There are plenty of ways to turn a sales pipeline into an analogy and perhaps the most simplest (and most widely used) is to imagine an actual pipe with water going through it.
If every part of the pipe was planned for 100 per cent flow, it has been secured and all the joins are fitted accurately, you can be pretty confident that the amount of water that goes in one end should effectively come out the other end in the same volume.
But if there is somewhere along the pipeline that doesn’t function properly, then water, (or potential customers), will disappear from the flow. This means you won’t be getting the maximum result possible, and who wants to let that happen? It’s a waste of a perfectly good resource.
So when you think of the analogy in the sense of an actual sales pipeline, it is easy to see the correlation between not having a well-constructed sales process and the effect it will have on converting leads into customers.
1. Define your ideal client
Before you know what your sales pipeline is going look like, you need to know what makes an ideal client. Who are they, where are they from, what are their needs and pain points, and how can your service or product help them?
By identifying the types of customers you would like, you can then work out what you can offer to attract them to you and your business – which takes you back to the beginning of the pipeline.
2. Work out how potential leads begin their journey in the sales pipeline
Where do your sales leads come from? Is it from cold-calling, the marketing department in your company, or some other kind of prospecting? You need to know where they come from so you can qualify them right at the beginning of your sales funnel or pipeline.
In a large business sometimes there are many different touch points a potential client will make before actually becoming a sales-qualified lead, so you need to know when it is your turn to take over the the responsibility for them.
Imagine it like passing a baton in a relay running race.
3. Spend time extensively planning out the process
To ensure you have an effective end-to-end sales pipeline, you need to start right at the beginning. Work out an overall view of what it would look like – from how a lead is qualified, and the next steps that the potential customer would be taken through.
Once you have worked out what those steps look like, and how many there are, you need to drill down to the detail. This is where you create criteria like ‘to move to step two, a site visit from a sales rep needs to take place’, or ‘once the lead is sitting on step three, there needs to be a follow-up call after two working days’.
These clearly defined parameters provide a clear process to the sales team about their points of action, and by plotting them when they occur (ideally in specifically designed pipeline management software) it is easy to see how each lead will flow through the pipeline.