Sales is a numbers game, and it’s near impossible to forecast deals and revenue if you aren’t sure where your prospects are in their buying journey. The key to managing and prioritizing your prospects is having a strong sales pipeline. Steps in your sales pipeline are the actions that your prospect takes to move towards a deal.
Establishing your pipeline steps is a helpful exercise for any business. Perhaps you’re a startup, looking to build a strong sales team. Or, you might be a 100+ year-old company that traditionally waited for the phone to ring with customers ready to give you business.
Either way, there are general stages of the customer journey – so consider each stage and then outline what steps your specific customer takes to advance towards a deal.
Your prospect notices your business exists whether it be through social media, promotional ads, email campaigns, personal messaging, etc.
It is crucial for your business to make your digital media presence known and reach out to prospects on a regular basis in order to start your pipeline.
For example, if you were a business that offered recruitment services and you needed to acquire companies that were looking for talented hires, you are more likely to start the initial sales process by building your brand, getting yourself out there, and ultimately initiating the first stages of bringing leads to your pipeline.
Steps your customer might take to reach awareness could be meeting at a trade show, hearing about your company from a friend, or receiving a targeted ad.
Your prospect discovers your company’s unique value proposition and learns about uses, benefits, and applications for their own business.
A strong interpersonal connection can be key here. Any B2B business is a person-to-person transaction, so a comfortable consultation can make all the difference in your prospect’s interest in further evaluation.
A common event in the discovery stage is a demo call between the prospect and your sales rep. This is a critical opportunity to both personally demonstrate applicable uses for your prospect, as well as build your relationship. Other common discovery steps could be an introductory call, attending a webinar, or responding to an introductory email.
Once your prospect learns about your company’s solutions, this is the phase when your prospect is considering buying or subscribing to your product.
This may be the longest funnel stage for your prospects, ranging from a couple of days to a couple of years. In this stage, personal and thoughtful follow-up can make all the difference in moving prospects to the next stage. Be sure to take notes during the discovery and evaluation stages so you can appropriately prioritize and manage accounts in your CRM.
Let’s say you’re selling a marketing automation platform and your prospect is the head of marketing in a company of 5,000+ employees. You’ve likely reached the right person, but there are other decision-makers who must be consulted, such as their marketing team, the head of sales, the CFO, the COO, the head of procurement…the list goes on! Onboarding a new platform takes time, money, and staff training. The evaluation steps could be a months-long email thread, it could be one follow-up call to discuss pricing, and it could also involve an NDA signed by both parties. You can start to get excited during this stage because you know you’ve made progress in your selling process, however don’t pop the champagne just yet…you still have work to do.
The intent stage occurs once your prospect explicitly expresses (verbally or in writing) that they intend to buy or subscribe to your service.
If the intent is verbal, it’s best to get this in writing – such as an email saying “I’m so glad you are ready to leverage XYZ for your team, the next steps for finalizing this are:”. If this is expressed over an email, it’s good practice to call and confirm intent as well as their expectations for the timeline (and then re-writing this in an email).
In this phase, setting expectations and deadlines is key to ensuring the prospect doesn’t fall out of the sales funnel. Be clear and direct about which stakeholders are responsible for approving a proposal, deadlines for onboarding, and pricing agreements.
For example, a software development firm has been revising a proposal for a prospect interested in outsourced IT support. After evaluating services for multiple projects, a prospect calls and says “we need support by September 1st for a project 20 hours a week. Please send over your proposal.” This is a clear sign of intent to buy – other steps showing intent could be an email stating “we would like to start your service on the New Year” or “let’s set up one last call with my CFO to finalize pricing”.
Ding ding ding! Purchasing occurs in a number of formats these days, but this is the clear sign of sale – this may be an e-signature for payment terms, an invoice paid, an ACH transfer, or a credit card payment.
Be clear with your prospect about terms, who the best Accounts Payable contact is, what specific items you need from them and expectations for onboarding your product or service. Review any contracts with the prospect and their finance contact, and set up the next steps with your prospect (now customer!) for beginning your service or product. They have entrusted you with their business, and now’s your time to show your true value.
Has your customer shared satisfaction about your product? Has your client mentioned they could use more frequent services? These are great signs of customer loyalty.
Leverage loyalty to bring new leads into the top of the funnel – maybe your customer has a contact in a different department who could benefit from your services as well, or your customer could use a higher-tier product.
For example, a finance firm is using an external sales team to bring in new business. The CEO comments on how pleased with the team’s services so far and asks if his finance firm could receive another member from the external sales team. A satisfied customer who sees the value of purchasing more on the account is an easy upsell. Or, your customer could request to purchase more of your products. Or perhaps, the customer could refer friends to your external sales team – thus your sales funnel comes full circle, and a referral is a pipeline step towards a new lead in the “Awareness” stage!
At The Endurance Group, our goal is to fill the top of your pipeline with quality prospects who will ultimately convert to customers at the button of the funnel. Based on your unique pipeline steps, we can support any and all of your sales funnel stages.
A well-managed sales funnel will move prospects through their customer journey faster, reduce unnecessary losses, and help your team win more deals. Here at TEG, we’re experts in getting you well-qualified leads and managing your pipeline. If you need help exceeding your sales goals, contact us today.