Marketing Basics

Tips for Building a Sales Pipeline

If you’re a business owner who wants to gather data about your company, then you should start with the marketing basics: a sales pipeline. Pipelines provide a valuable visual resource for you and your employees, and it enables you to make decisions or changes for your business.

Right now, you probably have some kind of sales pipeline written down. A lot of times, this takes the form of a binder, posters on the office wall, or some other form of hard copy. But keeping a physical sales pipeline like this is risky — what do you do if something happens to it? How do you go about making changes? 

Even if you have a sales pipeline draft on your computer, it might not be detailed enough to actually help you better your business. Our goal is to help you create a detailed, informative resource that you can upload to the cloud and share with every member of your team. Your sales pipeline should be accessible, updated, and unique to your business. 

Your sales pipeline should be accessible, updated, and unique to your business.

What Is a Sales Pipeline? 

A sales pipeline is a model that illustrates a job’s journey through every stage of a deal. Some companies create a sales line that focuses on the customer,  from acquisition all the way through to a final check-in when a job is complete. For our purposes, we’ll look at the sales pipeline in terms of jobs rather than customers, but note that some models may be customer-focused. 

The model should show each step of a job’s journey, and should label whether a job is “won” (completed and paid) or “lost” (fell out of the pipeline somewhere before completion). This gives you a visual representation of where jobs are at in the sales process, and it lets you know where leads are getting stuck or slowing down. 

A good sales pipeline, however, goes above and beyond the sales process. There are so many hoops a job needs to jump through that don’t have to do directly with sales. Think scheduling inspections, completing installations, and ordering materials. Your sales pipeline should outline all of the steps in your personal process so that you can gather good data on how your company is performing. 

Your sales pipeline should outline all of the steps in your personal process so that you can gather good data on how your company is performing.

How To Get Started

The key to a good sales pipeline is detail. Begin by listing out every single step (no matter how small) a job needs to complete before it can be considered finished. You don’t need to write an essay on them, but make sure to use bullet points and go into as much detail as possible. 

Additionally, your sales pipeline should be unique to your business. If you specialize in two different areas - for instance, construction and maintenance - those areas should each have their own pipeline. 

Here’s a sample list of what the beginning of your sales pipeline might look like: 

  • Discovery: A potential customer called the office, sent an email requesting information, filled out an online quote, etc. A lead is created. 
  • Set up a conversation: Respond to the customer and make time to talk to them about their interest in your company. 
  • Initial appointment is needed
  • Schedule initial appointment
  • Perform initial appointment: If this goes well, move on to the estimate stage. 
  • Estimate is needed
  • Perform estimate
  • Estimate is sent

This breaks each step of the process down into smaller micro-steps. For each part of the process, you will usually have three smaller steps: 

  1. When something is needed
  2. When something is generated/performed
  3. When something is sent to or completed for a customer. 

The final draft of your sales pipeline doesn’t have to include this level of detail, but it’s a good idea to start small so that you can think critically about everything your business does (and what you might be able to do better). 

Revising Your Sales Pipeline

Now that you have all of the details written out, it’s time to hone your sales pipeline to better suit what you do. It’ll be a bit of a headache for you and your employees to refer to all those micro-steps on a day-to-day basis, so you’ll want to narrow your list down to specific triggers. 

A trigger is a point in the pipeline that requires an action from your company.

A trigger is a point in the pipeline that requires an action from your company. Some businesses don’t feel the need to enter jobs into their sales pipeline until they know that they are strong leads — typically, once an appointment has been scheduled. That might trigger you or your employee to enter the customer’s job into a CRM. This could form the first step in your revised pipeline. 

There are other common triggers along the way that should probably make it into the final pipeline. Some examples are: 

  • Scheduling appointments 
  • Generating a quote
  • Sending a quote to a customer
  • Collecting a deposit 
  • Ordering materials (this might only apply if your company specializes in unique materials that need to be ordered in advance)
  • Scheduling installation dates
  • Performing the installation

These are only a few examples of triggers that might show up in your pipeline, but you should refer to them as an example as you create a sequence that best fits your business. 

Using Your Sales Pipeline in Practice 

Once your sales pipeline is complete and your employees are putting it to the test, you can use it as a tool to analyze your business. Categorize each job that makes it to the final stage as “won.” If a job falls out of the pipeline, try to understand why it was lost. Are multiple jobs getting stuck at the same point in the process? This might mean that you need to change something about your approach to that stage. 

For instance, businesses often find that lots of leads idle right after a quote is sent. If this pertains to you, you might need to create a system to follow up with customers who have received quotes. Once you begin to notice trends in your pipeline, you can engineer solutions to increase the number of won jobs. 

Once you begin to notice trends in your pipeline, you can engineer solutions to increase the number of won jobs.

Your sales pipeline won’t just give you information about which jobs are won and which jobs are lost. You can also analyze the pace of your workflow. Even if you have plenty of jobs that end up complete, are there places in your pipeline where you notice a slow-down? Are customers receiving timely inspections or job site visits? Your pipeline will generate holistic data about your business that goes far beyond sales. 

Gather Valuable Deal Information

A successful sales pipeline generates “deal info,” which is essentially all of the information you need from your customers in order to win a job. Drafting a sales pipeline might help you identify weak spots in your process and come up with solutions to fix them. 

If you feel like your sales pipeline is in great shape, but you’re still not seeing the growth you’d like, get in touch. We can schedule a Free Growth Assessment session to identify areas where you can start seeing wins.

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