Sales pipeline management is one of those things that you probably don’t want to think about a lot, but you really should. It sounds a little dry, but your sales pipeline is the crux of your business; if you don’t sell, you won’t be in business anymore.
What is a sales pipeline?
Your sales pipeline is the process your prospects go through to become customers. Calling it a pipeline helps you visualize a prospect’s movement toward conversion. There are five general steps to the pipeline; through every business has its own specific naming:
- Approach the client (Awareness stage)
The nature of the approach varies according to your sales method—for example, you’ll never so much as see your client in phone sales, whereas you’ll want a firm handshake ready for in-person sales—but this first step is all about building a relationship.
Begin by introducing yourself and explaining why you’re contacting them. You might remind them that they indicated interest at a conference you both attended or note that someone else referred them to you. This explanation puts you both on the same page. Use this first step to make a good first impression. Look for opportunities to connect with the client, such as discovering a mutual interest. Be positive and genuine as you initiate conversation. You want the client to feel comfortable talking with you as you enter the second step.
- Discover client needs (Interest stage)
The client should do most of the talking in this step. You should ask questions that will help you understand them, but ensure you spend your time listening rather than thinking of what you’ll say next.
Use questions that encourage the client to talk about the problem they’re having that your product can solve, but don’t bring up the product yet. Try to get them to talk about their motivation for fixing the problem; other solutions they might have tried, or concerns them have about potential solutions. You should also ask questions that will help you anticipate objections. Do they have a budget? Are there other constraints you should know about?
Ask follow-up questions as needed to clarify. At the end of this step, check for understanding. Tell the client what you understand their needs to be and ask for verification. If you’re on the same page, then proceed to the next step. Otherwise, continue asking questions until you understand.
- Provide a solution (Consideration stage)
Now that you know the client’s needs, you can introduce a solution to their problem. Refer back to the needs they identified as you introduce your product. For example, if they explained they need a solution ASAP, emphasize that you can offer quick delivery. Explain how your product satisfies their needs and solves their problems. Depending on the nature of your interaction, this step is a good time to bring in aides to help you discuss your product. You might provide the physical product you are trying to sell, or just like the example above, you might present them with a diagram explaining your service. Ensure that any aides you use enhance the client’s understanding rather than distract them from what you’re saying.
While you should certainly demonstrate your product’s value in this step, don’t oversell it. Be fair and honest in discussing how well it meets their needs. Your specificity should make it clear that your solution is a perfect fit for their problem, so there’s no need to make promises you can’t deliver on. Once you feel you’ve adequately addressed how your product meets the needs identified in step two, proceed to the next step.
- Close the sale (Decision stage)
Make the sale in this step. Ask for their order or purchase. If all goes well, they’ll commit, and you’ll leave the interaction mutually satisfied.
Of course, clients often will raise objections at this point, particularly when it comes to price. Remember the information they provided you in step two, and use that to respond to the objections they raised. You should know what they value and what’s important, and you can use that knowledge to overcome any objections. By the end of this step, you will have completed a successful sale. You and the client should have a mutual understanding of what happens next (delivery or other fulfillment).
- Complete the sale and follow up (Purchase stage)
In this final step, fulfill their order and touch base with the client. Ensure the client gets their product as planned and that they’re satisfied with their purchase. Offer your help, should they need it, and invite them to contact you with questions. While the sale may have already been made, this final step opens a door for future sales opportunities. A satisfied client is more likely to become a repeat sale. Likewise, you can use this step to ask for referrals.
Though each is its own phase, they are all interdependent, and each stage has to make sure it helps prospects move into the next one. Ensuring swift movement through each stage is how you make your sales, so proper pipeline management ensures fewer bottlenecks and resolves any problems quicker.
The sales pipeline funnel is a key tool for small business owners to have complete visibility into sales performance and encourage growth. The funnel is your guide for organizing your sales process—turning it into a well-oiled machine that is predictable and high in converting power.