Understanding and managing the sales pipeline is a key consideration for any sales manager looking to increase efficiencies and close sales. A strong sales pipeline provides a clear overview of the entire sales process, including steps sales people take throughout the process, customer contacts, key sales stages and the number and value of deals within your business.

When you build a strong sales pipeline, you’re helping your sales team to improve your bottom line. By organising and managing potential leads – and therefore potential money – looking at your activities, how long the sales process takes and what your conversion rates are, you have a much clearer picture of your sales function’s strengths and weaknesses. But how can you build a strong sales pipeline from scratch?

Define the stages of your sales cycle

Your sales pipeline should be framed around your sales cycle, which are all the steps required to close a deal. Generally, the stages of your sales cycle will include your target customers or clients, leads you’ve made contact with, leads you’ve agreed to meetings with, prospects you’ve sent a proposal to and signed deals. You should define these key stages to suit the individual nature of your business, taking into consideration your customers’ decision-making processes and seeking feedback from other departments in your business, particularly marketing. Review the stages with the sales team and ensure they match your typical sales scenarios, and be prepared to tweak or replace sales stages over time as you gain a better understanding of how your sales pipeline works.

Calculate the number of opportunities you need to hit target

Sales people are inherently target-driven, and your sales pipeline needs to reflect this. Each key sales stage should have an indication of the number of opportunities, leads and prospects needed in order to hit target. For instance, you may know that you currently win 5% of deals from leads you’ve contacted and 75% of those prospects you’ve sent a proposal to, however your sales people spend 30% of their time contacting leads and just 10% of their team working on proposals. Such insight in your conversion rates helps to evaluate where your sales people are spending time and whether that time is adding value or taking them away from more critical stages of the pipeline. With sales people spending 64% of their time on non-sales related activities, it’s critical that they devote their dedicated ‘selling’ time to the right stages in order to help meet the team target.

Create a sales process or modify your existing process around your sales cycle

In an ideal world, your business will already have a defined and tailored sales process that secures leads and close deals. However, when you build a sales pipeline from scratch, this process may need to be reviewed and enhanced accordingly. Start by defining which activities are required at each stage of your sales cycle. When you’re documenting your targeting customers, the activity may be defining stakeholders and finding their contact details. Meanwhile, when you’re at the proposal stage, the activities may be getting a budget approved and drafting a proposal document. By focusing on these activities, you can have more control of the sales process and have increased visibility on what’s occurring at each stage of the cycle.

Build a strong database

A strong database of leads, prospects, potential customers and industry insiders are like gold dust to a sales manager. Every contact you have with someone within your industry could potentially be the start of your new client relationship and should be added to your database. Some businesses grow their databases through purchased data, however there are many organic ways of doing this, from creating and marketing relevant industry content with calls to action, ‘cold calling’ and reaching out to potential candidates via email, sending out mail shots and networking at events. It’s essential to accurately record your database on your CRM or another shared software where all your sales people can access and update it as they identify new leads.

Plan your calls and polish your pitch

Your sales people should all be skilled communicators, but there’s always an opportunity to train and upskill on pitching and selling processes. Identify the ways you can add value to potential customers and make sure you can demonstrate this value to your leads. This will help to move targets through the sales pipeline and advance to more critical stages where you can secure the sale. Make sure you have a strong elevator pitch ready and are confident communicating your business’ USPs.

Get the best team on board

One of the most important factors to help you build a strong sales pipeline from scratch is hiring the best talent. At BMS Performance, we connect exceptional sales talent with exceptional businesses, helping you reach your sales targets. Find out how we can help you.