While “sales pipeline” is a big buzzword that’s thrown around a lot in the sales and marketing industry, it’s an essential component to generating predictable sales opportunities. So, what does it actually mean to build a sales pipeline? And how can B2B businesses sustain a sales pipeline for long-term success? Let’s jump into it.
In this blog, we’ll highlight the following topics:
A sales pipeline is a list of prospective businesses that meet your ideal customer criteria and that you could potentially close a deal with. These prospective businesses in the sales pipeline are referred to as prospects. Once a sales development representative (SDR) or another member of your sales team cold calls, emails, or engages with a prospective business, they turn into a cold, warm, or qualified lead.
Overall, the goal of a sales pipeline is to convert businesses that meet your qualifications into customers. While any company can put in the work to build a sales pipeline, it takes a lot of time, resources, and persistence to sustain it for the long haul.
When businesses start a sales enablement program, they typically have the impression that building a sales pipeline is easy and can be done by anyone. While any company may be able to build a sales pipeline, many don’t know how to sustain it to its full potential. To have a sustainable sales pipeline, you must practice your sales process every day, and not be afraid of making adjustments to your process.
Here’s what Abstrakt President Eric Watkins had to say about building a sustainable sales pipeline:
“Building a sustainable sales pipeline is like a fad diet versus a lifestyle change. You need to make it a part of your schedule and daily routine. While it doesn’t come easy, it provides the most long-term success.” – Eric Watkins, President
Without a strong sales pipeline, you risk setting sales appointments with leads that will have little to no impact on your business growth. A strong sales pipeline gives you the opportunity to generate significant business opportunities consistently, even during slow seasons.
When you build a strong, sustainable sales pipeline, you have the opportunity to achieve sales goals at a predictable rate. This allows you to accurately forecast the state of your business and where you’ll be financially in the next few months, or even this time next year. Here’s what Abstrakt’s Vice President of Partner Success Elliot Nester had to say about sustainable sales pipelines:
“It’s all about proactivity versus reactivity—if you have a sustainable sales pipeline, you can predict what is sold on a monthly basis and attack your goals. If not, then you’re always just chasing your tail. If you don’t have a sustainable sales pipeline, then you’ll have to compromise your own processes if you’re not reaching the goals you want.” – Elliot Nester, Vice President of Partner Success
In addition, strong sales pipeline management can solve many (if not all) problems a business may encounter. If you’re struggling to hire high-quality sales reps, take a look at the health of your sales pipeline and identify where there may be a disconnect.
Here’s what Vice President of Sales John Schwepker had to say about the importance of building a sustainable sales pipeline and its relation to a company’s internal growth:
“In order to build the infrastructure of an organization, you need a reliable sales forecast that allows you to have the comfort in acquiring the people and resources you need to grow.” – John Schwepker, Vice President of Sales
Before you jump into the process of building a sales pipeline, it’s crucial to determine what you want out of your sales enablement program. Once you determine the goal of your program, it’s crucial to follow these sales pipeline stages:
Before your sales reps start making dials, sending emails, and connecting with key decision-makers (KDMs), it’s essential to identify your target market. By identifying your target market, you get the chance to find, set, and attend sales appointments that have significant value to your business growth.
A target market means something different to every business owner. Identifying a target market can include:
- The region you want to service
- The industries you want to target
- The title of the KDM you want to pitch
- The buyer persona of the KDM
- The types of products and services you want to promote
- The number of full-time employees
- The square footage of a lead’s office space (specifically for commercial businesses)
- The number of workstations (specifically for MSP and software)
A best practice to follow when identifying a target market is to be as specific as possible. While you may want to target “everyone” to gain as much business as possible, having a broad idea of your target market limits your ability to personalize your sales and marketing team’s pitch and marketing collateral.
“The first step to building a sustainable sales pipeline is knowing your target market and really drilling who you want to sell to. This allows you to personalize each conversation. While you can make a list and pick all the opportunities you want, things are always changing, and data is not always accurate.” – Eric Watkins
Once you pinpoint the ideal characteristics of your target market, it’s time to start prospecting. Leads in a sales pipeline don’t just appear out of thin air—that’s why you need to determine how you plan to find those leads in the first place.
Here are some of the best prospecting tips to find leads for your sales pipeline:
- Invest in prospecting databases
- Create engaging and relevant website content
- Distribute interactive social media content
- Ask for referrals from current clients
- Attend local networking events
For an outbound sales strategy, the best way to locate leads initially is to invest in prospecting tools and databases that give you a list of qualified prospective businesses and KDMs. In addition, you can ask for referrals from current clients and attend local networking events to talk face-to-face with other companies in the area.
On the other hand, if you want to generate inbound leads, the ideal way to get in front of potential clients is to write target market- and SEO-focused website content. If a business is online looking for B2B product or service solutions, optimizing website content makes it easier for them to find your company and voluntarily give you their information. In return, your sales and marketing team can reach out to them and convert them from leads into customers.
Social media has become a powerful tool for generating inbound leads because your marketing specialists can post thought leadership content and direct potential buyers to your website. If the content on your website relates to what they’re looking for, they can give you their information and be integrated into the sales pipeline.
Now that your sales and marketing team has all the implementation procedures in place, it’s time to start connecting with prospects in the sales pipeline. When beginning an outbound sales strategy, sales reps initially start the process by making phone calls to prospective businesses. From these initial cold calls, the goal is to introduce your company to a key decision-maker and create top-of-mind awareness.
While setting a sales appointment after the first call may be ideal, that’s rarely the case. It typically takes several warm calls and emails before a prospect agrees to meet with a business for a sales appointment. This is because a KDM needs to take the time to look over your marketing materials, share the information with other stakeholders, consider their options, and determine if it’s something they may be interested in.
During this first conversation with a prospect, your sales reps have the chance to learn about the prospective business, who the key decision-maker is, what they currently have in place, and what they may be looking for in a B2B product or service provider. Ideally, this is the best time to qualify the prospect and convert them into a lead because it allows your sales reps to know if this is a lead worth chasing.
Many sales enablement teams often overlook this sales pipeline stage. However, many sales teams consider this stage to be one of the most important when it comes to building a sustainable sales pipeline.
Lead qualification is the process of determining if a prospect in the sales pipeline meets your company’s ideal customer criteria and is eligible to receive your company’s product or service offerings. Without lead qualification in place, you risk chasing leads in the sales pipeline that have little to no value to your company. This wastes a significant amount of time, money, and effort from your sales development reps.
As sales reps qualify leads in the sales pipeline, it’s vital that they gain the following information:
- Business name
- KDM name
- KDM job title
- KDM email address
- KDM direct line (if applicable)
- Lead qualifiers
- For example, number of full-time employees, square footage of office space, number of workstations, etc.
By asking these questions, your sales reps know the best point of contact for your company’s product or service and if they meet your ideal customer criteria. Once you qualify the lead in the sales pipeline, it’s time to enter them into a lead nurturing campaign.
Lead nurturing is the process of building top-of-mind awareness and nurturing relationships with leads in the sales pipeline until they’re ready to buy. Without a lead nurturing process, you risk missing out on high-quality business opportunities.
One of the biggest problems many sales teams face with lead nurturing is that they don’t know how to do it to their advantage. When nurturing leads in the sales pipeline, it’s essential to use various communication channels to engage with key decision-makers, including making warm calls, sending them relevant email marketing collateral, and engaging with them on social media. If you emphasize one lead nurturing tactic over another, you could risk turning off the lead from ever doing business with your company.
While it may be beneficial to take advantage of all the different lead nurturing methods, your relationship-building efforts must align with the buyer persona of your target market. For instance, if you analyze your sales enablement program and see that most sales appointments come from email, then focus your nurturing efforts on sending high-quality email marketing materials rather than consistently making warm phone calls.
Additionally, just because email marketing lead nurturing campaigns work best for your target market now, this may not always be the case. When practicing lead nurturing, it’s essential to routinely analyze your sales enablement program and see what leads are more receptive to. Then you can adjust your sales enablement strategy as it seems fit.
Overall, the ultimate goal of a sustainable sales pipeline is to schedule sales appointments between a qualified lead and your business. As your sales reps schedule sales appointments, make sure they set a clear sales agenda that gives the lead a reason to attend the meeting and sign a contract with your company.
During these sales appointments, your account executives (AEs) have the opportunity to present a sales pitch and persuade a lead why your business would be a good fit for their company. At these sales presentations, you can discuss the mission and values of your company, the products and services you offer to businesses like theirs, the cost breakdown of your products and services, and the next steps in the buying process.
If you’re not getting the results you want for your sales enablement program, there are many ways to improve the health of your sales pipeline. However, before you decide to make changes to your sales process, it’s important to remember that a sales pipeline is only as sustainable as the work you put into it.
“A sales pipeline is always as good as the work you did to build it. The work is never done, so you have to work hard every day to find new opportunities.” – Eric Watkins
When you don’t work every day to build a sales pipeline, the opportunities will eventually stop coming in. The first step in improving your sales pipeline is to make sure you and your sales teams are actively engaging with leads, whether it’s through inbound marketing or outbound sales efforts.
If you practice building a sales pipeline every day and you’re still not getting the results you want, consider the following strategies to improve your sales pipeline:
To build a strong sales pipeline, you must first have an easy-to-understand process of responding to leads and moving them through the sales pipeline. A customer relationship management (CRM) platform is essential for effective communication between sales team members and following up with the right leads at the right time.
A CRM platform, like Salesforce, is designed to simplify sales processes and interdepartmental communication. For example, let’s suggest that an SDR pitches a lead, but they want more information about your company before setting a sales appointment. In this case, an email marketing specialist can craft the perfect sales email and attach marketing collateral that’s relevant to their needs. Rather than taking an additional step to speak to each other directly, an SDR can leave detailed notes on the lead’s account page. This helps the marketing specialist send a more effective sales email.
When you choose a CRM platform to integrate into your sales and marketing strategy, it’s essential to pick one that aligns with your company’s operations. For instance, Salesforce offers a variety of products to help companies streamline their lead generation efforts, including Salesforce Sales Cloud and Salesforce Marketing Cloud. These products enable your sales team to move leads through every stage of the sales pipeline effectively and marketing teams to create high-quality content that enhances the customer experience.
Every company has a different approach to moving leads through the sales pipeline. When implementing a CRM platform into your operations, every sales team member must understand the process you have in place. Here are some quality assurance training questions to ask sales reps about the sales pipeline process:
- Where are prospect records located in the sales pipeline process?
- What phase do prospects enter once they become qualified leads?
- How long is a qualified lead in each phase of the sales pipeline?
- What types of emails are sent in each phase of the sales pipeline?
- How do we keep track of high-quality leads?
- How do we know a lead is progressing down the sales funnel?
By asking these questions, you increase the chances of a streamlined customer relationship management process and reduce the risk of high-quality leads falling through the cracks.
If you want to improve your sales pipeline, it’s crucial to evaluate how you measure sales success. What tasks are your sales team performing each day, week, and month to acquire the results you want?
“Sales is a math problem. If you want to sell X number of MRR, then that breaks down to Y number of deals. To get to those deals, you need to set X number of appointments and have at least Y number of pitches. To have X number of pitches, you need to make Y number of dials. To have a successful and sustainable sales pipeline, you must break down each process and understand your sales formula.” – Elliot Nester
If you’re not closing deals or setting the appointments you want to grow your business, first take a look at the bigger picture. Then, break down each component that goes into signing contracts, such as the number of dials made and pitches held by SDRs. If they’re not where they need to be to land business deals, talk with your sales team to uncover where they are having issues.
A common misstep sales teams make when building and maintaining a sustainable sales pipeline is following general follow-up procedures. They don’t take the time to analyze their best opportunities because they focus on reaching out to each lead in the sales pipeline. When you practice lead scoring and behavioral targeting, your sales reps have the opportunity to prioritize leads that are closer to the end of the sales funnel.
Sales reps score leads based on how significant the ROI is and how close they are to the end of their buying cycle. If a lead is more likely to close business, the lead score will be higher. On the other hand, if the lead is scored lower, it is considered less of a priority and should be followed up on when they’re more likely to make a purchase. Lead scoring is an essential SDR task because it enables them to reach out to leads that are more likely to agree to a sales appointment with an account executive.
When sales teams integrate Salesforce Pardot into their sales processes, they have the opportunity to practice behavioral targeting. Salesforce Pardot prioritizes leads in the sales pipeline based on how often they open your emails, how recently they’ve opened the email, and what they’ve engaged with in the email. For example, if an email sent to leads contains a link that directs them to your website, you can see if they clicked on the link and how they navigated through the site. Behavioral targeting enables your sales reps to reduce lead response time and pitch leads products and services that interest them.
To build a strong sales pipeline, it’s vital to nurture leads through a variety of communication channels. Following up with leads by warm calling, emailing, or connecting with them on social media could turn them off if it’s done too frequently. By nurturing leads through a variety of channels, you have the opportunity to continuously build relationships and create top-of-mind awareness.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about building a sales pipeline is that you’ve built ‘enough’ relationships or that you’ve followed up with ‘enough’ people in the sales funnel. There’s never ‘enough’ time to stop building relationships.” – John Schwepker
Many B2B businesses outsource their sales and marketing teams to focus on their day-to-day operations. Building a sales pipeline is no easy task and can’t be achieved overnight. It takes weeks, even months, of planning and implementing your sales enablement strategy before you have the ability to achieve any ROI.
Outsourcing lead generation is much more cost effective and requires less of a time investment than hiring an internal full-service sales and marketing team. By outsourcing, you acquire a team of sales experts and marketing specialists to handle generating leads for you. In addition, you have access to all the advanced sales tools and technologies to effectively follow up with leads and set sales appointments.
Before you decide to take the leap and hire an outsourced sales and marketing agency, consider the following questions:
- Do you have a long-term goal with sales outsourcing?
- How involved do you want to be with an outsourced sales team?
- How much do you plan to spend on an outsourced sales and marketing team?
- What sales tools and technologies do you need to generate leads effectively?
- How do you want to measure the success of your sales program?
- What services do you want from an outsourced lead generation company?
Building and sustaining a sales pipeline isn’t a one-and-done process. It requires a significant amount of time, money, and resources to build and maintain it, and it must be practiced on a daily basis to generate new business opportunities.
“A sales pipeline is like a well. If you’re continuously pumping a well, water will come out. Once you stop pumping the well, the water keeps going, but only for a short period of time. A company’s sales efforts must be continuous. A sales pipeline can be fully sustainable as long as the activities you did to get there never cease.” – Elliot Nester
By reading this blog, you should have a comprehensive understanding that:
- Creating a sales pipeline doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a significant amount of time and effort to build and sustain for the long-term
- If you want to expand your company’s infrastructure, then you need to set an attainable sales goal and develop a predictable sales pipeline
- There are never enough relationships to build and nurture throughout the sales funnel
- A sustainable sales pipeline provides sustainable growth opportunities
- You get what you put into building a sustainable sales pipeline
If you’re struggling to build and sustain a sales pipeline for the long haul, reach out to the sales reps at Abstrakt Marketing Group to lend a helping hand!