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Sales • Oct 5th, 2022 • Guest Writer

Sales Pipelines: Intro, Management and Where Your CRM Fits In

Everything you need to know about managing your sales pipeline and where your CRM comes into the picture.

For anyone that’s new to sales and sales-focused digital marketing, it might seem like the entire industry revolves around a quick transaction where money changes hands. 

But zoom out a little, and you'll find that the actual sales process is a nuanced dance.

Every great sales rep knows that to successfully close a sale, new customers need to be guided through different stages, from being deemed a qualified lead until a purchase has been made and the customer is happy. 

Good pipeline management ensures no missed sales opportunities are slipping through the cracks.

But keeping track of every potential customer, the various stages they’re at, and your sales pipeline metrics is extremely tedious. Unless, of course, you’re using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to streamline your entire sales process. 

This blog post will cover the basics of the sales pipeline, where your CRM fits in, and some insights you can use to improve your sales process in general. 

Let's begin.

What is a Sales Pipeline?

Sales reps often encounter hundreds of leads and potential customers. Each one of them is at a different stage of their respective buyer's journey. 

A sales pipeline is a great way for a sales team to visualize and keep track of the stage each lead and customer is at in their buyer's journey. 

By visualizing all these interactions collectively as a horizontal pipeline, it becomes easy for sales reps to effectively manage the sales cycle and practice better sales pipeline management. 

Good management leads to more efficient conversions, more revenue, and better outcomes for leads and customers.

Sales Pipeline Vs. Sales Funnel

Most people who’ve come across the term "sales pipeline" usually also hear "sales funnel" repeated in one context or another. 

While these two terms are quite similar, there is one crucial difference: "sales pipeline" describes the overall process leads go through to become customers.

The term "sales funnel," on the other hand, represents the proportion of leads who travel through each stage of the process. That's why the sales funnel is a funnel — the segments get smaller as the number of leads in each stage decreases.

Sales Pipeline Vs. Buyer Journey

"Buyer's journey" is also a common term used when discussing sales funnels. We've already used it twice in this article. 

The buyer's journey describes leads' journeys from their perspectives, while the sales funnel describes leads' journeys from the sales and marketing teams' perspectives. 

The buyer's journey map also focuses more on individual touchpoints. 

Sales Pipeline Stages Explained

You can break up a sales pipeline into roughly seven stages. Let's take a detailed look at these stages together:
Stage 1. Prospecting — Prospecting describes the process of identifying your ideal customers ("target market") and getting your message out there. At this stage, you are only looking to introduce your brand to prospects (not convert them).

Stage 2. Lead Qualification — This funnel stage focuses on determining whether or not the lead who’s heard about your business is a good fit for your product or service. Here, you are looking for Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs) — people who are interested in your offering and can buy it (they have the time, money, desire, etc.). Once you have qualified a lead, you can move them down the sales pipeline. 
Stage 3. Meeting — At this stage, you usually schedule a meeting (virtual or face-to-face), email, or get on a call with the sales prospect. If the lead is qualified and interested, they will be given a detailed briefing about your offering so that they can evaluate if it's a good fit for them.

Stage 4. Proposal — At the proposal stage, you have the chance to make your case and explain how your offer outperforms direct competitors' offers and the other options your customer may choose (it's important to note that doing nothing/not making a purchase is an option!).
Stage 5. Negotiation and Commitment — In the negotiation stage, you iron out any kinks with pricing, negotiate the scope of work, and determine if your offering meets the lead's needs. The entire point of this stage is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

Stage 6. Opportunity Won — Congratulations, you’ve closed the sale. This is the part you’ve been waiting for. You can now fulfill your end of the deal and set the customer up for success.

Stage 7. Post Purchase — Business doesn't end after closing a sale. Often the best sources of revenue are already existing customers who want to upgrade or buy more of your offerings (in fact, increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits by 25%+). During this stage, delivering exceptional service is crucial, and you lay the groundwork for the next sale.

How a CRM like SpotlerCRM Helps You Manage Your Sales Pipeline

A CRM eliminates shuffling between various software to manage your sales pipeline. It puts everything — your leads, customers, salespeople, customer service, and more — in one place. 

You ideally want everything under one roof — it's easier to oversee. 

The point of a CRM is to make life easier, so CRMs that are complicated and tedious to use are an absolute no-no. 

That's where SpotlerCRM comes in.

SpotlerCRM is intuitive and easy to use, meaning that you won’t waste hours on expensive training (something a growing B2B sales team can’t afford to do). It can also shorten your sales cycle, as you can target leads better after making initial contact.

With SpotlerCRM, you also won’t need a separate email marketing product — it helps sales reps to build campaigns and send newsletters right from the CRM itself. 

As your team grows and your sales velocity increases, your sales process will also get more complex, and the average sales cycle length will change. You need CRM software that can help you try different sales strategies, keep track of many buyers at different stages, and handle moving qualified leads from one stage to the next.

Discover if SpotlerCRM is Right for You

Sales Pipeline Management Best Practices

Poor sales pipeline management will make your pipeline lose leads like there are holes in a bucket.

So, let’s dive into the best practices you should be using to maintain a healthy sales pipeline. 

They are:

1. Use a CRM You Can Trust

Your CRM plays a crucial role in almost all pipeline processes.

Therefore, it is extremely important to use a CRM that your entire team is comfortable with and trusts to keep them updated on various sales activities. 

Your CRM should also be well-suited to your business and its specific needs.
To learn more about the CRM options currently on the market, read our CRM Buyer's Guide 2022.

2. Build Follow-Ups Into Your Process

One of the primary reasons sales reps don’t end up closing the number of deals they need to hit their sales targets is that they forget to follow up. Following up is probably the single most important thing you can do after you’ve started communicating with a prospect. 

Most sales reps will stop after one or two calls and never reach out again (even when the prospect is interested). 

Prospective buyers are busy people (especially B2B buyers), so it's necessary to reach out multiple times on multiple platforms to access the prospect.

Setting follow-up reminders is a surefire way of building follow-ups into your process. Many CRMs, including SpotlerCRM, can do this, so they help you ensure that qualified leads make it to the next stage.

3. Qualify Leads and Focus On The Best Ones

A great way to shorten the sales cycles is to make sure your pipeline regularly moves prospects along to the next stage. One way to do this is to identify the most qualified leads in your pipeline and focus your sales efforts on them. 

Your CRM should help you qualify the best leads and determine which ones have the highest probability of converting to paying customers. 

Then, once you’ve secured these deals, you can move on to the less certain prospects and other sales activities that are less urgent.

4. Monitor Your Metrics

One of the reasons that using a CRM for tracking sales metrics is so effective is that it gives you real-time visibility over your sales pipeline so that you can tweak your efforts. 

With a CRM, you can forecast revenue based on the number of deals, calculate the average deal size, and determine your average win rate.

Keeping track of all these metrics allows you to determine how much revenue you're likely to make and plan for long-term growth more consistently. 

Monitoring your metrics is also a great way to quantify your efforts and carefully analyze where you need to be putting in more work. You can also identify inefficient strategies, spot high-performing sales channels, and compare your progress month-on-month to spot seasonal shifts.

5. Shorten Your Sales Cycle

A long sales cycle is not always favorable, and it’s in your best interests to shorten your sales cycle as much as possible. 

There are a number of ways you can do this. But to start with, try automating repetitive tasks involved in sales prospecting and marketing.

For example, make it easy for prospects to communicate with you and sign contracts from any device or channel. Focus your efforts on the channels that offer the highest returns. 

Additionally, set up several payment methods so that it’s easy to close deals. Payment methods are often a roadblock that slows down the purchasing process (and the slower this is, the higher the chances your leads will simply walk away). 

We also recommend being clear about pricing early and eliminating wasting time on unqualified leads that are just clogging up the sales pipeline and making the sales process cumbersome. The quicker you move sales prospects through the cycle, the shorter it will be, and the better your sales results will be, in turn.

6. Create Standardized Sales Processes

The best way to make the most out of your CRM is to have a standard sales process that doesn’t vary too much. 

This standardization ensures that you can accurately use your CRM to track which stage of the sales process prospects are at with little to no manual input. 

Sales managers also need to have a rock-solid sales management process, starting with choosing the right salespeople and giving them the right resources. Everything from warming up the prospect to pitching needs to be easy to teach so that new salespeople can get into the swing of things quickly.

7. Provide an omnichannel experience

An omnichannel experience means that all customers have a consistent buying experience no matter the platform they engage with sales reps on. 

These channels could include your website, social media, email marketing, content marketing, and video marketing.

To provide an omnichannel experience, create consistent brand messages — key things you need all prospects to know — and a brand "voice." Then, ensure all marketing and sales materials align with your messages and voice. 

We don't have time now to dive further into omnichannel marketing, but if you'd like to learn more, read "The Omnichannel Marketing Guide and Three Steps For Implementation."

Want More Expert Sales Pipeline Tips? Attend Our Webinar!

Working with numerous potential customers can be both challenging and tricky without the right tools to back you up. 

However, just having the best software isn't helpful if you’re not sure how to use it. That’s why it’s crucial that your team is well-versed in sales pipelines and good pipeline management practices.

If you’re looking to master more than just the basics, then you should consider attending SpotlerCRM's Managing the Sales Pipeline webinar. 

Staying up to date is as important as having the best tools for the job, and continuous education is the best way to ensure you’re doing the best you can.

And if you're looking for the best tool for the job, get SpotlerCRM. 

Start your free trial today and see what SpotlerCRM can do for you.

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