How to Create a Sales Pipeline for Sales Growth in 3 Steps

12 min read
May 17, 2022

If you currently have a working sales pipeline yet constantly feel like you’re jumping through hoops trying to close deals, your pipeline isn’t doing its job.

As the primary tool for streamlining the selling and buying processes, your pipeline should make buying and selling easy. Yet, most sales professionals constantly find themselves in a mess despite using a pipeline.

To put things simply, most traditional sales pipeline models are ineffective, and using them will only make closing deals more challenging than it needs to be.

To help you regain control over selling so that you don’t have to jump through hoops anymore, I’m sharing a 3-step process to help you build a new sales pipeline for sales growth.

If utilized properly, this pipeline will help you close more deals in less time and with less resistance.

Don’t let your sales pipeline work against you and your sales team. If sales growth is what you want, then start here to remodel your pipeline!


How do I create a sales pipeline?


What Makes a Good Sales Pipeline?


A B2B sales pipeline is a sales tool used as a visual representation of available sales opportunities. Within the pipeline are sales leads who salespeople work to convert into paying customers. Leads enter the top of the pipeline as prospects and exit the bottom as new customers.

A pipeline is the medium that connects the selling and buying processes together. In order for leads to move down the pipeline, sales teams carry out their sales cycle or sales process. Meanwhile, leads are on the other side of the pipeline going through their own buyer’s journey.

Like all sales tools, pipelines help sales teams close a greater number of deals in less time and with less resistance.

While there are many factors that make a pipeline effective, I’ve outlined a few of the most important ones below.

Thankfully, the 3-step sales pipeline building process that I’ve outlined below will help you maximize these all-important factors.


The Pipeline DOESN’T Follow a Traditional Sales Funnel Model


First off, most sales teams use traditional sales funnel models to outline their potential customer’s buyer’s journey.

A buyer’s journey outlines the process that leads go through as they move down the pipeline. It considers their mental and emotional progression as they get closer to making a purchasing decision.

Unfortunately, traditional sales funnel models are terrible sales tools because they don’t accurately grasp the mental or emotional progression of at least 90% of leads!

For example, traditional sales funnels assume that leads understand their pain points when first entering the pipeline, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

That said, if you outline your sales pipeline based on a funnel that doesn’t accurately reflect a realistic buyer’s journey, then the pipeline will fail you.


It’s Condensed to Only a Few Different Stages That Are Necessary


Most traditional pipeline models include five, six, or even seven stages.

However, a good pipeline should have a maximum of four. Believe it or not, top sales leaders only need a few stages to convert a lead into a paying customer, and they’re often able to do it in a matter of days to a few weeks!

If you design your pipeline with many unnecessary steps, it will get longer and more complex. The longer and more complex it gets, the less effective of a sales tool it is.

Therefore, the BEST pipelines include only a few different but absolutely necessary stages.


It’s Easy for Every Sales Team Member to Follow


Sales tools like pipelines are meant to make a sales team’s life easier, yet much of the time, they do anything but that!

In fact, because they’re long and complex, they make it challenging for sales teams to close deals at all.

On the flip side, effective pipelines actually help teams close more deals in less time because they’re easy to follow. Every team member knows what they need to do in order to make the pipeline flow smoothly.

If everybody on your team knows what role they play in making the pipeline function, then it’s a sign of a healthy pipeline.


Example of a Good Sales Pipeline


Here is an example of a healthy pipeline that’ll work as a template for creating your pipeline below:

  1. Prospects enter the pipeline - Sales reps perform lead generation while prospects become aware of their pain point
  2. Prospects are qualified into leads - Salespeople qualify prospects to ensure that they can manage their pain point while leads build trust in the salespeople as experts
  3. Sales leaders analyze the lead’s current situation - Salespeople uncover the lead’s ultimate end destination while leads see how solving their pain will help manifest their business vision
  4. Leads exit the pipeline as paying customers - Salespeople close the pipeline out with a final sales pitch while leads have total confidence in their ability to deliver

Instead of overcomplicating this pipeline, keep it simple! Remember, pipelines are only effective if they’re kept simple.


How to build a sales pipeline


Here’s How to Build a Sales Pipeline for Sales Growth in 3 Steps


Whether you’re currently working with a broken sales pipeline or don’t have any pipeline at all, here’s how you can build a new one in 3 straightforward steps.

This 3-step process is extremely simple and will help you build an even simpler pipeline. The more simple and straightforward the pipeline is, the better it’ll work!

Rather than letting your pipeline hold you back from closing more deals in less time, start rebuilding your pipeline to let deals flow smoothly.


1. Run an Analysis of Your Current Sales Pipeline


Before rebuilding your current sales pipeline or making any changes to it, run a sales pipeline analysis. If you don’t have a pipeline right now, bypass this step.

Running a sales pipeline analysis is a way of running a pipeline inspection. The results of the inspection tell you what problems your pipeline has.

When you’re aware of problems caused by your current pipeline, you’re less likely to repeat mistakes in your new pipeline that’ll create those same problems.

Typically, pipelines problems are pretty standard, with the most common ones being:

  1. Qualified leads falling out of the pipeline
  2. The pipeline getting exceedingly long
  3. The pipeline getting clogged with unqualified leads

Instead of ignoring your current problems, face them so you don’t repeat them in the future!


A. Calculate Your Sales Pipeline Metrics

To begin with, calculate these three sales pipeline metrics:

  1. Pipeline conversion rate
  2. Sales velocity
  3. Marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead rate

First, calculate your pipeline conversion rate. That is the proportion of leads who enter your pipeline as prospects and exit as paying customers. If your result comes out to less than 50 to 60%, then you need to work to increase that rate.

There are many possible causes of a low pipeline conversion rate, with the most common one being loss of control over the sales process.

Second, sales velocity is the average amount of time it takes to siphon a lead through the pipeline. To calculate it, just calculate the average time it takes to close a deal with your leads. If your result comes out to longer than 30 days, then you need to increase velocity.

If your average velocity is low, it could be a sign that your pipeline has too many stages or you’re not following up fast enough.

Third and finally, a marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a lead who expresses initial interest in your product or service, while a sales qualified lead (SQL) is a lead who expresses intent to make a purchase.

Calculate what proportion of MQLs convert to SQLs - if your result comes out to less than 80 to 90%, it might indicate that your pipeline is clogged with poor leads.

While these aren’t the only pipeline metrics, they are a few of the most important because they help determine whether or not your pipeline is suffering from one of the most common pipeline problems I mentioned above.


B. Get Feedback From Your Current Customers

Next, set up 10-minute phone calls with current customers to discuss their buying experience. During those calls, ask them what you could have done better to improve their overall experience and help with their decision-making.

What your customers tell you about their experience will shed light on other problems with your current pipeline.


C. Call a Team Member Huddle

Finally, call a collective sales and marketing team member huddle to discuss the sales pipeline metrics and customer feedback.

Get a discussion going about whether or not team members resonate with the results and if they can identify other potential pipeline problems.

The idea is to get all thoughts on the table while motivating everybody to improve the pipeline for better results in the future.


2. Outline Your Sales Pipeline Stages


At this point, you should have a clear idea of what problems your current pipeline is causing. With a clearer picture of those problems, you can avoid replicating those same problems in your new pipeline.

That said, it’s time to outline your new pipeline according to only 4 steps. Yes, 4!

Just because every other sales rep out there follows a traditional 6 or 7-step pipeline doesn’t mean that you should too. Because if those pipelines were any good, then those sales reps would certainly have more sales success.

The key to success is to keep this pipeline outline short and sweet!


A. Create a Stage for Sales Prospecting

The first stage of your sales pipeline is sales prospecting.

This is the point at which new leads first enter the pipeline as prospects because you believe that they fall within the constraints of your ideal customer outlines.

In order for leads to enter the pipeline, your sales team conducts lead generation on the selling side. Leads are generated through different lead generation strategies, including cold calling and marketing campaigns. Salespeople entice prospects into the pipeline by:

  1. Hooking their interest
  2. Showcasing valuable opportunities
  3. Hyping up their sense of urgency

On the buying side, about 90% of prospects entering the pipeline don’t know what their pain point is or how to solve it, while the other 10% are aware of their pain point and have already begun seeking solutions. 

Of the 90% who don’t understand their pain point, they enter the pipeline feeling some pain and believe that there's a possibility to gain value from pursuing the sales rep’s opportunity.

If you think about your pipeline as a visual representation of buying and selling, this is the stage at which leads start filling up the very top of the pipeline.


B. Set a Stage for Qualifying Leads

The next stage of the pipeline is very important. While it’s very important, it’s often overlooked by sales leaders.

This next stage is lead qualification: it’s when every lead who initially entered the pipeline goes under strict review to determine whether or not they’re actually qualified.

In order for a sales team to determine whether or not the lead is qualified, they hold an initial formal sales meeting to question the prospect. They ask questions regarding the prospect’s pain point to try to determine:

  1. What the pain point actually is
  2. The scope/depth of the pain
  3. Whether or not they have the goods to solve the pain
  4. Whether or not the prospect can afford the goods that the sales team has to offer

You can think of the sales team qualifying the prospect as a team of doctors working to understand exactly what’s causing their patient pain and whether or not they have the means to treat it.

As they’re being assessed, prospects start to realize that they really do have a problem on their hands.

Because the sales team is working diligently to understand their problem, the prospect begins to perceive them as a team of experts who care about their success. The fact that the prospects are starting to see the salespeople as experts is what keeps them contained in the pipeline.

This stage of your pipeline might start to narrow a bit as prospects who are unqualified begin to exit. If a lead does end up being unqualified, be sure to ask them for a referral and to connect on LinkedIn before letting them exit!


C. Create a Phase for Analyzing and Hyping Up Enthusiasm

The third stage of the pipeline is for taking a deeper dive into the potential customer’s pain point. If we keep the doctor’s analogy going, you can think of this phase as the one in which a doctor runs tests and asks in-depth questions to better understand how to treat their patient’s pain.

From this stage out, every remaining lead in the pipeline should convert into a closed deal!


Because at this point, every lead in the pipeline should be completely qualified, so if any lead falls out, it’s because you made a fatal error!

When it comes to the sell-side of things, this stage of the pipeline requires sales teams to uncover additional information about the lead and their pain, particularly what the lead’s ultimate end destination is. When you understand the lead’s ultimate destination, you understand how to execute your solution in a way that brings them closer to reaching that place.

Think of the end destination like this: Leads want pain points solved because solving them is a means to an end. More specifically, overcoming the pain point will remove a barrier that’s standing between their business now and where they want it to be in the future.

Your job is to uncover exactly what that future destination is! That way, you know how to solve their pain in a way that it brings them closer to that desired future outcome.

While you’re uncovering what the lead’s end destination is, they should be extremely enthusiastic about your expertise. They should feel as if you understand them perhaps better than they even understand themselves!


D. Set a Stage to Close the Deal

The final stage of the pipeline is the stage in which the deal closes. It’s when you make your final sales pitch to the top decision-maker and they immediately sign the deal on the dotted line.

On the sell-side, your job is to propose a pathway forward. Returning to the doctor analogy, it’s as if you’re suggesting a specific surgery to treat the patient’s pain so that they can reach their end destination: a healthy life.

Now that you fully understand the lead’s pain point and what their desired end destination is, you must propose a clear pathway for the lead to reach that destination from where they are now. Of course, your product or service will pave that pathway.

The key here is clarity. You must paint a clear picture in the lead’s mind of HOW they’re going to reach the destination. This does not mean that you reveal exactly WHAT you’re going to do.  

Just as a doctor doesn’t tell you the strategies they’ll use to perform the surgery, you should not reveal WHAT strategies you’ll use to execute. Only after the deal is signed do you reveal the WHAT.

Thanks to all the hard work you put in earlier, signing the deal on the dotted line should feel like a no-brainer for the lead. At this point, they see you as the expert who they can’t afford to live without if they want any hope of reaching their final business destination!


E. What Comes After the Deal Closes?

Technically, there is a 5th stage of the pipeline, but it occurs after the deal is already closed.

Right after the deal closes, you and your sales team will create a strategy to help new customers walk the pathway that you proposed at the final sales pitch. AKA, you’re creating an outline that describes WHAT exactly you’ll do to help prospects get from point A to point B.

This is where things get technical. It’s as if you’re creating a formal blueprint that shows potential customers what you’ll do to help manifest their desired outcome.

On the buying side of things, prospects should have full confidence in your ability to execute. Thanks to your undeniable expertise, they don’t question your ability at all to execute.


What are the sales pipeline stages?


3. Make Adjustments Throughout the Sales Process


As you put your pipeline to work, make any necessary adjustments to the model as you go.

More likely than not, you’ll find a reason or two to make adjustments so that you can sell more effectively.

I suggest conducting regular sales pipeline reviews in which you recalculate the key pipeline metrics. Your new pipeline model should improve those metrics over time, which will ultimately help you achieve your sales goals.


Your Pipeline Will Never Be Perfect

A healthy sales pipeline doesn’t need to be perfect to be healthy. In fact, it will never be totally perfect because perfect doesn’t exist.

You can’t wait around forever trying to perfect your pipeline before jumping into selling. Because if you wait for it to be perfect, you’ll never actually get started.

Therefore, create your new pipeline and then get going!


Meet With Team Members on a Weekly Basis

From the moment you start putting the new pipeline to work, make it an absolute priority to meet with your sales team members every Monday morning for a team huddle.

Use this regular weekly huddle as an opportunity to address any pipeline problems. On top of that, use it as an opportunity to motivate your team members for the week ahead!

At the end of the day, you can have the best pipeline ever, but it won’t matter unless your team puts in the work.


Streamline as You Go

Once you have some experience with your new pipeline, increase its flow with automation. Automating different pieces of your selling process will help it flow even smoother.

For example, you can use a CRM software to help automate marketing content and follow-up messages. This way, you and your team have fewer minute tasks to handle. With fewer small tasks on your plate, there’s more time to focus on nurturing the potential customer.

Furthermore, streamline as you go!


Final Thoughts on Building a Sales Pipeline for Sales Growth


If you follow my 3-step process for building a new sales pipeline, sales growth is inevitable. You’ll streamline your pipeline so that leads naturally flow from being just prospects to converting into paying customers.

No more letting your pipeline work against you while letting your sales growth goals slip by. Get your pipeline in shape to shape-up growth!

Win more deals. Grow your business.

Get more prospects, more sales, and higher-paying clients fast, so you can take your business to the next level.

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