Sales pipeline or sales funnel? What do you call the sequence of steps necessary to close a sale, from lead attraction to conversion, in your company?

The truth is, sales pipeline, sales pipeline, sales funnel, customer journey, whatever the name: what matters is the results.

In everyday work, people use these names to define pretty much the same things, with subtle differences.

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In this post, you will see how to build your sales pipeline step by step. Thus, you will have the entire sales process under control and will be able to convert more sales, with more objectivity and agility on the part of your salespeople.

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How to Build Your Sales Pipeline in 6 Practical Steps and Objectives

A sales funnel is a graphical representation of the steps a customer takes on their buying journey. It starts from the moment he realizes he has a need or problem he wants to solve, until the moment he converts a purchase.

It is also interesting to define some further steps related to after-sales, customer loyalty and success.

This representation is the basis for creating the sales pipeline. Which is nothing more than transforming the sales funnel into more objective and clear actions for salespeople.

In a way, we can say that the sales funnel is a more strategic view that helps to develop the sales pipeline, which is more tactical and operational.

But, as we said before, the two concepts are confused and, in practice, they are used synonymously.

Let’s see how to create your sales pipeline?

1. Clearly draw the customer journey in the sales funnel

  • Top of the Funnel: Learning and Discovery
  • Middle of the funnel: recognition of the problem and consideration of solutions
  • Funnel Bottom: Evaluation and Purchase Decision

These are the steps that are traditionally used when describing a sales funnel.

How, in your business, does a customer “get into” the top of the funnel? That is, how does he find out he has something he needs to solve and start trying to learn more about that problem?

You need to understand this customer journey, step-by-step, in order to gradually build your sales pipeline.

For example, an HR manager may find that he needs to do something in his company when he notices a high rate of employee turnover. Then he starts researching on the topic. At some point, he notices that the problem is the organizational climate: that’s it! He’s already moved to the middle of the funnel by recognizing what the problem is. Now he’s going to start considering what solutions to use.

Study your customers and find out how they behave during all phases of this journey.

2. Link the sales funnel to the sales steps

Now that you know how your customer behaves on their buying journey, relate what your company does in each of these moments.

For example: How can your organization help companies that are part of your target audience discover that there is something wrong with their HR sector? (To continue with the same example).

It may be that you have a strong presence at HR fairs and events and give lectures on the topic constantly. Perhaps they write articles in magazines aimed at HR managers. Or even that they practice content marketing.

Make this correlation between each step in the sales funnel and how your business can help your prospects move faster through that funnel toward converting a sale.

3. Define the practical actions your salespeople will take

The theory is very beautiful. But how do these actions translate into practice?

See a model of effective actions for a sales pipeline:

Top of the Funnel: Learning and Discovery

  • The marketing area uses content marketing to generate leads (discovery) and nurture them with content about the solution the company offers (learning)
  • It then qualifies the best leads and moves to the sales area (learning)

Middle of the funnel: recognition of the problem and consideration of solutions

  • Seller sends an email to qualified leads in order to schedule an appointment and present the solution in detail (problem recognition)
  • If there is no answer, the seller calls the customer, with the same objective (problem recognition)
  • The seller visits and presents the company’s solution (consideration of solutions)

Funnel Bottom: Evaluation and Purchase Decision

  • After presenting the solution, the seller submits a sales proposal (evaluation)
  • A negotiation phase ensues, in which both parties adjust the purchase details
  • The customer decides on the company’s solution (purchase decision)

4. How long can a customer stay at each step?

With the sales pipeline steps in place, it’s time to get it flowing.

This is an important point. Because salespeople can’t be stuck forever sending out emails or calling the same customer to make an appointment, for example.

Set the maximum time, based on your experience that a customer should be kept in the sales pipeline at each step. After this time, it must be removed. Possibly schedule a follow-up for 6 months.

This avoids the formation of bottlenecks in your sales pipeline.

As your company accumulates data on customers who convert sales, if you have an automated sales tracking system, you can figure out exactly what the average amount of time customers who actually close sales stay in each phase.

This way, you can determine this more confidently.

5. What characterizes a step change?

How will your salesperson know, for example, if after you’ve submitted a proposal, you can already consider that the customer has already moved into the negotiation phase?

Defining these triggers is critical so salespeople know how to correctly place leads in the sales pipeline.

Thus, the beginning of the negotiation phase can be characterized by a response from the client asking for some change in the proposal. The closing of the sale can be characterized by the effecting of payment, and so on for the other stages.

6. What is the ideal percentage of leads that should go to the next step?

Finally, an important way to control the effectiveness of your sales pipeline is to define the percentage of leads that must move to the next stage.

Usually, this percentage is increasing, because with each step the lead goes through, it becomes more qualified.

See this example:

  • 20% of customers make an appointment after receiving the invitation email
  • 35% of customers who receive a visit ask for a proposal
  • 65% of customers who receive a proposal start a negotiation
  • 75% of customers who start trading close a sale

If your sales pipeline isn’t meeting those goals you’ve set, stay tuned and think of ways to improve your sales process.