Visibility is everything in sales. If you can’t see where each deal is in your sales process and how long it’s been there, you’ll struggle to improve it. 

That’s why building and managing a sales pipeline is so important. 

A well-defined sales pipeline makes your sales process transparent, allowing you to see your deals in the sales funnel, where they’re getting stuck, and how long the entire process takes. It also makes it much easier for you, as a sales manager, to forecast revenue. 

In this article, we’ll outline what a sales pipeline is and why it’s important, the six typical stages of a sales pipeline, and how you can improve your own pipeline. 

A sales pipeline will contain a lot of information, including the total number of deals your sales team is working on, the name of the potential buyer, the value of each deal, and where each deal is in the sales process.  

A sales pipeline makes it easy for anyone to see which stage each of your team’s deals is at. It also makes the sales process more manageable by breaking it down into small, achievable steps. 

The sales funnel represents the broad journey a buyer takes. The sales pipeline outlines the internal processes of the sales team. 

You can see the difference between the sales funnel and sales pipeline stages in the diagram above. Confusion often occurs because each stage of the sales funnel maps reasonably nicely to each stage of the sales pipeline. But just because they map well doesn’t mean they are the same thing. 

A well-defined pipeline is essential to improving your sales process and spotting at-risk deals. Here’s how to define, build, and improve your B2B sales pipeline stages. 

The first stage of any sales pipeline is to identify potential buyers. Your reps need to source potential sales targets (whether that’s from your marketing team or through their own efforts) and make contact to see if they are viable.

Research skills are critical here. 

Build and improve your sales pipeline by:

Once your team has a list of prospective buyers, they need to identify which leads have the propensity to buy as quickly as possible. This is essential to stopping reps from wasting time on prospects who aren’t in the market for your solution. 

Reps should also use this stage to start identifying their buyer’s pain points so that they can create a compelling pitch. The qualification stage doesn’t need to happen after one call. It can take several conversations to fully understand a prospect’s position and identify if they really do meet your ICP.

Build and improve your sales pipeline by:

This framework developed by IBM helps reps understand whether prospects have the budget, the authority to make a deal, a need for your product, and a timeline to find a solution. If they meet at least three of these criteria, they’re considered qualified and more likely to convert.

By now, your reps should have an excellent understanding of your buyer’s pain points and be in a position to marry those problems with your solution. This is the key to creating an irresistible proposal. 

You don’t want sales reps giving their pitch to just anyone, however. They need to identify every stakeholder and decision-maker and involve all of them in the process. 

There’s no two ways about it. 

Enterprise-level deals involve more people and require your sales reps to pitch to multiple stakeholders. It might be a pain, but it’s a necessity for deals of a certain size.

Build and improve your sales pipeline by:

Don’t forget, you may not be the only company your buyer is talking to. That means this stage is as much about continuing to help your prospect and sell your solution as it is about negotiating with them. 

Build and improve your sales pipeline by:

Making sure the reps are involving all decision-makers in the negotiation phase. The last thing you want is a deal stuck in this stage of the pipeline because a key decision-maker didn’t get CC’d. 

If reps handle objections right, they’ll be able to move prospects onto the penultimate (and most important) pipeline stage.

If your reps have made it this far, this should be the easiest pipeline stage of all. If they’ve handled the buyer’s objections and reinforced the value your product has in solving their sales point, then all they need to do now is ask a few more questions and agree on the terms. 

If in doubt, your reps can use their buyer’s actions to identify when a deal is close to closing.

Our research shows that prospects ask more questions when they are about to close. 

Build and improve your sales pipeline by:

Work doesn’t end when reps close a deal. 

Sales reps have a responsibility to make sure buyers have a positive experience. That means overseeing the onboarding process and checking in with buyers. 

Build and improve your sales pipeline by:

Defining a sales pipeline isn’t enough if you want to stay competitive. Use these sales pipeline management tips to maximize your team’s revenue.

Your sales pipeline will constantly change. That’s why it’s essential to monitor its health with several key performance indicators.

Track the following metrics at a minimum:

Your sales pipeline is in a constant state of flux. You need to keep on top of it to keep it from becoming an out-of-date, chaotic mess — the kind that sees deals get lost.  

You’ll want to make sure that every deal is in the correct stage of the pipeline and that you remove stagnant deals from the pipeline altogether. 

What should you look for in particular? 

Bottlenecks are the first sign of problems with your sales process. Any stage of the sale pipeline that has a lot of deals in it or a low conversion rate could suggest either a problem with your leads, your sales reps, or your entire sales process. 

Regular reviews also make it easier to forecast revenue. If you frequently track how deals are moving through your pipeline, you can be much more confident about the percentage of deals that will close each quarter or period. 

Gong lets you go beyond your reps’ opinions to see the truth of your pipeline and catch potential issues early on. For instance, it automatically alerts you when a deal has stalled at a particular stage of your pipeline, helps you see if the right decision makers are involved in the deal, and provides actionable advice on how you can increase the chances of closing. 

A well-built and optimized sales pipeline is a fantastic tool to visualize the state of your team’s sales, track deals, and forecast revenue. 

Gong lets you take things even further. Gong’s pipeline management software connects with your CRM and other systems to capture every single customer data point. It uses AI to identify at-risk deals, improve your pipeline, and make your forecasts even more accurate. 

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