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Sales - 5 min READ

What is a sales pipeline, and what should it include?

Build a pipeline that matches your business' sales cycle

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Author photo: Katrina Oko-Odoi

Katrina Oko-Odoi

Content Marketing Manager

If you’re in business, you may have heard the term “sales pipeline.” But what is a sales pipeline exactly, and how do they work? Let’s get into it — plus some quick tips and examples for creating your own sales pipeline.

What is a sales pipeline?

What exactly is a sales pipeline, including a B2B sales pipeline? Sales pipelines are simply a visual way of tracking your potential customers as they move through the different stages of the buying journey. In other words, it’s a quick snapshot of the movement of your opportunities, deals, and potential income — offering you immediate insight into the state of your incoming sales.

More importantly, sales pipelines show you or your sales team exactly what opportunities and deals to focus on, and when. Pipelines are often broken into stages based on the steps it takes to move a deal from beginning to end. Here’s what a pipeline looks like inside Copper, for example:

How can having a sales pipeline help your business?

There are many benefits to using a sales pipeline model for your biz, including:

  • Making it easy to keep your sales process organized
  • Giving you quick insight into deals
  • Helping you efficiently manage your team’s activities
  • Showing you where to focus your attention at a given time
  • Uncovering problems in your sales process
  • Allowing you to predict revenue
  • Helping you close deals faster
  • Improving efficiency and productivity across your team
  • Enhancing your relationship building and prospect nurturing

Clearly, there are a lot of benefits to creating a pipeline in sales, but how exactly do you do it?

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The most common stages in sales pipelines

Before you start trying to build your own sales pipeline, let’s talk about some of the most common sales pipeline stages and steps. Most pipelines can be broken into four high-level stages:

(1) Prospecting. This stage is related to lead generation. You may or may not track the actual generation process in your pipeline, but the first stage usually deals with some sort of prospecting. For example, this stage might include emails, introductions, paid advertising or similar efforts.

(2) Qualifying. In this stage, you’re qualifying leads and either moving them to the next stage or removing them from the pipeline. In other words, in this step you’re determining if these leads are a true fit for your business. Once you decide a prospect is qualified, you can start seriously nurturing them.

(3) Proposing. This stage is related to actually pitching and selling your product(s) or service(s). Chances are there will be several steps within this stage. Things like contacting the prospect, scheduling follow-up meetings, negotiations and more will fall within this stage.

(4) Closing. This is the stage where you’ll seal the deal and (hopefully) convert the prospect into a customer. Your prospects will either be won or lost in this stage. If they’re lost, you might send them back to the qualifying or nurturing stage — or remove them from your pipeline altogether.

Of course, you can customize your pipeline to match the sales journey of your business. Here’s an example of a pipeline for a creative agency:

Now that you’re familiar with some common high-level stages, you can start building your own sales pipeline.

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5 steps to build your own pipeline in sales

Setting up your first sales pipeline can be intimidating. Start by getting clear on a few things by asking yourself a few questions before you start building your sales pipeline. Here are the basic steps to get you started:

Step 1: Identify your buying phases

Look at your existing sales process and find your stages. Keep in mind that it’s better to start with too many stages and remove them later than to start with too few. Break your process into all the steps it takes for a person to go from not knowing about your offering at all to being a loyal customer.

Step 2: Determine which activities belong in each stage of your sales pipeline

Once you know the stages, identify which activities and tasks need to happen in each stage. For example, you might have a nurturing stage, with activities in that stage encompassing phone calls, personalized emails or in-person meals (lunches or dinners).

The activities you map to pipeline stages will be unique to your business

Step 3: Set a time length for each stage

Know how long it usually takes to close a deal (or how long you want it to take). This knowledge ensures you don’t continue to engage with a prospect who isn’t likely to close, and it also gives you a clear guideline and timeframe for moving prospects through your pipeline.

Step 4: Build the pipeline

Now you’re ready to build your visual pipeline. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most straightforward avenues is using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform like Copper. These online platforms help you track and deepen relationships with prospects and customers. Most CRMs are built with sales pipeline creation capabilities so you can quickly create a pipeline and assign yourself and others tasks and objectives related to those activities.

Step 5: Learn, adjust, and set targets

Once you begin to work through your pipeline, you might identify stages you don’t need — and the ones you do. Do a test run-through of your pipeline to see how it holds up and learn what steps you may need to add or lose. Then, adjust accordingly and set up goals and targets related to each pipeline stage. For example, you could set a monthly goal for the dollar amount of prospects in the Proposing stage each month. If the total falls well below that amount one month, you’ll know you need to ramp up prospecting activities to help reach your goal.

Track your sales pipeline more easily with a CRM

Using a CRM makes sales pipeline creation and tracking much easier for your whole team because it allows you to build and manage the pipeline and assign and track tasks all in one place. Here at Copper, we’ve simplified the sales pipeline creation process and made nurturing prospects, tracking deals, and creating new customers straightforward so you can focus your time on revenue-generating activities.

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