A well-oiled sales pipeline is a must for any business that wants to run a smooth and profitable sales process. A sales pipeline represents moving prospective leads from the time of contact to qualified prospects by helping them complete their buying decisions while making them loyal customers.
You may confuse a sales pipeline with a sales funnel because they often have similar visual representations but are not the same. They differ in terms of perspectives. A sales funnel represents customers’ journey from their perspective, whereas a sales pipeline represents the same process from the perspective of sales personnel.
The sales funnel looks at the specific things customers consider before deciding to buy products or services, and sales reps have to ensure that they qualify the product or service to meet those requirements. You might think the sales pipeline should fall under the marketing domain completely, but that’s not true at all. TechCrunch notes that sales development representatives (SDRs) have to assume responsibility for more than 60% of the entire pipeline in the B2B SaaS segment.
A customer might skip a step or two in the sales funnel, especially in a B2B environment. However, a sales representative should never skip a step in the sales pipeline. Even though it may seem that the two processes serve different purposes, the common objective is to build rapport with prospective clients and guide them to completing the sale.
A well-defined sales pipeline is as necessary as a sales funnel to ensure that none of your leads are left unattended. It will also ensure enough customers to sustain your business, even if some of your regulars drop off or move to your competitors.
You must constantly analyze which pipeline metrics you should track to understand how your business can achieve the targeted revenue. B2B Sales pipeline tracking can help you identify the stages that need more attention or the ones that require patching to help you formulate your next steps.
Now, let’s talk about the crucial steps of a sales pipeline so you can build an efficient one for your B2B enterprise.
The first step of a sales pipeline is prospecting businesses that can become your customers. You must be clear about your intent at this stage because you want to know if your products or services can fulfill the business requirements you’re vetting. You must also understand how to meet their demands and if their budget aligns with your offerings.
If you’re wondering how to go about it, no one size fits all. Traditional methods of business lead prospecting at trade shows or events are not that fruitful anymore. These have moved to online platforms like LinkedIn, social media, and B2B marketplaces.
According to Sprout Social, lead generation ads on platforms like LinkedIn can help you generate more leads than pushing people toward the landing page of your business website. LinkedIn Lead Generation Forms can achieve a conversion rate of 13% as opposed to a 2.35% conversion rate from landing pages.
You can try warm calling or interacting with prospective leads through online forums or webinars. You can also approach your existing clients or people in your network for referrals. Another long-term approach can be to position yourself as one of the leaders in your industry.
The key to effective prospecting is to start nurturing a lead when you make contact and not try to push selling from the start. First, your aim should be to know your prospects of doing business with the client and start building a mutually fruitful relationship.
According to a blog on RevOptica, tracking the number of additions to your sales pipeline will enable you to understand if you can achieve your bottom numbers or if there’s a problem with lead generation. If your sales pipeline is drying up, early indications will help you take the right steps to identify and rectify the problems.
The next step is ensuring the leads qualify to be long-term customers. That’s why you should hold off on your sales pitch. First, you should conduct thorough research to understand if the lead belongs to your target market and matches the profile of a suitable customer. You should try to answer these questions –
- Is your product or service useful for this business and its clients?
- Do they have enough budget to pay you?
- Are they a legitimate business?
If you’re wondering how you will know all this, your initial conversation on contact will give you the signs. You can also add a few questions in your email specific to your offer to understand whether the lead qualifies. It will help you determine if the person you’re in touch with qualifies as a decision-maker or acting on behalf of one. If the contact is a liaison, you must try to speak to the decision maker or get as close to it as possible.
An ideal proposal should always include a few crucial details:
- What are you offering?
- How will your lead and their customers benefit from that?
- Why should they choose to do business with you?
The specific details of a proposal will vary between different industries. Apart from the crucial details, you can also include:
- Perks of choosing you over your competitors, such as reward programs, finance options, product or service guarantees, etc.)
- An outline of your business processes, including details of order placement, product or service delivery process, payment procedures, and anything that might come in between
- Details of prices
- How will they move forward if they decide to do business with you?
You can also add photos or videos related to your products and services. A demo video that shows your team in action can help your prospects visualize if you will meet their standards, which helps eliminate expectation mismatches later. Always brand your proposal with your business logo and details, and make sure you follow up at least a few times.
A B2B proposal is always met with a negotiation where the prospective buyer will reply with a counteroffer. Your objective should be to work out a deal where both parties benefit equally. Negotiations are not always about products and services. They can also be about:
- Minimum/maximum order quantities
- Product or service guarantees
- Delivery costs
- Delivery timeline
- Bulk order discounts
You should always run the revenue numbers thoroughly and consider certain scenarios. For example, the deal might bite a little into your profits, but it can also lead to long-term business. You’ll have to maintain a good business relationship with the client. However, don’t go for offers with a foreseeable risk of substantial losses.
Your leads may ask you several questions related to your business details at this stage. You must always give them an honest picture with accurate details. Prospective leads may focus more on the monetary aspects of the deal, so it’s your job to point out the non-monetary benefits you outlined in the proposal. Don’t be afraid to throw in some perks if you feel the lead can be profitable in the long run.
Also, don’t make the leads feel you’re rushing the negotiation. B2B negotiations often involve bulk orders, so your lead may need some time to consider the various intricacies of the deal. But don’t forget to follow up, either.
Once you and the buyer have agreed on the different aspects of the negotiation, it’s time to close the deal. Ensure that every part of the deal is mentioned accurately in the written contract or email. You should also send an invoice for the first order once that’s confirmed unless both parties have agreed to process the payment after the goods or services are delivered.
The specifics of this stage will mostly depend on your interactions with the lead so far. If the tone of the conversation is casual, then keep things that way. However, leads that express eagerness to close the deal should be met with the same level of excitement.
You might have to deal with client indecisions in this stage. Matt Dixon and Ted McKenna, who authored the book “The JOLT Effect,” mentioned that 56% of interested leads may be lost due to indecisions. The author duo analyzed more than 2.5 million interactions between customers and sales teams before they made this observation.
Your job is to read the situation and take appropriate action to close the deal. If your leads are indecisive, you must offer adequate guidance or perks to ensure they go for the deal. Once the deal is closed, thank the lead for the business and ensure the order is on its way to fulfillment.
Closing a negotiation with a lead may seem like a big deal, but remember that it is just the start of a business relationship. The next goal should be to turn these closures into long-term customers so the business can have a sustainable income.
Turning a new client into a long-term customer is often not as complicated as you think. You just have to ensure a few things.
- Deliver the products and services on time.
- Ensure consistency in the quality of products and services.
- Maintain regular communication with the client, including periodic updates on the status of the order.
- Once a batch of orders is delivered, ask for the next batch of orders.
- Maintain the prices and make sure they are always competitive.
You can also go the extra mile by personalizing your relationship with the client. Simple things like a gift hamper on holidays or discounts when the company achieves a major milestone, can go a long way in establishing long-term relationships with new customers.
Sales pipeline management is not always an easy feat. You may have trouble approaching your leads even though you know where to find them. Your cold calls or emails might be ignored because most B2B businesses are hardened to them. Sometimes, you may not be able to communicate the offer effectively, or you might have pushed it too soon.
You must be consistent with your efforts and adjust your strategies to turn leads into customers. If you’re having trouble, put your sales pipeline under the microscope. You can take the help of external resources or online tools to plug any holes in your sales pipeline. But whatever you do, don’t skip a step, or you’ll find it more challenging to turn your leads into clients.