Sales pipeline stages best practices

The sales pipeline is the core of everything in sales. Sellers stare at their funnels all day, making plans and taking action to turn their leads into viable customers. An effective way to increase revenue is by mastering the sales pipeline and defining a formal selling process, which empowers sales reps in doing the thing they do best: selling.

Read more about sales pipeline stages best practices below.

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Sales pipeline stages best practices

The sales pipeline is the core of everything in sales. Sellers stare at their funnels all day, making plans and taking action to turn their leads into viable customers. An effective way to increase revenue is by mastering the sales pipeline and defining a formal selling process, which empowers sales reps in doing the thing they do best: selling.

This article covers the following:

  • Sales pipeline definition
  • Why a sales pipeline is important
  • Sales pipeline stages
  • Creative ways to build pipeline
  • Sales pipeline best practices

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a snapshot of where leads and customers are within the sales process. A clear visual sales pipeline shows sales managers how many deals are expected to close within a week, month, or year. It also estimates how close sales reps are to reaching their sales quota, pinpoints and prevents bottlenecks, and projects cash flow.

Why is analyzing a sales pipeline important?

Revenue growth is the most significant incentive for improving a sales pipeline. There is an 18% difference in revenue growth between companies that define a formal sales process and companies that don’t, according to a study by Harvard Business Review.

A quality sales pipeline helps companies and sales teams meet targets. For instance, if a company has a pipeline worth $100,000 in contacts but its conversion rate is only 10% from lead to sale, it could anticipate closing $10,000 worth of new business. If that company’s sales target is $20,000, it will either have to double the value of its leads in the pipeline by prospecting heavily or try converting twice as many leads.

Pipeline analysis can help companies identify opportunities for improvements within their pipeline that move more prospects from one stage to the next and close more deals.

What are the stages of a sales pipeline?

The sales pipeline stages vary from company to company. Many sales metrics and processes can be tailored to specific needs; however, a few standard B2B sales pipeline stages are common. The average customer follows a standard process from discovery to deal close and remains in the pipeline as returning buyers.

Here are four of the most common sales pipeline stages.

Creating awareness and prospecting

Potential leads discover that a company exists through public relations, ads, and other promotional activities. Sometimes it takes a combination of efforts to hook the audience and bring them in. Businesses will often deliver customized messages and values to potential leads who fit a specific profile.

Identifying interest and making an approach

Once leads are interested, sellers push to move them downstream. This is a good time to offer an ebook, webinar, white paper, or another type of lead magnet to see if the prospect is interested in learning more about the service or product a company offers.

Next, a sales rep should schedule a meeting or demo of the product or service, during which the sales rep will also evaluate a strong business case for the lead to be given a proposal.

During that meeting and after, sales reps will also make the case of how the company’s product or service can help address the potential lead’s needs. The lead or prospect will want to know the value received in return for the price. When delivering value propositions, sales reps should state the product or service’s competitive advantages that make it unique in the market.

Handling objectives and making a decision

After making the approach, sales reps will discuss shrinking or expanding the scope of work, negotiating price, and managing expectations when committing to a partnership.

Once negotiations are complete, a sales rep will oversee the process of signing contracts. Once the sale is final, the process will then be moved to order fulfillment.

Closing and taking action

A sale should never be considered officially closed at the first contract signing. Sales reps should invest in providing excellent continued service during the client’s onboarding process. They should also check in on the account’s progress from time to time. Sometimes opportunities arise for cross-selling existing customers on new services or upselling them on premium solutions — suggesting these options is particularly effective when the contract is about to expire. Sales reps who stay in touch with their customers can explore renewal options and even ask clients to refer them to other leads.

In these four B2B sales pipeline stages, sales reps often find ways to engage prospects and clients to increase the likelihood of signing or renewing a contract. By tracking these stages, revenue operations teams and sales reps can make informed decisions about improving the process and generating more revenue.

What makes a good sales pipeline?

Having a healthy sales pipeline allows B2B sales teams to:

  • Improve their overall sales process
  • Analyze different sales strategies for their team
  • Create a more realistic sales forecast for the future
  • Review their financial progress for the year
  • Have a clear visualization of how much progress has been made
  • Manage and allocate resources to close sales

A strong, healthy sales pipeline is a critical part of closing deals and indicating the overall future direction of a company.

What is the best way to manage a pipeline in sales?

Sales pipeline stages play a huge role in the overall sales process, and if they aren’t managed well, the sales process suffers. Let’s discuss best practices around sales pipeline management and the creative ways to build pipelines.

Follow up with prospects

Buyers today have many choices in front of them, and more often than not, they need help to make the right decision. A sales rep getting their foot in the door doesn’t guarantee a closed deal. Great sales reps will keep following up with their leads to land the sale. They must be persistent and do everything they can to stay connected with the prospects and build relationships with them.

Although a sales rep can set reminders to follow up with leads throughout the week or use email templates to automatically follow up with a prospect on a specific date, there are better ways to deal with follow-ups. Technology enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) makes this process fast and simple for sellers.

C[i] RecommendsTM uses Collective[i]'s IntelligenceTM network to bring to the surface the sales activities that are the most likely to have an impactful outcome. With C[i] Recommends, sellers will receive daily recommended actions, risk alerts, and more, so they know how to best spend their time.

Monitor pipeline metrics

A sales pipeline is a living entity that is constantly changing and (hopefully) growing. Therefore, a sales team should monitor key sales pipeline metrics to assess the health of the pipeline. Examples of such metrics include:

The total number of deals inside the pipeline The average size of each deal The average lifetime of a deal before it is won The average percentage of deals that are won

Sales managers should set aside time every week to review these metrics, which should give a good view of the health of the sales pipeline. By tracking these results over time, sales teams will receive strong indications of changes or improvements to the process that can enhance growth.

Predictive PipelinesTM can provide sales leaders with on-demand inspection capabilities and pipeline health assessments. With pipeline information all in one place, sales teams can monitor their metrics with ease.

Constantly review and improve the pipeline process

Successful sales organizations regularly review their pipeline, processes, and techniques to ensure they are finely tuned and optimized for maximum efficiency and success.

Sales is an art form. From the first pitch to the frequency of follow-ups to how a sales rep negotiates an offer — each stage can be improved and adapted. Over time, with the right attention to detail, a team can craft a successful sales pipeline formula and continue to update it to meet changing market conditions and buyer behavior.

One of the best ways to improve the sales pipeline is by homing in on bottlenecks or blocks. Consider how to clear out or prevent these obstacles. From there, sales teams can use metrics to gauge whether the fixes improved the pipeline or whether it needs more tweaking. Making continuous adjustments one by one and over time evolves a sales pipeline into a well-oiled machine.

Not only can Predictive PipelinesTM perform on-demand inspection capabilities and pipeline health assessments, but also sales managers can review pipelines and provide critical information to reduce bottlenecks without taking away from selling time.

Use an intelligent CRM to manage your sales

When a team has a pipeline full of leads at different stages, the pipeline information must be managed effectively. Without a CRM, that’s not feasible. However, most CRMs still require manual logging, which takes precious time and effort on the seller’s part. Intelligent WriteBackTM not only automates CRM data entry — reducing human error and giving sales teams a productivity boost of up to 15% to 20% — but also helps sales reps track metrics, manage a large number of leads, and access the desired information quickly.

Keep your pipeline up to date

A sales pipeline is constantly changing. As leads travel through the pipeline and deals close, information becomes outdated and disorganized quickly if not properly maintained. To avoid this, sales teams need to have a process to keep clean, updated data on every prospect.

Intelligence WriteBackTM captures data from approved non-CRM users, like members of a legal team or a reseller, so customer contacts are always up to date.

Create a standardized sales process

Sales reps may use varying sales techniques and adapt their routines to each sale — but they still benefit from having a standardized sales process built on best practices, which will win more deals in the long run.

Intelligent InsightsTM can complement a sales pipeline by giving sellers the best recommended next steps. Using AI and machine learning, Intelligent InsightsTM replicates the judgment of a team’s top performers to guide all sellers’ attention to where it will make the most impact.

Collective[i] makes B2B sales more transparent, more efficient, and more human by automating basic functions and using AI to convert the sales pipeline into not only an insights generator but also a sales machine. Explore Collective[i] today.

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In the meantime, explore Collective[i] and find answers to frequently asked questions.