sales pipeline being built in stages

Sales Pipeline – Step By Step Overview

Sales pipelines can be tricky to design and implement, but with a smart CRM system your sales stages become clear and self-explanatory. 

What is a sales pipeline and why do you need one?

In the past salespeople were regarded as being preeminent note-takers. They were evident everywhere you went, sitting in their cars, coffee shops, airports and even by the side of the road, notebook and pen in hand, shuffling a sheaf of papers as they transferred vital sales information from one space to another. That was part of their sales pipeline, and theirs alone. They were the only ones with the key to unlock this magic kingdom.

But what is a sales pipeline?

In a nutshell a sales pipeline is an organised and highly visual means of tracking all your potential and existing clients as they progress through the varying sales pipeline stages.

Even if you don’t yet have access to a sales pipeline management system – a sales CRM – there’s a good chance that you’re already employing some version of a sales pipeline management system, even if you don’t realise it. 

Within the sales process stages already exist (perhaps you don’t call them stages, but that’s what they are). Of course these stages vary from company to company and client to client but they usually contain at least some of the following stages; contact a client, meet a client, call a client, email client, send proposal, agree deal, sign contract, secure payment, or on the negative side, deal lost.

However, having a defined and structured sales pipeline within your sales CRM software – when used correctly – brings a whole new edge to your sales process. From marketing your product or service, gathering leads, converting those leads to sales, to analysing and tracking your efforts through smart, current and informative visuals and sales forecasts, you’ll never get lost in your sales pipeline. Juggle multiple individuals or companies in customised stages, gain insights into time management, track communications and all associated files, and all from the comfort of a fully mobile system.

Best practices of CRM Sales Pipelines

Before you start organising your sales pipeline, you really need to understand the problems you need to solve. The major problems experienced by CRM users is over-complicating their sales process by creating too many stages. It’s true that some areas of sales – like the sale of high-value and custom goods or services – may require more sales stages and may need to be individually customised. But, on the whole, the mantra of keeping the number of stages to a minimum appears to be the best option.

When used in this simplistic, customised manner, your sales pipeline brings visibility and predictability to your workflow. Accurate time management, financial projection and revenue forecasting rids you of the feeling of confusion; a salesperson’s worst nightmare.

What are the sales pipeline stages and how many should you have?

At Teamgate sales facility we use four stages in our pipeline – Interested, Online Meeting, Pending Decision, and Payment. Within these stages we can create all the actions which we need to aid moving the customer to the next stage. But, the number of stages you wish to use is totally up to you.

The stages may vary from industry to industry, but once you have clearly thought out the problems you wish to address, the design of your pipeline is simplified greatly. Additional stages may be added, or removed, depending on the analysis of results from the initial set-up of your pipeline management system.

What goals should you set for each stage of the pipeline?

Within the individual sales stages you’ve created, your goals and targets can be decided by you through continuing analysis of forecasts and results. Teamgate CRM allows you to set sales goals and success probability percentages over pre-designated time-frames. This really useful feature within each stage of your sales pipeline management plan lets you see how many days are left to fulfil – or loose – a particular deal. It also allows you to see the percentage probability of success or failure. This is invaluable when it comes to the analysis of your overall sales team’s performance and the performance of sales individuals.

The values which you set for these forecasts can be entered manually, based on history, expectations, or percentage of deals closed or lost. The results obtained from the parameters which you’ve set for your sales goals, or each individual stage of your sales funnel management, are invaluable for calculating your actual sales plan versus sales results.

However, it is once again important not to raise expectations through inaccurate forecasting. Problems which can occur, in different industries, and for different reasons, can and will affect overall scores. This needs to be taken into account in order to accurately analyse ‘real’ results.

What actions need to be taken to move forward through the pipeline?

In order to answer this important question we need to revert right back to the introduction of the sales pipeline, and the initial planning process. The owner of the sales pipeline needs to be fully aware of the questions and problems which need to be addressed in each stage of the pipeline. Once these have been answered satisfactorily, only then the stage can be moved forward through the pipeline, or marked as lost. These questions must be considered very carefully at the outset and may include actions like; if customer A does X then we need to do Y, how much time elapses before we follow up on a deal, how often do we follow up on a deal, at what point do we realise a deal is lost?

Pipeline Management
Sales Pipeline view on Teamgate CRM

The criteria for moving a deal forward through the sales stages, or being regarded as lost should be determined from the very beginning and/or adjusted as more information is gathered through pipeline analysis.

What if the sales process has multiple pipelines?

A sales CRM such as Teamgate is designed for, and allows easily for a multiple pipeline scenario to be handled with the greatest of ease. Individual pipelines can be created for differing products or ranges of products and the tasks, or individual requirements, associated with each task to be handled differently. These may include varying turn-around times, individual logistical problems, one-off productions, or bulk production, and the individual actions required to reach the sales goals of each one.

The Teamgate sales CRM allows for the creation of new pipelines with only a couple of mouse clicks. These pipelines are then customisable to match each individual processes, no matter how simple or complex they may be.

What are the main pipeline management reports available?

Wow! That’s a big question. To put it simply, the list of reports available cover just about everything you might need to analyse and forecast your whole sales process.

Sales Forecast
Sales forecast on Teamgate CRM

Teamgate CRM allows you access really insightful reports on everything from ‘How to set sales goals’ right up to the ‘Profitability of your sales results’. With these super-helpful, and easy to read reports you can learn the reasons why most sales were lost, the number of won deals over a defined time period, your marketing leads by region or country, or simply the best performers on your team.

These reports are really invaluable for analysis and future forecasting, evaluation of past performance, sectors underperforming and a host of other nuggets of information you can use to better manage and plan your whole sales pipeline.

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Abe Dearmer

Abe has a vast experience running multiple SaaS companies and is an expert on all things Sales, Marketing and SEO.

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