Business News Daily receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Editorial Guidelines.
BND Hamburger Icon

MENU

Close
BND Logo
Search Icon
Advertising Disclosure
Close
Advertising Disclosure

Business News Daily provides resources, advice and product reviews to drive business growth. Our mission is to equip business owners with the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions. As part of that, we recommend products and services for their success.

We collaborate with business-to-business vendors, connecting them with potential buyers. In some cases, we earn commissions when sales are made through our referrals. These financial relationships support our content but do not dictate our recommendations. Our editorial team independently evaluates products based on thousands of hours of research. We are committed to providing trustworthy advice for businesses. Learn more about our full process and see who our partners are here.

Updated Oct 23, 2023

How to Build and Grow a Sales Pipeline

Building a sales pipeline can help you understand how your customers interact with your brand and products or services.

author image
Marisa Sanfilippo, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Verified Check With BorderEditor Reviewed
Verified Check With Border
Editor Reviewed
Close
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

Open row

A sales pipeline is a concept that articulates how a customer first comes into contact with your brand and the steps your sales team takes to nurture that lead to ultimately purchase your goods or services. Constructing a sales pipeline for your company based on analysis of customer data and sales trends can help you develop better strategies to drive more sales and grow your business. Here’s how to build and refine a sales pipeline.

What is a sales pipeline, and how do you create one?

A standard sales pipeline includes the following five stages:

  1. Lead generation
  2. Qualification
  3. Consultation
  4. Proposal
  5. Sale

You should customize your sales pipeline to suit your organization and business model, though it is useful to have a baseline standard from which to start. Future iterations of your sales pipeline can be altered to suit your unique circumstances.

Lead generation

The first stage is when your company is actively looking for potential customers. Efforts focused on increasing brand awareness are important at this stage. While few leads are ready to buy at this point in the pipeline, they will likely buy in the near future.

At this stage, attempt to gather leads through:

  • Social media ads
  • Google ads (pay per click)
  • Traditional print and media ads
  • Organic content, such as a blogs

Digital advertisements and content have the benefit of being interactive. Where print ads inform consumers about your brand, digital ads can capture leads. For example, if a user clicks your social media ad, they could be directed to a lead capture form.

Once you capture a lead’s contact information and consent, you can continuously market to them. That’s when you’ll get to move on to the next phase of the relationship, or sales pipeline.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

Lead generation is the foundation of the entire pipeline, and it begins with knowing your ideal customer through the use of buyer personas. Use these semifictional representations of your customers to determine your marketing and sales efforts.

To develop a detailed buyer persona, consider the following:

  • What type of media do they prefer to interact with? Examples may include:
    • YouTube
    • Instagram
    • Facebook Live
    • Twitter
    • Specific magazines
    • Certain apps
    • Certain brands
  • What are their problems, and how can your products or services help solve them?
  • What channels are they most active on or likely to see? Consider digital channels like social media and email, as well as traditional methods like signage and billboards.
  • What type of content or free offer would they instantly say yes to?
  • What would be an easy, fun and on-brand lead magnet for your company to create?

Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to plan, create and distribute content through your omnichannel marketing campaigns.

Qualification

Once you’ve captured the interest of an individual, you have to determine if they are a good fit for your business. This is known as qualification. To qualify your leads, ask questions about your customers’ needs in a survey. Alternatively, you could extend free offers or send targeted email campaigns around specific products or services and gauge which customers respond to which types of content.

A qualified lead is one step closer to becoming a customer. Once you have a qualified lead, your sales team should invest time and effort into trying to make a sale. At this point, it’s time to move on to the consultation stage of the sales pipeline.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

This step will be especially important if you have many leads that were generated before you knew whom you were talking to. However, it’s important to ensure your pipeline has a step in place that checks qualified leads to determine if they are cold or hot leads.

A hot lead is someone who:

  • Has the budget for your product and service
  • Can make the purchasing decision
  • Wants what you’re offering
  • Is eager to buy what you’re offering

How you determine whether a lead is hot or cold depends entirely on what you’re selling. For example, if you’re selling a luxury car or an expensive service such as private coaching, you may need to have sales reps initiate the conversation with a phone call. This initiation can become a consultation, in which your rep finds out what the potential client needs are and determines if your products or services can meet their needs.

Consultation

During the consultation stage of the sales pipeline, the sales rep speaks directly with the prospect in person, on the phone or via video conference. The rep asks about the prospect’s needs and discusses solutions that can be offered by the company.

A purchase may or may not happen at this stage. For B2C businesses, this might be a browsing customer who is still comparing their options. For B2B companies, it could be an exploratory call to discuss services. Either way, if the consultation doesn’t result in a sale, follow-up is essential. The final decision will come during the proposal stage of the sales pipeline.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

Make yourself available to prospects. Whether that’s by email, social media messages, live chat or some other channel, be sure to stay in contact with prospects, and be readily accessible to answer any questions they might have.

Timely responses are essential. Whichever channels your customers are able to reach you through should be monitored regularly and responded to as quickly as possible to keep prospects and customers happy.

Proposal

The proposal is when a sale will be made or a customer will choose not to buy. On the B2B side, this usually comes in the form of a formal agreement. An agreement typically outlines services and pricing, and requires the signature of both the prospect and the business. If the agreement is signed, the prospect becomes a client.

On the B2C side, repeated proposals come in the form of marketing content. Perhaps that customer that was browsing signed up for your email newsletter – proposals come in the form of email content related to their interests. E-commerce customers might abandon their cart, but sending reminders to complete the checkout process serves as a proposal as well.

Ideally, these appeals lead to the ultimate goal of every business: closing the sale.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

Once the sales rep has developed a relationship with the client, it’s time to make an offer in the form of a business proposal. The proposal should be modeled after what has been the most effective strategy thus far for your business. Take that strategy apart line by line, and organize it so that it can be replicated by all your sales reps.

Sale

When a sale is made, the pipeline isn’t finished. The business still must meet the client’s expectations. The customer service team should work to ensure the satisfaction of every customer by monitoring every account and responding proactively to issues. The sales team should continue to offer cross-selling and upselling opportunities to existing clients wherever applicable, focusing on maximizing value to the client. The marketing team should continue to educate and inform clients about the products and services available to them that meet their needs. Existing customers should be nurtured into repeat customers by consistent contact and excellent service.

How to develop this stage of the sales pipeline

If your potential client is an instant yes, then your next task is to fulfill your promise and put them into your post-sale nurture pipeline until they’re ready to be moved back into your main sales pipeline.

But what if they initially say no? Or, worse, what if they say yes and then ghost?

Create a system for follow-up contact. An automated version of this type of follow-up is cart abandonment sequences. For a sales rep, this may look more like a follow-up email or phone call that either results in a sale or marks the lead as being not ready to buy.

TipTip
Your sales pipeline should reflect reality as closely as possible while considering the experience of the individual customer. It’s imperative that your sales reps always follow up with customers and prospects to prevent a lead from going cold.

What’s the difference between a sales pipeline and a sales funnel?

A sales pipeline, which describes how your marketing and sales teams court a lead and convert them into a customer, is distinct from a sales funnel. A sales funnel is a representation of where your prospects are in their journey toward making a buying decision.

A sales funnel includes three major stages, though the specifics can be altered to suit a business’s unique circumstances. The typical sales funnel stages are:

  • High: High-funnel prospects are those who might be interested in your product or service but aren’t actively looking to make a purchase.
  • Middle: Mid-funnel prospects know they could probably benefit from your product or service, but they are still investigating the market and aren’t ready to buy just yet.
  • Low: Low-funnel prospects are ready to make a buying decision immediately or in the very near future.

Understanding where prospects enter your sales funnel, and from which marketing channels, can help refine your sales pipeline to prevent prospects from dropping out of the process and increase conversions.

Like sales pipelines, sales funnels can be adapted as needed to suit the needs of the businesses that create them. Creating subsections of the three-part funnel described above can be a useful way to focus on the more granular aspects of your sales funnel.

What to do before building a sales pipeline

The first step before building a sales pipeline is to get crystal clear on whom you want in that pipeline. This will have a significant impact on every stage of the pipeline, but most dramatically on your lead generation phase.

Consider the following:

  • Whom are you trying to sell to?
  • Who has been buying?
  • What problems do you solve for your customers?
  • Why do they buy from you instead of your competitors?
  • Where do you reach them (online, TV, radio, etc.)?

Use the answers to these questions to create buyer personas that represent your customers. Start with just one buyer persona focused on your No. 1 customer. What motivates that person to buy from you?

Know your sales pipeline, know your customer

Building a sales pipeline is a helpful exercise that enables you to visualize the journeys your customers take on their way to making a purchase and what happens after they do so. This offers your sales, marketing and customer service teams key insights that can help you make more sales and boost customer retention. Sales pipelines can be living documents, growing and evolving as your processes and customers change over time. Periodically revisit and adjust your sales pipeline to reflect the reality of your leads’ and customers’ experiences.

Jacob Bierer-Nielsen contributed to this article.

author image
Marisa Sanfilippo, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning advertising and marketing expert who uses her skills and hands-on experience to help a variety of companies — perhaps most notably, finance-focused businesses — attract customers, generate revenue and strengthen their brands. She advises and executes on top marketing strategies and tactics for email and social media marketing, print marketing, events, partnerships and more. Sanfilippo's expertise has been tapped by companies like First Financial Credit Union, McGraw Credit Union, Priority Payments Local and iink Payments. She has hosted webinars and in-person workshops to educate business owners on marketing best practices and works with RevGenius, a group that brings together sales, marketing and customer success professionals to trade tips on B2B go-to-market strategies geared toward scaling SaaS companies.
Back to top
Desktop background imageMobile background image
In partnership with BDCBND presents the b. newsletter:

Building Better Businesses

Insights on business strategy and culture, right to your inbox.
Part of the business.com network.