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Sales - 9 min READ

How to build your first sales pipeline

Build your first sales pipeline for the sales pipeline process

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Author photo: Suzanne Scacca

Suzanne Scacca


As a sales leader, you know that your sales team is full of talented individuals who can navigate through the sales funnel. When it comes to selling your product or service, there’s no one better to do it than a sales rep.

Even so, if you don’t have a repeatable process in place—that’s guaranteed to drive more conversions—their approach to sales could become unpredictable and unwieldy for a sales funnel, which you could notice in a sales pipeline review.

Your team might be skilled in closing the sale during the sales process, but it’s your job as a sales leader to help them navigate roadblocks that pop up before they get to that point.

When you create a sales pipeline that accounts for common stumbling blocks, you can effectively reduce the chances of them negatively affecting sales in the long run—and we’re not just talking total sales made. Good sales pipelines can also speed up the sales cycle and sales pipeline process, so your team can comfortably add more prospects to the pipeline.

This guide will take you through the steps of creating a sales pipeline that your team will be excited to adopt.

How to build a sales pipeline that works for sales pipeline management

You already provide your sales team with helpful resources to close deals at the end of sales pipeline stages for revenue growth: workflow documentation, sales scripts, and other written resources.

These are essential tools that save your salespeople from having to recreate the wheel in a sales cycle while also ensuring that they take a consistent approach to implementing your processes.

But that’s just it: These resources tell them which steps to take towards a sale, and potentially do a sales forecast. They don’t help them visualize what’s happening in the scheme of the sales process.

Why does that matter with sales activity and revenue growth? Well, think about it like this:

John B. has a $25,000 goal this quarter. He currently has three deals he’s working on.

  • He has a meeting with Prospect A tomorrow to discuss a sales opportunity.
  • He’s working on writing a proposal for Prospect B on Thursday.
  • He’s pretty sure that Prospect C would be interested if only he could find the right decision-maker to connect with. He’ll do that Friday.

John is looking at these opportunities as steps he has to take this week, instead of how they fit within the scope of meeting and exceeding this quarter’s goals.

There’s a task management method called the Big Rocks. Basically, it says that you should always prioritize the “big rocks” over the “pebbles” and “sand” that fill your work day (or, in the case of the metaphor, your bowl).

When your sales team is left to pick and choose which tasks they work on for a sales activity, there’s a good chance they’ll go for the low-hanging fruit that seems easier.

In turn, your sales flow will stagnate as none of the hard work to progress prospects through the pipeline gets done.

This is why you should build a sales pipeline for your team.

If your team can better visualize open opportunities for sales performance and how their actions directly affect their movement towards a sale, they’ll be more motivated to take on those big rocks.

Sales pipelines:

  • Visually break up your process for great sales performance into logical phases.
  • Place each prospect within the context of the pipeline, giving your sales reps clear guidance for what to do next.
  • Notify your salespeople as well as yourself when something gets jammed up in the pipeline.
  • Fill your reps’ plates with more prospects as it’s easier to see how much they have to work on in any given day (since phases and timelines become predictable).
  • Accurately predict the likelihood of a closed sale during a sales stage for a strong conversion rate.

There’s a lot of good that can come out of building a sales pipeline. Now, you just need to do it the right way.

1. Set up your CRM to manage the sales pipeline.

While you could keep track of your sales pipeline using a spreadsheet, in order to be a successful sales manager, you and your team will miss out on the benefits of automation and workflow optimization that come with using a CRM which can help with a sales forecast and your conversion rate.

Copper’s pipeline management tool, for example, takes a lot of the work off of sales organizations’ shoulders with:

  • Multiple pipelines - Break your target users into logical subgroups. Then create custom pipelines and corresponding stages for each.
  • Drag-and-drop pipelines - Ready to move Prospect A from the Scoping stage to Proposal Sent? Simply drag them over with one click. See how it looks in Copper:
  • Real-time visibility - Has productivity slowed? Are sales quotas not being met? Your CRM’s pipeline will instantly show where the blockage is.
  • Timeline management - If you want to accurately forecast sales, your team needs to be working within the preset timelines established for each stage. When they’re on the verge of missing or exceeding a benchmark, you’ll be notified.
  • Velocity control - Visualization of the pipeline allows you to make critical decisions about adding new sales opportunities to your workflow.
  • Agile reporting - In-depth and filterable reporting helps improve the agility of your organization as well.

2. Define the key stages.

One of the problems with using workflow documentation in sales is that it can make the process seem much more cumbersome than it really is.

It’s not that your sales reps don’t need to do all of those steps. (They do.) However, when you lay out a process across dozens of steps, the whole thing can appear overwhelming.

With a sales pipeline, you simplify the process into logical stages.

For example:

  1. Project discovery - Perform initial research and data collection.
  2. Scoping - Plan the solution and implementation of it.
  3. Proposal sent - Send essential details to the prospect and frame the solution within the context of their pain.
  4. Negotiation - Answer prospect’s questions and ease their concerns.
  5. Close - The prospect accepts and moves to onboarding or rejects it and is put aside for future follow-up.

Sales pipelines will vary for different organizations, especially if your sales cycles run longer, so don’t feel as though you have to compress yours to a process as simple as the one above.

When you’re ready, add the sales pipeline to your CRM. Start by naming the “Opportunity”. Then, set up the stages that belong within it.

Next, you’re going to fill in other pertinent details that’ll help with forecasting the close rates on this pipeline and the probability of hitting your goals.

3. Determine stage lengths.

As your salespeople add new prospects to the pipeline, it’s not enough to know which stage they’re in.

Historically, different stages take longer than others to complete.

For example, the project discovery, scoping, and proposal phases might not take that long since they’re research-intensive. The negotiation and close phases, on the other hand, might take longer than expected.

By setting a target timeline for each stage, your sales reps will know when to actively engage with prospects throughout the process.

That’s the beauty of a sales pipeline. Because reps can visualize the full lifecycle of a sale, they’ll be able to see when a prospect received a proposal and more easily predict when they’re likely to hear back from them.

By adding estimated turnarounds to your CRM’s pipeline, you have the added advantage of automating reminders so your sales reps never forget to follow up.

If your CRM doesn’t automatically send a notification to reps as the end of a stage approaches, you can integrate it with a tool like Zapier.

This page will walk you through the steps to work with the Zapier integration in Copper.

4. Identify stage completion rates.

One last thing to do before automating your sales pipelines is to identify average stage completion rates. More specifically, you want to know how many opportunities you have to fill each stage with in order to guarantee a certain number of sales at the end of the period.

For example:

For every 30 proposals that are sent, 15 prospects ask to negotiate while five instantly send their approval. The rest go quiet.

If you know how each stage will go on to fill ensuing stages, you can manipulate each sales rep’s individual pipeline so they’re always the “perfect” amount of busy and working towards realistically hitting their goals.

Luckily enough, CRMs should be able to handle those calculations for you—in Copper, there's the Win Probability Percent tool.

Obviously, the earlier stages will be less likely to convert, so they’ll have a lower win probability percentage rate. As you get into the final stages, however, those percentages should be significantly higher.

That’s the whole reason why you defined stages in the first place. You know that it takes your team a certain amount of time and sets of actions to close the sale. If they can get it done in an earlier stage, that’s great. But that’s why you have these percentages.

As you set up new opportunities in your CRM, use your sales data to set win probability rates for each stage.

This will not only help you predict the probability of hitting sales goals, but also motivate your reps to keep moving opportunities through the pipeline.

5. Establish a routine to manage and monitor your pipeline.

With your sales pipeline mapped out and a CRM to handle the tough parts, all you have to do now is to create a routine to manage and monitor it all.

For example, Copper has a report that shows activities completed by everyone on your team:

Luckily, a CRM will notify you when a sales opportunity is about to go off the rails and automated reports will inform you about the overall health of your sales pipeline. Just remember to set up the rules and automations within your CRM so that you get this information in an email or in the app.

With your sales pipeline mapped out and a CRM to handle the tough parts, all you have to do now is to create a routine to manage and monitor it all.

As you can imagine, this makes your job easier and a lot less stressful as you’re not constantly working to put out fires or rushing to get new opportunities into the pipeline.

Instead, you can proactively take steps to improve your sales team’s project load and goal management.

One other thing to think about is training your sales team to do the same. If they use the pipeline correctly, they can focus more on relationship-building and nurturing prospects to conversion.

They should also get in the habit of checking the pipeline once a day to ensure that stages are properly filled and balanced, and that all opportunities remain on their predictable tracks. Pipelines that aren’t maintained won’t be of much use to either your team or you.

And if they find that something’s askew? The centralization of the sales pipeline in your CRM will help them work with their teammates to rebalance the workload.

Voila! Your first sales pipeline is now ready.

Sales management isn't always easy. Thankfully, you’re now working in a time where abundant data is within reach and easy enough to manipulate on your own.

With a robust data set, sales pipeline, and CRM on your side, you can accurately forecast your organization’s sales opportunities and set everyone up for predictable and long-term success.

Image for post Next steps 👇

Next steps 👇

Now, learn how to maintain your pipelines with the Sales Pipeline Management Handbook.

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