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The Anatomy of a Sales Pipeline: The Key to Growth Prospecting and qualifying leads is just the beginning. Here's how to build relationships and close deals.

By Roberto Liccardo Edited by Heather Wilkerson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The world of sales and marketing is rifled with jargon, but not all of it is hearsay. There are key performance terms that help drive success for an organization. The "sales pipeline," for example, is a genuine aid to lead generation and conversion. Also referred to as a "sales funnel," it involves a series of stages that, when done correctly, can and will gather leads and encourage conversions.

This article will look at each of the steps involved in creating a sales pipeline and how you can do it. Here's what you need to know to create your pipeline.

Related: 4 Strategies for Effectively Managing the Sales Pipeline

What you need to know

Data. It's all about the data. To build a successful funnel:

  • Create a list of prospective clients from data you have gathered from sign-up forms and other lead-building processes. These will be the target audience for your sales team.

  • Establish a good, workable sales process. We'll talk about how to do that. If you already have a successful sales process, it will form the basis of your funnel.

  • Know your sales targets. This is information you can gather by looking at past lead conversion data. Exceeding your current levels should be your goal.

  • Ensure your team is involved in developing your funnel, as each will play a part in the growth of your business.

Now that you have the baseline information required to develop your plan, let's look at the steps needed to create your sales pipeline.

Planning your pipeline

Try to automate parts of the process through the use of a sales-focused CRM system. Once you have the tools in place to start planning your pipeline, you can work through the following stages:

Prospecting for leads

Prospecting is the act of looking for new leads. Do this by advertising on your social media pages and blogs and by building social trust. Employ some of your team members to look for likely candidates and cold call, email or message them. The route taken will differ with each business, but the aim is to get people interested in your product. You will know who the target audience is, so concentrate on them.

Qualifying leads

Qualifying is about research. Here, you assess whether the potential lead is worth following up on. Find out the information you need by researching them or by talking directly with the lead. Here are the four questions that require a "yes" answer.

  • Do they have the budget to buy your product?

  • Is the lead in the position to decide to purchase?

  • Do they genuinely require the product or service you are offering?

  • Are they ready to close the deal now?

If any of the above results in a "no," there is more work to be done. A "yes" to all four should lead you to the next step.

Related: How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle and Convert More Leads

Contact the lead

Sometimes the above research is done following initial contact, and sometimes before, so treat these two as interchangeable. This is a simple step. You or your agent gets in touch with the lead and gets to know them. The first contact is an important step whether by telephone, in person, email, or text message. Make sure your agents have a script to follow. Make it friendly and not too sales-oriented.

Build a relationship

Building a relationship is about engendering trust in your product and service. You can do this by forwarding information relevant to the lead. You can also like and follow them on social media. Simple steps — yet not too frequent — assure the client knows they are important to you.

Closing the deal

You've got to know the client and vice-versa, and they trust you and your product. It's time to close the deal. If a lead is ready, they may simply order, but if not, you might need to offer incentives or work on the deal further. Either way, now is the time to get that order in!

Follow-up calls

Our final word is this. You may have converted a lead into a client, but your work has just started. Now, it's your job to keep them on board. Don't forget to follow up and see how they rate your service and ask if there is anything more you can do for them.

That's your sales pipeline, in brief, so start planning yours now.

Roberto Liccardo

CEO of Best Stocks

I have 15 years of direct and managerial experience in intensive digital marketing, analytics and finance. Currently, I'm working as CEO for Best Stocks.

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