Any marketing professional or business owner worth their salt knows the importance of a sales funnel. A sales pipeline, however, is perhaps more important as it creates a specific process of how to nurture individual prospects and successfully moves a greater number into the purchase stage. Keep reading to learn the secret to how you can manage your sales pipeline successfully.

Every business has a sales funnel, whether they manage it or not. But a sales pipeline is not inherent and it should be managed vigorously and consistently by the whole team to ensure maximum benefits to your business.

The sales funnel represents the buying journey from a prospect to a customer. It is called a funnel because the initial phase attracts potential clients, which at first are many. But inside the funnel is a maze; as prospects go through some will drop out or get lost, slowly reducing in number, leaving only a few candidates left to try and sell your product to.

To simplify, let’s say every day 100 people visit your website, out of those 100 visits you get ten interested customers contacting you. From those ten you may only secure one actual sale – that’s a sales funnel.

On the other hand, the sales pipeline is the specific plan of how to nurture relationships from the beginning in order to guide your prospects down the easiest path through the maze, allowing more people to reach the end of the process.

Mouse in maze

Steps to a successful sales pipeline

Step one – qualification

The first step involves a person identifying themselves as a potential prospect. This may be when they download an informative white paper or give over their details for a quarterly newsletter about your business and industry related issues.

Qualifying could also be done by direct contact, but most of the time you’ll only receive indirect and limited information. In order to maximise the amount of qualified people handing over their details, you need to provide useful, high-quality information that addresses pain points in your industry. Check out this blog if you need some tips to create helpful content for your prospects.

Step two – meeting

The next step after qualifying is securing a meeting. While this seems like a natural progression, landing a meeting with a prospect is one of the hardest steps in the pipeline. With so much competition out there, how can you ensure that your business is front-of-mind with your prospects? This is where the nurture content comes into play; supplying the prospects with consistent valuable information that demonstrates your abilities and expertise keeps them engaged.

A meeting is your best chance to find out your prospects’ individual pain points, requirements and expectations, and can be set up by either making direct contact with the prospect or from them filling out an online booking form.

Step three – proposal

This is your time to shine. Having gathered the information on your prospects’ needs, you can show them how you and your business can provide the best solutions. A customised solution and great customer service plays a big part in making the sale from this point. Your proposal should make the prospect feel like they’ve been heard and that your solution is the right one for them.

Step four – closing

Once the proposal has been sent it’s time to follow up and enter into final negotiations to close the deal. Should your proposal have understood the prospects’ requirements and provided them an adequate solution for their needs then this step should come easily.

Step five – repeat

This step is often missed in customer sales interactions, but in many situations, especially business to business relationships, a customer can be returned to the top of the sales pipeline once the deal has been closed. Keeping them on the nurture list and making sure they’re up-to-date with industry topics and relevant information reminds them that you are experts in your field. This can turn a one-time customer into a repeat, loyal buyer.

Secret to a seamless sales pipeline

I bet you’ve been reading this thinking ‘wow, that seems like a lot of work’. Well guess what, you’re right – it is. But creating a seamless, consistent sales pipeline that is used by everyone in your team is crucial to a well-run business, and the lack of such a plan could be detrimental to your bottom line. So, what’s the secret to successfully managing your seamless sales pipeline that we’ve promised to share with you? Automation.

Instead of waiting for someone to download your white paper or remembering to send that second or third follow-up email in the qualifying stage, you can nurture your relationships with your prospects automatically and be notified when your lead is hot and ready to meet.

There’s a catch though. If there are gaps in your automation or your nurture content isn’t up to scratch this could work against you. It’s best to make sure you have someone on your team who is marketing savvy or look at outsourcing professionals, which can save you valuable time, money and sanity.

Need some more tips on how to nurture your leads?

Download our free guide, Lead nurturing for the water industry, for helpful insights to improve and maintain your nurture track.