5 Steps to a Successful Small Business Sales Pipeline. Plus: The full What, How and Why of Sales Pipelines
So What is a Sales Pipeline?
A sales pipeline is an approach to selling. Simply put, it helps you estimate the upcoming sales you are working towards closing.
Depending on your business, you may have noticed that it is very rare for a prospect to approach your business and purchase in one go. In fact, research by the National Sales Executive Association has found that it takes between five and twelve interactions with a prospect before you close a sale. A sales pipeline is a process that takes people from initial contact with a prospective client all the way through to the actual sale and any subsequent follow-up.
Do I Really Need a Sales Pipeline for my Small Business?
Chances are that if you are a business selling products and service, you already have a sales pipeline model without realising it. Do you have a certain method for approaching potential customers? Do you have some kind of a process before you close a sale? A sales pipeline helps you document and systematize those stages and thus it helps you visualize and optimize your sales processes.
Regardless of the size of the business, what you are selling or who to, a sales pipeline is crucial for the creation of a stable and reliable sales cycle. It estimates income cash flow and it helps you navigate potential clients through the sales process. A pipeline is a great solution not just for sales people, but also small business owners and anyone who generally wants to close deals in less time.
So to answer the questions, yes. You do need a sales pipeline for your business.
What are the Key Elements of a Small Business Sales Pipeline?
A typical sales pipeline has Opportunities (or New Leads, or Stage one, or whatever you wish to call it), it has Sale as a last step and as many stages in between as you need for your particular business. Generally, most businesses use a five stage sales pipeline model.
Stage 1: At the first stage of the sales pipeline is the opportunity for a new business. A prospect has shown interest in your business. They have approached you, they have requested a sample, they have visited your features web page. They have expressed some kind of interest.
Stage 2: During the second stage of the process most business compile data and do some kind of a research on their lead (lead=prospect). Let’s say you have a printing business and someone has approached you and requested a sample for business cards. Most businesses in this situation would visit the lead’s website, try and figure out how many employees the company has, colour scheme for the business cards etc. This way you can offer a more personalized experience, or in this situation a business card that fits the lead’s brand, colour scheme and message.
Stage 3: After you have been approached and you do your research, the ball is back in your court and most businesses go back to the lead with a proposal. For example, you go back to the lead and give them a sample business card and a quote of how much business card will cost and possibly any other promotional materials you can do for them.
Stage 4: Many businesses go on with the proposal and then leave the rest to faith. Well, more often than not, leads need a bit of a nudge. A little reminder. That is why the next step is follow up. Quite often a good follow up email is just the reminder a prospect needs to go ahead with a sale. In the case of the printing business, you can follow up with a phone call or a nicely designed email informing the client that you are ready to answer any further questions they may have.
Stage 5: The final stage of course is a sale. This is where the delivery of the product/service in question happens.
As you can see, these are 5 systematized steps to closing a sale. From first contact with a lead, to research, to proposal, to follow up and finally to a sale.
- Automate as much as you can to save time – some of the steps or activities associated with the different stage could be automated. For example, you can add all leads in the research stage to a survey automated email or you can automate your follow up.
- Don’t just sell – at the heart of a sales pipeline is the idea that it takes a lot (of time and effort) to get a prospect to buy. So don’t be pushy and too salesy. Instead focus on educating and informing the lead, familiarizing yourself with them and showing them what your business can do for them.
- Have clearly defined stages – I may have used numbers for the different stages but it is very important that you have a clear picture of what each stage stands for, what are the activities associated with certain stage, metrics to evaluate when it’s time for a lead to the next one.
- Track time – closing a deal can take as long as the customer needs. Having said this however, you need to have an end date in mind. Two weeks? Four weeks? Having an estimated closing date would allow you to better schedule your activities and move things forward a little bit faster.
- Data – compile as much data as possible. This is not just for the research stage of the pipeline but for the general satisfaction of the customer/lead. The more you know about them, the better service you can offer and the more loyal they will be.
- Use a system- Having a CRM software that integrates contacts, tasks and calendars, email and all the other tools you need for the successful conversion of a lead into a sale, would save you and your sales team tons of time and effort. Instead of having different systems that don’t talk to each other, invest in one that has all your needed features under one roof. Work smarter, not harder.
- Automate – put as much automation into your process as possible, use a system like InTouch to move prospects through the funnel, using automated emails, follow up task reminders and more.
- Analyze – look for ways to improve the customer journey or to improve the general efficiency of the process. If you can incrementally improve each step of the process, you will see massive overall increases to your customer acquisition process.
Without sales, a business cannot survive and a sales pipeline is a sure-fire way to secure more business and get customers across the line faster. So get started now by mapping out your ideal sales process!
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