Sell to Win

How to invent your own sales pipeline from scratch

Jack Virag and Audrey Braun
Nutshell Marketers
Jack Virag and Audrey Braun
Nutshell Marketers

Whether you know it or not, you’re using a sales pipeline already. Congratulations, you’re a pro.

You don’t have to be a career salesperson in order to develop a sales pipeline. In fact, virtually every sale maps to a sales pipeline, whether intentionally or not. That’s because sales pipelines organically adhere to whatever sales tactics and processes you’ve already established. And they’re super easy to build.

Although not advised, you can even analyze a particularly serendipitous sale and edit your sales pipeline and processes so that your future sales are more like that one.

🤫 Here’s what they don’t tell you:

Sales pipelines are always changing, always morphing, and it’s impossible to nail it on your first try. Creating a sales process is more like perfecting a recipe. Every time you implement it, you see what works and what doesn’t and refine it little by little.

It’s not math, it’s science.

Skip ahead:

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline, in its simplest form, is the series of ordered steps that a prospect travels through on their journey to becoming a customer. Sales pipelines are defined by stages, which are loose categories that define how the prospect should be interacted with.

The way you and your salespeople interact with a prospect, based on pipeline stages, is called a sales process.

Be advised that people conversationally misconstrue sales pipelines and sales funnels. From an operations perspective, a sales funnel is something else entirely.

Sales pipelines vary from business to business, and even from product to product, and are meant to serve as a way of knowing which route is the best route a prospect can take to become a customer. It's also easy to analyze a sales pipeline and determine which stages need more fine-tuning based on how easily prospects convert between specific stages.

For instance, if about 25% of prospects make it to each next stage, except only 10% make it through the pitching stage, it might mean that your pitch requires some work, or maybe there are other details that aren't being properly addressed leading up to this stage.

So to summarize, the sales pipeline is a series of stages, and the sales process is a series of actions that correspond to each pipeline stage.

Common sales pipeline stages

No two sales pipelines are identical, but a lot of them are similar. 😏 Here’s a straightforward example that most successful sales pipelines are built upon:

Qualification

The qualification stage is where you, your company, your salespeople, etc., are determining whether or not a prospect is even a good fit for your product or service. In the olden days, before CRMs, this was basically asking someone, “Hiya pal, can I interest you in a fountain pen?”

It’s a bit more tactful these days, but the qualification stage really serves to save you time, because trying to pitch your product or service to someone who’s not interested will only hurt you in the long run.

Meeting

After 2020, this stage became mostly virtual. The meeting stage exists for the prospect to get a good, personalized look at what your product, service, or offer really does. Most of the time, this can be accomplished during a Zoom meeting or a phone call.

The meeting stage is also the point in your sales pipeline where video demos and webinars come into play. Especially for online businesses and b2b sales models, pre-recorded videos are an excellent way to consolidate all the questions that a prospect typically asks, and answer them upfront in a constructive way.

Pitch

If (and only if) a prospect is a good fit, the pitching stage is where you demonstrate your solution. The goal is to generate a bit of interest, and your sales process should be thoughtfully crafted in order to do this as best as possible.

Remember that this stage is a two-way conversation with the prospect, and it’s important to invite them to share questions and objections so you can learn how to serve them better. And if you’re trying something new, their feedback will directly inform your sales process, so that your pitch keeps getting better and better for future prospects.

Close

The closing pipeline stage is the stage wherein the actual deal is negotiated. Any last-minute questions will need to be answered by you or your sales team, and a contract or bill will be sent to the prospect for signing.

The sales pipeline versus a sales process

Although often used interchangeably, the big difference is:

  • A sales pipeline is the set of stages that a prospect travels through.
  • A sales process is the set of actions you take for each stage.
  • Each stage in the sales pipeline warrants its own sales process steps.

Remember, your prospect works their way through the pipeline, and you work your way through the sales process. The process serves as a tactical playbook of sales techniques that help get the prospect through the pipeline more effectively.

Related: Why your sales team needs a standardized sales process

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Building your own pipeline from scratch

Unfortunately, a sales pipeline isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of operation. When your salespeople interact with prospects, they’re gaining valuable information about optimizations that can be made to make the experience better for prospects in the future. Sales pipelines are constantly being improved.

Creating a sales pipeline starts with some knowledge of how the typical buyer’s journey plays out at your company. Do you have a formal qualification process? Does your meeting phase include pre-recorded videos? Does each sales pitch require some customization? All of these questions will determine what exactly your sales pipeline looks like.

Identifying the right stages

Every sales pipeline has its own unique processes behind it, which vary from company to company. The stages, however, are usually similar, and portray the customer gaining awareness, interest, and then engaging with the company and eventually making a purchasing decision.

In a typical sale, the buyer’s journey includes the following key decision phases, and the pipeline reflects this:

  • Unconcerned - The prospect is unaware of the issues your company solves.
  • Investigating - The buyer is aware of the potential issue, and is researching options.
  • Defining - The prospect is defining their decision criteria and process for addressing the issues your company solves.
  • Selecting - The buyer is evaluating shortlisted options.
  • Negotiating - The buyer is negotiating the best possible deal.
  • Approving - The solution is being formally approved by the decision-makers.

Working backwards: What sales tasks do you do?

Since each step in your company’s sales process corresponds to a pipeline stage, you can easily create a pipeline built from the tasks and activities that your sales team finds successful. For example:

Qualification activities include:

  • Cold calling
  • Cold emailing
  • Fielding contact forms

Meeting activities include:

  • Having a Zoom call
  • Preparing a customized pitch
  • Having a phone call with stakeholders
  • Sending pre-recorded sales videos

Pitch activities include:

  • Having a follow-up call
  • Hosting a demo for the stakeholders tailored to their needs
  • Holding a conversation about closing the deal

Closing activities include:

  • Delivering a proposal
  • Any final negotiations
  • Acquiring a signed contract

Your sales pipeline in your CRM

You can use virtually any CRM, but Nutshell makes sales pipelines super easy.

Your CRM will allow you to create custom pipelines to suit your business’s sales needs, with each pipeline stage representing a different step in your prospect’s journey. In Nutshell, upon creating a pipeline, a default template is shown, which can be changed to resemble your own company’s sales pipeline.

A default pipeline template in Nutshell
A default pipeline template.

From there, stages can be named, and given custom parameters that determine things like

  • How long until the lead is considered overdue
  • Lead confidence score
  • How long until leads are closed
  • Guidance for the rest of the sales team
Guidance text next to a sales pipeline, describing what the stage means.
Guidance messages show up for everyone on your team.

Most importantly, Nutshell CRM allows users to add some automation to each stage in the sales pipeline (represented by the + icons here), so that certain repeatable actions are automatically performed for each stage in the pipeline.

For example, a personalized email sequence can be triggered, or a certain salesperson can get notified that the lead is ready for a phone call. With automation, each pipeline stage can automatically get its own special treatment.

Customizable pipeline stages in Nutshell CRM
The customizable automations for each pipeline stage in Nutshell

Not only is a CRM a wonderful tool for establishing a sales pipeline, but most CRMs will let you automate the cumbersome stuff so you can focus on what’s truly important—closing more deals. 🔥

Even better, a CRM's easy-to-understand user interface will allow you to keep tabs on the entire sales pipeline and see which stages need attention, how the corresponding processes can improve, and so on. This also counts towards team collaboration, seeing which reps excel at which tasks, and so on. There are countless benefits to using a CRM.

If this is your first introduction to sales pipelines, be sure to reach out to Nutshell’s free support team for help, and don’t forget to sign up for a free trial!

P.S. We'll even put your data into Nutshell and help you set up your pipeline for free. 😉

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