A sales pipeline is the combination of the different stages leads move through, from the first contact you make with them until they’re closed as paying customers. In practice, the sales pipeline is a tool used for tracking how leads move through your sales process. Once a lead completes a series of criteria, they’re promoted from one level of the sales pipeline until finally, they’re officially marked as customers.
Different companies have slightly different sales pipelines built around the needs of their typical customers, their project management needs, and how they’ve learned that they behave over time.
In this article, you will learn more about the different stages of a sales pipeline, a step-by-step process of building a sales pipeline, and how to actually build one right away on a project board.
What a sales pipeline is not.
One good way to understand what something is is to define what is not. The sales pipeline gets mixed up with both the sales funnel and the sales process, but in actual use, they’re quite different.
– Sales pipeline is not a sales funnel.
On one hand, the sales pipeline tracks the stages of engagement leads go through from start until the close, the sales funnel measures the metrics of the sales pipeline. The sales funnel is a measure of the engagement of leads from the start of the pipeline, all the way to the close.
– Sales pipeline is not a sales process.
A sales pipeline is indeed a process (since it’s repeatable and gets used over and again), but it’s not the sales process. The process is a combination of all the tasks and steps a salesperson takes every single time moving a sale from the first interaction to the close line.
What are the various stages in the sales pipeline?
There are several stages in the sales pipeline that represent the different levels of engagement leads go through, from the moment they first express intent until they’re closed. These stages are used to track leads and uncover insights into the sales process.
Here are the four key stages your sales pipeline should have.
The qualification stage of the sales funnel is very important. It helps salespeople determine who moves on further. The aim here is to research and study a lead to see if they’re suited to the solution the seller offers and whether the seller’s solution can actually solve their need. The qualification stage typically features questions like:
- What solutions do you currently use to address this pain point?
- How good is your current solution? Where could you use an improvement?
- What is your budget like?
- How much interest do you have in our solution? Are you just shopping for possibilities or are you potentially looking to buy? How soon are you looking to buy?
The qualification stage is, like the name implies, where the seller qualifies the leads in the pipeline to see whether they’re a good fit.
After gauging a lead’s interest in the seller’s proposition, the lead is either dropped out of the pipeline or moved to the next stage. The next stage is where interested prospects (hot leads) get to engage with the seller to explain their situation and hear from the seller’s perspective.
Here, prospects are made to understand exactly what the product/service they’re interested in offers, the applicable terms and conditions that will apply, and what a working relationship between both parties would like.
If the buyer and the seller can reach a consensus, the lead progresses to the next level or is removed from the pipeline.
When the buyer and seller have an understanding of what they can expect from a working relationship, the next stage is to put the terms into an agreement.
The proposal stage is where both parties determine specific terms such as the number of products to be supplied, the quality required, pricing, delivery timeframes, alternative arrangements, and summarizes it into a contract binding on both parties.
Once both parties authorize a contract that’s binding on both sides, the deal is closed.
At this stage, the seller focuses more on delivering an excellent experience for the buyer and resolving any issues that may come up with stellar customer service.
How to build and manage a sales pipeline – 4 step guide
Understanding how the sales pipeline fits into your sales process is very important since it’ll help you refine your sales strategy, fix problem areas, and as a result, get better outcomes.
More importantly, you need to understand what it takes to build and maintain a robust sales pipeline that helps you track how new business comes through to your business.
Here’s the four-step process for building a functional sales pipeline.
Step 1: Record your prospects
When you have a number of prospects interested in your product/service offering, you need to record them in a project management tool from which you can easily manage them, i.e. edit, delete, update, etc., as they progress through the different stages in your pipeline.
Step 2: Set different levels of engagement
Sales pipelines are not one-size-fits-all. In fact, sales pipelines are designed to cover the stages you encounter in your own sales process. So, after you’ve recorded the prospects who’re interested in your offerings, the next step is to build a pipeline with different levels of engagement where they’re going to be grouped.
Step 3: Refine engagement stages as the need arises
Ideally, you can kick off with the four basic stages for your pipeline, but as you progress, you’ll see your prospects taking actions that put them in stages you don’t have existing in your pipeline. The logical next step is to create these new stages within your pipeline as the need arises.
Step 4: Keep your pipeline up-to-date
Keeping your pipeline updated is the ongoing process of moving prospects through the various stages as their engagement changes. This maintains your sales pipeline as a tool for tracking your prospects’ behavior and managing the sales process easily.
How to build an unbeatable sales pipeline using Kissflow Project
Before we dive right into choosing a tool for building and managing your sales pipeline, we should first outline what features such a sales project management software should have in order to solve the problem well.
A sales pipeline tool should have features such as:
1. Record tracking
The sales process is all about data.
Creating leads in your CRM, tracking their progress through deal stages, recording their questions, objections, and requests, and storing it for the future. All those are just a few places where you need to create and track records for your sales pipeline to work. With a sales pipeline tool, you need to be able to record leads as individual records and then use them as the foundation of your sales process.
2. Progress management
A sales pipeline should be able to easily move the leads you’ve recorded through the different stages in your process with ease.
3. Stage management
At some point, you may realize that there’s a need to create an entirely new stage in your sales pipeline, say “Interested—follow up in x time” to handle buyers who don’t fit into any existing categories. Or maybe, even delete a category your buyers don’t fall into much often (for example, in a high stakes industry, many buyers may get to the quoting and proposal stage right after qualification).
Your sales pipeline should be built on a tool flexible enough to manage any unique stages your buyers fall into.
Kissflow Project— our project board tool—offers all these capabilities you need to build a functional sales pipeline.
With Kissflow’s project board, you can:
- Create prospect records in the list, table, or kanban board format,
- Organize them into a project board — the ideal tool for managing a sales pipeline,
- Arrange them into deal stages,
- Create or delete stages as the need arises, and,
- Visualize your deal flow all in one place.
Kissflow Project helps you organize and manage deals as they flow through your entire sales process. This way, you can identify what to optimize and how to get better outcomes.
Build your sales pipeline with a powerful tool that’s easier and simpler to manage. Take the Kissflow project for a spin.