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Sales Pipeline – 5 Steps to Mapping Sales Success

Sales Pipeline – 5 Steps to Mapping Sales Success

by: Julia Hill

Data Analyst
Your Sales Pipeline is Your Map to Success
What is a sales pipeline and why is everyone always talking about them?

As with any journey, having a map and an itinerary will ensure you are able to get to your destination and do so in a timely manner.

Think of a sales pipeline as your sales map, showing the current position of all your prospective customers, all the steps along the way, leading to where you want them to go – – – CLOSE-ville, of course being the destination!

Stops Along the Way (Pipeline Segments/ Stages)
Generally, a sales pipeline will be divided into 5 segments: Prospecting, Qualification, Consideration, Decision, and Closing. Within these segments, there are different steps and different criteria for moving a prospective customer from one stage to the next.

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5 Steps to Mapping Sales Success

1. Prospecting

All potential prospects you identify through research, marketing, lead generation, tradeshows, etc will enter your pipeline and will start off in the Prospecting segment. Part of the prospecting stage is determining the criteria you need to identify which leads are more likely to buy – so you know who to focus your attention on. That criteria is based on your internal needs. What types of companies or clients are you looking for? What is the size of the company? What industry are they in? There are many levels of criteria that you must determine before you get started. Not every person who “raises their hand” (or every lead on a list you buy) has the potential for closing. They may not even be an actual prospect. The important thing is to weed out the unqualified leads as soon as possible once they enter the pipeline. All these leads should immediately enter your contact protocol. Ideally, new prospects should be called within 5 minutes of them “raising their hand” or being identified as a prospect.

2. Qualifiying

Qualification stage. You may have to attempt to contact a lead several times before reaching them, so it is important to realize that this stage may have many steps within it and to continue to follow through until you can qualify, disqualify, or nurture the prospective customer. As soon as you reach the contact, the qualification questions you ask are of course specific to your industry, your company, and your product. But in general, qualification questions include:
  • Does the lead have the means to purchase your product/service?
  • Will your solution meet the prospect’s need?
  • Is this the decision-maker? If not, who is a better contact, or what is their process to make the purchase?
  • What is the sales cycle timeframe?
The qualification stage may also mean a lot of educating prospective clients about your brand and your products to determine if their needs match what you are able to offer.

3. Considering

After  you have determined the lead is qualified and they have been educated about what your company has to offer, the lead moves into the Consideration stage. Consideration is really a state of mind – your qualified prospect has initial broad-stroke information, but still may need a nudge. This is the stage where you might offer demonstrations of your product, offer case studies, and really get into the nitty-gritty details that really sell your product.

4. Deciding / Negotiating

Once the prospective customer has all the information they need and are ready to purchase, they move to the Decision stage. This is when the proposals are sent out, the final obstacles are met and overcome, and when the negotiating occurs.

5. Closing

This is the best part! Both parties are happy with the outcome, the deal has been signed, and a new customer relationship has begun. This stage is where you and your team then transition your focus to keeping the customer happy.
Nurturing – The Scenic Route
What if the customer isn’t quite ready to buy? Old school sales would be to kick them to the curb. Maybe it is a really hot lead, but you just can’t seem to get ahold of the contact. Or maybe it cooled off due to circumstances beyond your control. Old school sales would dictate that you kick them to the curb if they won’t buy now. But in this digital age with the use of CRM’s, you can keep in front of them until they are ready to buy. Maybe they did buy, but you want to maintain the rapport you created during the sale, so they will come back to you because of the relationship building aspect. All of these are instances where you would put a lead into a nurturing status or trickle sell – with the hopes that they will respond to a touchpoint down the road and make that u-turn back to Close-ville.
Why a Pipeline?
Now, you may be able to help shuffle those leads on down through the pipeline without a specific plan in place. But it is much easier to manage multiple leads at multiple places in the pipeline if you have a scheduled process mapped out. That is where an itinerary comes in handy.
  • A schedule of when to reach out and follow-up with each prospect will guarantee that you are getting the best results with your sales process. When all the calls and tasks are lined up each day, each of your sales staff can be that much more efficient and be able to handle that many more leads.
  • Having a uniform process for handling leads also helps ensure that no leads are dropped and that they can be easily handed off when/if necessary. No salesperson will need to wonder what the next step is with any of their leads.
  • With your sales process and leads all mapped out, it is also much easier to forecast future sales and to calculate all the other metrics needed to optimize your sales cycle and maximize your sales resources.
  • Once you have the metrics you can determine if there are any steps/pints in your sales process that need improvement. If a lot of leads are getting stuck in the Considering stage, for instance, you can investigate and try different solutions to see what might work better. The same can be said of your overall sales cycle time. A pipeline makes it easier to visualize what is happening with all of your leads at once.
Speaking of Metrics…
There are four main metrics that are key to optimizing your sales process & pipeline: the number of deals, the average (closed) deal size, the average close ratio, and the average sales cycle time.

1. Volume of Leads

Another way that the sales process can run off the rails is when a sales team member goes on vacation, or a sales rep leaves your organization. With a CRM, it is as easy as transferring a task to another team member when someone goes on vacation. And changing the ownership of the lead in the system is just as easy if you need to hand-off leads to a new team member. Because the CRM helps you ensure the same contact schedule process, you will have continuity in following up with contacts & nurturing prospects

2. Average Size of Closed Deal

Prioritization & categorization are key. By sorting your prospects based on when they raised their hand by how they did so – you are able to customize how you reach back out to them and how often. You can customize the sales process path based on what is effective for each type of lead. Trying to do this by hand and on the fly is bound to be complicated. Leads are definitely going to get missed. With a CRM, you won’t lose any leads & are able to manage the lead path and contact schedules.

3. Average Close Ratio

Discover ways to optimize your sales cycle by analyzing where/when the pipeline gets bogged down and by troubleshooting to find ways to more effectively push through the bottleneck. CRMs make it easy to create reports that can be customized to show you sales cycle stages and determine where improvement is necessary or possible.

4. Average Sales Cycle

Create reports that will show trends in lead streams, so you know where to fish and where to cut bait. There are many reports and metrics you are able to instantly pull if you use a CRM. Including optimization of your lead generation sources & process management.

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Mapping Your Pipeline (or Funnel)
All of this seems like a lot of data and a lot of metrics to calculate and keep track of. Using spreadsheets is a popular method for small business & small sales teams. Unfortunately, spreadsheets are not really scaleable and will limit how much your sales can grow and how fast your company will grow as well. There are a lot of other options for managing leads and sales pipelines, but generally, this is when a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) software comes in handy. We talked recently about CRMs and how you can use them to optimize your sales process.
Tour Guide Available
If mapping all of this out yourself seems daunting, Techtonic Sales is here to help. We specialize in helping you optimize your sales pipeline – from initially mapping out your sales pipeline to helping you improve and adjust your sales process & cycle to maximize your potential sales.
– Julia Hill, Data Analyst –
Analyzes Data (Like a Boss) when not busy waiting on her dogs.

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