“Sales pipeline” is a term that gets thrown around a lot – but for good reason. While this phrase can feel overused, it’s actually a sales technique that is underused by many businesses.

According to a study by Vantage Point Performance and the Sales Management Association, companies with a formal sales process experience an 18% revenue lift.

Before we dive into ways to establish and manage a formal sales pipeline, let’s start with the bread and butter…

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a visual snapshot of the entire sales process – from initial contact with a potential customer to the final closing of a sale. Consider it a window into your future deals. Not having one in place is like the sales equivalent of flying blind.

What is sales pipeline management? 

Sales pipeline management is the process of tracking and nurturing potential customers through each stage of the sales funnel, with the ultimate goal of converting them. This process involves higher levels of interaction and outreach once leads become prospects as they advance through the buyer journey.  

Effective sales pipeline management relies on strong organization and analysis of leads, prospects, and opportunities to ensure a steady sales win rate. When this process is done right, businesses can prioritize potential customers better, optimize resource use, and forecast growth and revenue more accurately. Introduce automation software and data analytics tools into the mix and you’ll get pinpoint insights into bottlenecks and leakage points in your sales funnel. And once you know what these are, you can get to work improving flows and plugging holes.

Sales pipeline management isn’t about passively tracking numbers and hoping for the best. It’s a tool that empowers businesses to create systems and strategies that turn casual browsers into enthusiastic customers.

Sales pipeline management: Why?

The primary goals of pipeline management in sales are to effectively:

  • Track and manage leads
  • Optimize sales performance
  • Forecast revenue
  • Identify areas for improvement

By actively monitoring and managing the pipeline, sales teams can prioritize leads, allocate resources efficiently and take time-sensitive actions to maximize conversion rates and generate revenue.

What are the sales pipeline stages?

The key stages typically include:

  • Lead generation. Sales teams identify and attract potential customers through various marketing channels e.g. content marketing, events, and referrals. To maximize performance here, it’s key to have a clearly-defined lead generation strategy that guides you to success.
  • Qualification. The next step is to evaluate these leads to determine whether they’re viable sales opportunities. This involves assessing factors such as their interest level, budget, decision-making authority, and fit with the product or service being offered.
  • Initial contact. The part where sales teams stretch their social skills!! After qualifying a lead, they make initial contact to establish rapport, introduce the product/service, and gather more information about the lead’s needs and pain points.
  • Needs analysis. The sales team digs deeper with the lead to understand their specific requirements and goals.
  • Solution presentation. It’s time to showcase the value and benefits of the offering – often through demonstrations, proposals, and presentations. The content is steered by the information gathered during the needs analysis.
  • Negotiation. If the lead shows interest in the solution, negotiation may take place to address any concerns, negotiate pricing and terms and reach an agreement that satisfies both parties.
  • Closing the deal. Once the negotiation is successful, the sales professional then aims to secure the commitment of the lead to move forward with the purchase. This tends to involve finalizing paperwork, contracts and any necessary legalities and financial processes.
  • Post-sale follow-up. This is where customer service really ramps up. After the deal is closed, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with the customer. This includes post-sale activities such as onboarding, customer support, and follow-up communication to ensure satisfaction while exploring opportunities for upselling or cross-selling.

Don’t forget: Track and manage

The sales pipeline is a pretty chronological concept on a lead-by-lead basis, however, something that needs to be paddling away underneath the surface is thorough record keeping.

Make sure to track and manage each lead’s progress – updating their status in the pipeline as they move from one stage to the next. Customer relationship management (CRM) software will make this 1,000 times easier. Fail to do this, and you could risk going from a hot lead to a hot mess.

The math bit: Sales pipeline analysis

This is where the number crunching comes in. Calculators at the ready…

The calculations below provide insights into the health and performance of your sales pipeline, helping to quickly identify strengths, flag weaknesses, and highlight areas for improvement. Armed with these insights, resources can be allocated more effectively, helping to improve sales and generally give your sales team a well-deserved confidence boost.

Conversion rates. Calculate the percentage of leads that successfully progress from one stage to the next. For example, the conversion rate from lead qualification to solution presentation can be calculated as:

Number of leads qualified ÷ number of leads initially generated × 100

Sales velocity. Determine the speed at which leads move through the pipeline and how quickly deals are closed. It’s calculated by:

Average deal value × win rate × sales cycle length = sales velocity

Pipeline value. The total potential revenue represented by the leads in the pipeline. It is calculated by summing the value of all the deals at each stage of the pipeline. This calculation helps in forecasting and estimating future revenue.

Time in stage. This is the average time it takes for leads to progress through each stage of the pipeline. It helps identify bottlenecks or stages where leads are getting stuck, allowing sales teams to take corrective actions. It can be calculated by:

Total time spent in a particular stage ÷ the number of leads that have moved out of that stage = time in stage

Win rate. The percentage of leads that convert into closed deals. It’s determined by:

The number of closed deals ÷ by the total number of leads that reached the closing stage × 100

Sales forecasting. Predict future revenue based on the current state of the pipeline. It considers factors such as the value of deals at each stage, conversion rates, and historical data. Sales teams can then estimate potential revenue and make informed decisions.  (A sales team’s crystal ball approach, as it were.)

Sales funnel vs. sales pipeline – is there a difference?

There is! A sales pipeline and funnel both describe the flow of prospects through a sale but don’t mean the same thing. They refer to different aspects of the sales process.

The sales pipeline focuses on the internal process of managing and progressing deals through different stages, while the sales funnel focuses on the external process of attracting and converting potential customers. The pipeline is more specific to a company’s sales process, while the funnel is a broader concept that encompasses sales and marketing activities.

Sales cycle lengths: B2B v B2C

Is there a difference between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales cycle lengths?

Yes! B2B sales cycles tend to be longer. Here are some general factors that contribute to this:

  • Decision-making complexity. B2B sales usually involve multiple stakeholders within a company with various levels of approval. This can elongate the sales cycle.
  • Relationship building. B2B sales often involve establishing long-term relationships with clients. Building trust, addressing concerns, and providing customized solutions takes time. B2C sales may focus more on immediate needs, impulse purchases, or shorter decision-making cycles.
  • Purchase volume and cost. B2B sales transactions often involve higher volumes and higher costs compared to B2C sales. The larger investment and more significant impact on a business require thorough evaluations, negotiations, and due diligence, leading to longer sales cycles.
  • Marketing and sales channels: B2B sales usually involve targeted marketing efforts, account-based marketing, trade shows, and direct sales teams. While B2C sales often apply mass marketing channels, digital advertising, social media, and ecommerce platforms. These variations in marketing and sales approaches can impact the length of the sales cycle.

How to manage leads to increase sales revenue & conversions

If you don’t build a strong sales pipeline and manage leads effectively, your revenue growth is going to slow to a halt. Here’s what to do to make sure that leads make the journey to driving revenue and conversions.

  • Define your target market. Clearly identifying and understanding your ideal customer profile will help you focus your efforts on the right prospects.
  • Create a lead generation strategy. Ensure your lead generation strategy takes a multi-channel approach such as content marketing, social media, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), paid advertising, events… you get the picture!
  • Qualify leads effectively. Separate qualified leads from unqualified ones. Use criteria such as budget, authority, need, and timeline to evaluate the potential of each lead. This ensures that your sales team focuses their efforts on leads with a higher likelihood of conversion.
  • Nurture leads with relevant content. Many leads may not be ready to buy immediately. Implement a lead nurturing strategy to stay engaged with these prospects over time. Provide them with valuable content that addresses their pain points, educates them about your product/service, and builds trust.
  • Establish a structured sales process. Create a well-defined sales process that outlines the stages a lead goes through from initial contact to closing a deal. This process helps your sales team understand where each lead is in the pipeline and what actions they should take to move them forward. Regularly review and refine the sales process based on feedback and results.
  • Use a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Manage and track your sales pipeline effectively with a CRM system, where you can store lead and customer data, track interactions, set reminders, and automate certain tasks. It provides valuable insights into your pipeline’s health, identifies bottlenecks, and enables better sales forecasting.
  • Train and equip your sales team. Invest in training your sales team to equip them with the right tools and resources to effectively engage with prospects and close deals. Regularly provide feedback, training, and support to help them improve their performance.
  • Measure and analyze key sales pipeline metrics. Continuously monitor and measure key performance indicators (KPIs) related to your sales pipeline. Track metrics such as conversion rates, average deal size, sales cycle length, lead response time, and pipeline velocity. Analyze the data to identify areas for improvement and optimize your sales efforts accordingly.
  • Continuously refine and iterate. Building a strong sales pipeline is an ongoing process. Regularly review your strategies, tactics, and results. Seek feedback from your sales team, analyze customer feedback, and stay updated with industry trends.

How to keep your sales pipeline clean

The last thing you want to feel like you’re doing is wading through treacle with a blindfold on. Keeping your sales pipeline clean is essential for maintaining an organized and swift sales process. You can do this by:

  • Defining clear stages. Each stage should represent a distinct milestone or action. This will help to track progress and avoid any crossed wires.
  • Qualifying leads. Implement a thorough lead qualification process to ensure only high-quality leads enter the pipeline. Not only that, but learn how content journey data can help spin a virtuous cycle of high-quality leads for the top of your funnel.
  • Regularly reviewing and updating your database. Remove any leads that have gone cold, and opportunities that are no longer relevant. Accurate information will prevent clutter and confusion.
  • Eliminating bottlenecks. What are the areas of delay in your sales pipeline? Look into why this might be, then take actions to keep these deals moving forward.
  • Using a CRM system. As mentioned, this is the software you need in place to keep track of – and organize! –  your leads and deals.
  • Focusing on closing. Prioritize spending your time and resources on opportunities that are more likely to convert into sales. By concentrating your efforts on the right deals, you can avoid wasting time on low-potential opportunities that can clog your pipeline.

Continually training and supporting your sales team. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again! By having a well-trained team that feels supported, you can ensure they follow the best practices for pipeline management in sales to keep it clean, while remaining motivated to close sales!

Advantages of good pipeline management

(This is our favorite list out of the lot:)

  • Improved sales forecasting
  • Increased sales productivity
  • Better resource allocation
  • Streamlined sales process
  • Enhanced customer relationships
  • Better decision making
  • Scalability and growth
  • Improved sales training and performance management

Pretty much a sales team’s wish list, right?

Sales pipeline tools and software

You can imagine there’s some nifty technology out there that makes the whole pipeline management process much easier (and less daunting). Sales pipeline software provides a centralized basecamp for sales teams to track, monitor and analyze sales activities and opportunities – from entering and managing lead information, pipeline visualization, status updates, setting reminders, scheduling tasks, generating metric reports… you get the drift!

Sales pipeline software often integrates with other systems, such as CRM platforms, email software, and marketing automation tools. Sales data flows seamlessly from one platform to the other, helping with automation, lead capture, data syncing, and activity tracking tasks.

This technology also makes it easier to forecast future revenue and set sales targets based on the data and trends in the pipeline. Not only can goal progress be monitored, but strategies can be adjusted according to results. It’s a much more agile way of working – you can nip any issues in the bud while doing more of what’s working.

This is why Turtl technology includes an Analytics dashboard – to show sales professionals the pieces of content in the sales pipeline that are getting the best engagement. With real-time editing, teams can make sales content go further across various stages of the pipeline, such as the solution presentation.

This also means you get immediate intelligence that will hook better-quality leads in future. If you monitor the content journeys of leads that are closing, you can see which content caught their interest and feed this into your next lead magnet.

Find out how to score leads and see how we do it at Turtl.

Grab our advice and start creating lead magnets that convert (these learnings feed straight back into your lead gen machine).

Sales pipeline best practices

Jason Jordan – a thought leader in B2B selling and partner at a sales management training and development firm – Vantage Point Performance – authored a study in partnership with the Sales Management Association and turned its findings into an ebook: 3 Secrets of Successful Pipeline Management. In the study, they learned that there are three essential pipeline best practices that companies can use to increase their revenue streams:

  • Formalize your sales process to ensure alignment between buyers and sellers
  • Invest enough time in pipeline review meetings with reps to dig into specific opportunities
  • Train managers to truly understand best practices for pipeline management in sales

“Every company has a different system for managing open opportunities. They use different stages, require a different number of touches from sales reps, and enforce different exit criteria – but the companies that actually formalize this process, coach their reps to abide by it, and most importantly, evaluate and manage their opportunities by it, find that they are more effective at winning deals and increasing revenue than those that don’t.”

Jason Jordan, sales management expert, and author

As you can see, it’s worth putting time into managing your sales pipeline. Accurate sales forecasting, increased productivity, efficient resource allocation, slick processes, strong customer relationships, scalability… it all contributes to turning leads into deals.

It really is a case of process makes perfect.

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