How to Fill a Sales Pipeline with Qualified Leads for Business Growth

Brian Cristiano Jun 25, 2021
Concept of searching for leads for an effective sales pipeline, team of business owners working together to look for effective sales strategies.

Growing or scaling a business is a significant challenge for most business owners. You've probably given out free demos, paid for more for advertising, and even invested in software to optimize business operations. However, nothing is working because you're overlooking a crucial part of the business growth or scaling process- your sales pipeline. 

An empty pipeline is a reason your business is stagnating. You need qualified leads in your pipeline to grow or scale your operations. Fortunately, you can increase your revenue by improving your understanding of the sales process and generating sales-qualified leads. 

Why Your Sales Pipeline Matters

A "sales pipeline" is a term we often throw around while talking about increasing qualified leads or managing current leads. Indeed, the meaning of these words is easy to forget. Before revitalizing your sales strategy for growth, it helps to understand why your sales pipeline should be your main focus. 

A sales pipeline is a breakdown of available opportunities for generating revenue, possible hurdles, and projected revenue. It maps the steps a sales representative takes with a potential buyer until you close a deal. Business managers use sales pipelines to identify the number of prospects that grow into leads, leads that eventually grow into customers and the sale time frame. 

A sales pipeline is also a "tool." Tools aid you in the accomplishment of a task- in this case, business growth or scaling your business. Before picking a tool, you need to understand the problem and then use the tool to help you fix the issue. 

Your sales pipeline helps you fix business growth by providing a continuous supply of qualified leads. Note, we focus on "qualified" leads rather than general prospects. Qualification helps you know where to focus your efforts and generate more sales. 

Without a continuous stream of qualified leads on your sales pipeline, you may stay in business. You may have loyal clients that enjoy your services and frequently refer you to new clients. However, you will struggle to grow or scale because your sales either stagnate or slow down. 

Why You Need Qualified Leads for Business Growth

It's impossible to discuss sales processes and sales pipelines without discussing leads. These are people who have expressed interest in your services and can be nurtured into customers. While "leads" are a common conversation in marketing and sales departments, both departments may have different goals regarding leads.

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) has expressed interest in your product. However, it's only when a lead intends to purchase a product that they become Sales Qualified Leads (SQL). For this article, we'll focus on SQLs because they translate into revenue.

Lead generation concept, hands of a business owner holding a magnet to attract more qualified leads for their business.

How to Design Your Sales Pipeline 

Your sales pipeline should be unique to your company. It should also reflect the buyer journey in your business to help you track leads and project revenue. Here are some of the steps you should take to improve your sales pipeline. 

Map Your Sales Pipeline to Your Buyer Journey

Your sales pipeline defines the steps you or your sales team should take to nurture a lead until you close. These steps depend on the steps the leads make. You can identify the customer's steps by analyzing your sales funnel. While there are generally no rules around how the customer pays for your services, most sales pipelines have the following steps. 

Contact

A buyer's journey begins when they hear about you. For the customer, this is called the awareness stage, when they identify a problem. In this step, the most important goal for your business should be increasing your brand awareness. Your website, social media pages, and other marketing tactics should inform the customer about their problem and your solution. 

The sales team needs to hold back on any attempts to add promotional content in this stage and instead work with the marketing team to improve brand awareness. For example, describe a customer-centric solution in the landing pages instead of promoting your product. Show the "why" rather than the "what." 

Qualification 

The qualification step aligns with the interest stage in the buyer journey. This step is crucial for the sales process because it determines who converts into a customer and who doesn't. In the qualification step, you need to determine if a lead is likely to convert into a customer to focus your efforts on the right customers and reduce the conversion timeframe. 

So how do your qualify your leads for sales? There are several ways to do this, as summarized by the BANT method

  • Budget: Does your prospect have the budget to purchase a solution? Clients with budgets often have an intent to purchase. What's more, if the prospect has a budget, you can propose a solution within their budget. 
  • Authority: Is your prospect in a position to make a purchase decision or inform a purchase decision? If not, how can you reach the decision-makers? 
  • Need: Does your prospect have a problem they want to solve? If yes, you can explain how your product solves their problem. 
  • Timeline: Does your prospect have a time frame for making a purchase decision? If the client wishes to purchase immediately, you need to be ready for deal closing. 

Let's say you take a prospect through your checklist, and they pass the test. As a result, they become a sales-qualified lead. But how do you decide which SQL to prioritize and which leads need more time to nurture?  

Lead scoring is a system that helps you prioritize your sales efforts depending on how likely a customer is willing to buy, how much they're willing to buy, and how quickly they're willing to buy. Fortunately, several lead scoring tools in the market help you track customer engagement and score leads based on your evaluation criteria.

Meeting

The third step in the sales pipeline is the meeting stage, which maps on the intent stage in the buyer journey. After qualifying your leads and ranking them in priority, it's time to have a meeting. It could be a phone call, live chat, or a face-to-face meeting, depending on the customer. 

In this stage, the customer interviews you as much as you interview them. You, therefore, need to go in prepared to tackle any questions and present your services as the ideal solution. The customer wants to know more about your business, brand, solutions, and why they should purchase from you. 

On the other hand, your aims should be to understand your potential customer, the goal they are trying to achieve, and the steps they've previously taken to achieve those goals. As you engage the customer, you need to demonstrate how your service fills the gaps. 

Preparing for this meeting goes back to your customer persona and individual client investigation. How well do you know your potential customer? Are you using emotional selling? Do you know the customer's current state of life and business? Do your research and use the information to engage the prospect. 

To avoid forgetting crucial questions and discussion points, prepare a pitch and practice it. If you have a sales team, review their pitches and organize sales training to help them understand how to talk to potential customers. 

Proposal 

The proposal stage is the fourth step in the sales pipeline, and it aligns with the evaluation step in the buyer journey. In this step, you or your sales representatives ask a lead to become a customer. You present a proposal to the prospect, and they evaluate it for approval. 

Remember, in this step, your lead could always change their mind or choose a competitor. As such, consider the following best practices when making your proposal. 

  • Propose multiple options or service packages at different prices
  • Show the solution rather than the product
  • Use visual aids such as infographics to make your proposal easy to peruse and persuasive
  • Use simple and direct language 

Closing

When your lead moves into the closing stage, they officially move to the purchase stage in the buyer journey. In this stage, the customer pays for your services or signs a contract. This step is a huge success and cause for celebration, but not settling. 

Understand the commonalities between various deals. What steps lead to closing? Do your customers engage you on phone calls or email? Did your customer agree to a meeting after you sent a follow-up email or when you showed them a demo? 

For example, if most of your customers responded to the demo, consider making your demonstrations easy to view, access, and follow-up on. Identifying common behaviors among your customers helps you focus on the best sales strategies for your business. 

Retention

Your customer may have paid for your services, but they can always change their loyalty. Therefore, you need customer retention tactics to ensure that your clients remain satisfied and become repeat customers. At this point, it's best to hand over the customer to the customer service department but stay in the loop for customer feedback that improves the sales process. 

Team of business professionals in an office celebrating sales accomplishments.

Determine the Number of Leads You Need to Hit Your Next Target 

So far, we know that you need to design your sales pipeline and align the sales processes to match the buyer journey. However, remember you have revenue goals for your 6-7 figure business. How many leads do you need to reach that goal?

The best way to set a lead target is to work backward. First, you need to analyze your monthly sales data and understand your sales cycles, the closing timelines, the number of existing customers, and your current revenue. Don't worry about making accurate predictions or calculations at first. You'll refine your predictions as time passes.

Determine how much sales revenue you want to reach and have a specific timeline. For example, let's say you make a 1-year target to grow from $6 million to $7 million in revenue. This part is relatively easy, especially when using your growth pattern to estimate your potential growth rate. 

Remember to factor in customer churn or customer retention to determine how much new business you need to achieve growth. The lower your retention rate, the more qualified leads you need in your sales pipeline to reach your growth or scaling goals. 

As you factor in the churn rate, remember to include the revenue goal or potential per customer. How much does each customer bring to the business? Once you know the number, you can determine how many more customers you need and if you should adjust your goal. 

Afterward, remember to monitor your leads, customers, conversion rates, and revenue against your goals every month to track growth. Break down your target number into realistic, achievable goals for your sales team.

For example, you can break down your target deals as follows: 

  • 2400 deals per year= 200 deals per month 
  • 200 deals per month= 200 proposals per month 
  • 200 proposals = 6.7 calls per day
  • 6.7 calls per day= 2 calls per customer representative 

More importantly, provide practical steps to maintain the health of your sales pipeline. For example:

  • Every phone call from a lead should be followed up with an email, a link to a demo, or a message 
  • Sales representatives should summarize customer interactions to make it easier for other sales reps to follow up 
  • Every lead should have at least four contacts in a month 

Determine Your Closing Timeline 

Tracking your closing time helps you understand how long it takes to convert an SQL into a paying customer. If the timeline is too long, what steps can you take to improve closing time? Knowing your average sales cycle also helps you set realistic revenue goals. It's easier to set a timeline for an overall revenue goal when you know how long it takes for a customer to start paying for your services. 

Continually Analyze Your Sales Pipeline 

Scaling or growing your business occurs over time. As such, it's essential to frequently analyze your sales pipeline to monitor growth, identify practical tactics and manage the sales team. Data is critical in making any decision. Use the following insights to improve your overall sales strategy and sales pipeline.

Lead Source

Where do your leads come from? How do your customers learn about your business? It could be through referrals, social media ads, Google ads, or blogs? Once you know your points of contact, you can work on improving them to generate more leads. 

Decision Makers 

Usually, you need decision-making capacity to qualify a lead as an SQL. After all, if a prospect does not have the decision-making capacity in a business, they're unlikely to make a purchase or sign a contract. However, decision-makers vary in terms of responsibility and priority.

Find out the biggest motivators for different decision-makers. For example, financial directors may be interested in financial savings, while CEOs are interested in convenience. With this information, you can design effective sales templates for various leads. 

Expected Revenue

Only a number of your SQLs will convert into paying customers. Knowing your conversion rate helps you determine your anticipated revenue and budget for your marketing and sales departments and ensure that all leads receive the attention they require. It's also easier to adjust your sales targets over time and set achievable goals for the sales department. 

Resource Allocation

Analyzing your sales pipeline helps you identify how your sales representatives prioritize leads. For example, you may find that your sales reps are paying attention to leads with low scores while barely giving time to prospects with the highest lead scores. With this information, you can find out how best to utilize the sales team to yield the highest revenues in the shortest time possible, without neglecting lower-scoring leads. 

Bottlenecks 

Analyzing your sales pipeline helps you identify problems that prevent closing. For example, you may find out that it takes around one week for your sales team to send a quote to a potential customer after a meeting. With this information, you can make the calculations easier for your sales department and improve the response time. Remember that while you want to keep a steady stream of leads in your pipeline, you want to accelerate closing to reach your revenue goals. 

Sales Talent 

Analyzing your sales pipeline will help you identify your most productive and talented sales representatives. What makes them good at what they do? Do they understand your software better? Are they better listeners, or are they charming in their pitch delivery? You can analyze their tactics and include them in your sales training. When you understand your sales team better, you can make investments to make their work easier. 

Find the Right Sales Training Program for You 

As a business owner, pushing your 6-7 figure business to the next revenue goal depends on your decisions. Therefore, you need the correct information to help you identify the proper steps and make the best decisions for your business. 

Fortunately, you can learn the most elaborate and practical sales processes and hacks that accelerate deal closing. With The Deal Flow Accelerator, you can learn the top sales strategies for business growth. Reach out to Bold CEO for more on our sales training program. 

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