 & 6: commitment and opportunity won
Stages 5 and 6 of the sales pipeline cover the prospect making a commitment to the company and then following through by completing the purchase. Often, during these stages, a prospect may need a final push that truly illustrates the value they’re likely to gain by purchasing from your company.
One incredible way to make this type of impression is to use ROI calculators. ROI calculators present prospects with a highly personalized and extremely detailed view of how beneficial a company’s solution is as it caters to their problems. Primarily, an ROI calculator enables sales reps to focus on a prospect’s main pain point and illustrate the value of the solution. Take a look at the video below depicting an ROI calculator where the prospect is determining how many coffee machines are needed to satisfy their employees.
Furthermore, when creating strategies for your sales pipeline, use sales enablement technology that can include interactive calculators in presentations
Stage 7: post-purchase
Woohoo! You’ve reached Stage 7 of the sales pipeline. Your prospect has made a purchase and your job is done. Wrong! It’s imperative that sales reps provide a seamless hand-off to the customer success team to ensure onboarding is smooth and continues to delight the customer. Keep in mind, the quality of the customer experience often determines whether a customer will return and make another purchase. Great sales reps are always searching for opportunities to upsell. So, be sure to regularly check in with customer success to monitor your customer’s progress post-purchase. There may just be a chance for you to make a repeat customer out of them!
Creating and managing a sales pipeline is no easy feat. However, with smart sales enablement strategies in place, sales reps can focus on high priority leads, increase sales velocity, and close more deals. Knowing the seven stages of the sales pipeline is only half the battle. You must also put these methods into action and enable your sales team to use the right tools and become more proactive in their sales strategy. Interested to learn more about how Prezentor can help improve your sales pipeline?
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