One of the most comprehensive elements of any sales strategy in any business is the sales pipeline. A sales pipeline represents the steps and stages your prospects need to go through towards conversion and eventual brand advocacy and loyalty. The pipeline, therefore, needs to support all the stages of the buyer’s journey, and perfectly complement your sales funnel.
The sales funnel, which often gets confused for the sales pipeline, is actually a visual representation of the volume of prospects that move through your pipeline. The funnel narrows down as the prospects move through it, meaning that only a handful will convert at the end of the sales process.
For your funnel to be as successful as possible and produce the best sales outcomes, you need to support it with sales pipeline management. With all of that in mind, here are the top tips you can start using right now to manage your sales pipeline like a pro and convert more leads into loyal customers.
- It all starts with meticulous forecasting
Sales forecasting is a process that aims to determine a company’s expected sales revenue with a high degree of accuracy. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While maximizing sales revenue is the end goal, a sales forecast will encompass all the industry, market, consumer, competitive, and internal data necessary to create a comprehensive overview of sales expectations, supply and demand, and much more.
It should go without saying that a strong attention to sales forecasting is crucial for short, mid, and long-term pipeline management as well. A detailed sales forecast allows sales experts and business leaders to not only manage inventory properly, but on a broader scale to optimize their growth models and make data-driven decisions.
When it comes to the pipeline, however, a detailed forecast will allow leaders to optimize every step and action across the sales pipeline and the customer’s journey. Using the right data from these reports allows you to assign the right actions and steps for:
Once you have a comprehensive overview of the trends and the expected results for the short, mid, and long-term timeframe, you can start aligning the pipeline with the sales funnel.
- Align your sales funnel with your sales pipeline
As we’ve mentioned before, a sales funnel is not the same as a sales pipeline, but the two often get confused or are used as synonyms. In reality, your sales pipeline represents all the actions you and your sales experts take to guide prospects on their journey and through your funnel towards conversion and retention.
Both the sales funnel and the sales pipeline have their stages, and it should go without saying that getting as many bottom of the funnel leads as possible is the best way to convert people quickly. That said, the vast majority of your leads will start at the top of the funnel, of course, and using the steps and tactics in your pipeline, you will be guiding them towards a successful purchase.
While the steps of a sales pipeline might vary from company to company and depending on their unique goals and circumstances, a sales funnel is almost always the same:
As the prospect moves through each of these stages, they need to be supported by specific sales-oriented actions. You need to have a detailed sales pipeline template to outline the right messaging, content, tools, and tactics for these stages. Because remember - you can’t approach a customer in the Awareness stage with a proposal.
- Automate the menial and repetitive processes
Automation is a big part of sales in the modern business world, and when implemented properly it can bring numerous benefits to the table. For one, automation in sales is important for the purpose of saving money and time, but it’s also essential for shortening the sales cycle, keeping teams synced, and delivering value to leads and long-term customers on a continuous basis.
Automation is permeating the sales sector as a whole regardless of the industry, with online retailers using ecommerce automation software to automate everything from inventory management all the way to drip campaigns, promotions, and beyond. In the SaaS field, on the other hand, automation is more geared towards lead generation and nurturing campaigns, delivering optimized content that adds value to the product and the brand in order to help the customer make a positive decision.
The overarching goals of automation are the same, however - to reduce time waste, enhance productivity, minimize customer effort, and boost sales efficiency overall.
- Master the art of the follow-up
Throughout the sales pipeline, your sales experts will reach out to prospects with personalized messaging to inspire interaction and engagement, and to keep nurturing leads. As soon as you get your first interested reply from a potential customer, you need to kick-start your follow-up strategy.
A follow-up strategy can encompass various communication methods, from emails to DMs and even phone calls. That said, sending out a follow-up sales email and kick-starting an email-based drip campaign is one of the best ways to open and maintain a direct line of communication with your qualified leads.
Email is a direct communication tool that’s not intrusive but delivers a lot of value to the recipient. Following up with prospects and making sure you’re supporting their journey based on where they are in the sales funnel is a surefire way to nurture them towards conversion.
That said, following up is not just about making the sale, it’s also about nurturing customers to become loyal brand followers. You want people to keep coming back for more, so make sure to use email follow-ups to keep delivering valuable content, messaging, and promotions to your long-term customers.
- Ensure you get the full support of your brand
Building a powerful, trustworthy brand is the foundation of your company’s success in a competitive market. From building a reputable employer brand to attracting the top talent in your field, all the way to supporting every stage of the sales cycle, having a trustworthy brand image is one of the best ways to support your marketing, sales, and other processes.
That’s why it’s so important to continuously manage your online reputation to make sure your brand is seen in the best possible light. When it comes to supporting your sales experts and the sales pipeline, your brand’s reputation will be an invaluable tool at every stage of the process.
Whether you are reaching out to new leads who are still in the Awareness stage or if your sales experts are trying to close a prospect who is considering making a purchase, having your brand’s reputation to support you will make a world of difference. Because remember, people will research your brand at every stage of their journey in order to validate their decision to buy from you and to make sure that you are a trusted name in the industry.
- Prioritize your leads and personalize your approach
There are many reasons why prospect prioritization is important. For one, you need to prioritize leads in order to allocate resources towards the ones with a high chance of converting, which will allow you to stop wasting resources on low-value prospects. On the other hand, prioritization in the pipeline allows sales experts to minimize the risk of missing out on a lead that’s ready to convert, and it keeps your CRM and sales tools synced.
When you prioritize leads, you can create a conversion timeline for each, and use personalized sales presentation templates for different leads and different stages of the funnel, ensuring that the right messaging reaches the right person at the right time. But personalization and resource allocation aside, prioritization is an organic way to simply let the bad leads churn on their own.
This is because when you prioritize, you get a unique perspective on which leads are worth pursuing and which leads are a waste of time and money. In an attempt to sell as much as possible, sales experts will sometimes lose sight of this, so making them prioritize is a great way to keep them on track.
- Close high-value deals with intricate designs
Closing high-value clients demands extraordinary effort from the sales team, and it requires that you go above and beyond to convince a decision maker to sign. This process can take months, and during that time your sales experts will meet with high-value prospects numerous times with new plans, strategies, deals, personalized solutions, and more.
The sales cycle will encompass everything from pitching the product to revising the solution for the client’s unique requirements, and that requires more than a simple PPT presentation. Sales experts will often need to work with advanced tools such as a 3D model maker or a data visualization tool to present intricate ideas, create physical prototypes and mock-ups, and deliver high-value pitches to potential clients.
This is the kind of sales experience that the clients who are ready and willing to pay top dollar want to get. With that in mind, always make sure to have high-quality visual aids for every stage of the pipeline to support your sales pitches and meetings.
- Use email to convert and nurture
We talked about email in the follow-up section above, and it’s important to note that while email is one of the best follow-up tools, it’s also instrumental for those marketing processes that support your sales strategy. Always keep in mind that marketing and sales need to work together, and use the same CRM, to support each other and maximize the conversion potential of every lead.
Email also plays a crucial role throughout the sales pipeline and the sales funnel, helping you build awareness, nurture leads, convert them into paying customers, and turn them into loyal brand followers. Each of these stages requires a unique email strategy, so running an email marketing audit regularly is important to make sure your marketing and sales departments are in sync with their messaging.
The marketing department will support your sales email communication by curating the content they send out to every lead, depending on where they are in their journey. By constantly delivering valuable content, free materials, and messaging, your leads will move more smoothly through the pipeline, making your sales experts’ jobs much easier.
- Support their journey with curated content
Speaking of delivering valuable content, keep in mind that there are other ways to support and guide customers towards conversion. When people are at that stage where they are getting interested in your brand and what you’re selling, or when they’re comparing their options, your sales staff can start delivering free content and materials that will educate the customer and address their questions and pain points.
Value-driven content, regardless of how you deliver it, should support all the stages of the buyer’s journey in a format outlined by the pipeline. Remember, your pipeline will outline the ways you should communicate with leads and it should tell you what kind of messaging and content are best for them at a specific stage.
This doesn’t mean that you should bombard them with emails and DMs, though - it means that marketing and sales should coordinate to keep warming up the leads. For example, after a meeting with one of your sales reps, the prospect should get an email with valuable materials that are specific to what they talked about in the meeting.
If the prospect is at the Consideration stage, then the free material should be in the form of educational content that compares different options on the market, with a clear value proposition for your products and brand. This will set up the next meeting nicely and will support the prospect in their decision to buy.
Over to you
Building, optimizing, and managing a sales pipeline is essential for the long-term success of your sales strategy. A well-managed pipeline allows you to automate repetitive processes, shorten the sales cycle, and bring all the elements of a winning sales process together to delight your customers and inspire them to keep coming back.
Now that you have these best practices in your sales toolbox, go ahead and create a more powerful pipeline that will convert more leads in 2023 and beyond.