Regardless of the size of a business, we're always looking for ways to shave costs, increase margins and save time. Automation is the key to ticking off all three of those and I'm not talking about hiring a robot to take peoples jobs, I'm talking about a few simple hacks that anyone can do at every stage of the sales pipeline.
It's easy for a business to place automating their sales pipeline into the too hard pile as it will chew into time that you could be actively searching for new leads and closing deals. The ironic thing is that although it may take time to set it up, it will actually save you a mountain of time in the long-term and let you get back to bringing home the bacon.
What is a sales pipeline?
If you're not overly familiar with a sales pipeline, that's totally cool but if you're in sales, this is something that could change everything for you. A sales pipeline is an organised way for your sales team to visualise the progress of deals and potential buyers as they move through the different stages of the customer journey. It's described as a pipeline as it represents the sales process your potential deals will follow from starting out as a lead to becoming a paying customer.
If you currently have a process that clearly outlines the steps required to be taken from initial contact to closing the deal you may be bang on the money already. If you just wing it and every deal is a new process then clearly setting one up could be game-changing for the growth of your business.
Here are the simple steps to building your own sales pipeline:
- Define the stages of your sales cycle (check out some of ours below).
- Identify how many opportunities typically continue to the next stage.
- Work backward to calculate the number of opportunities you need at every stage to hit your revenue goals.
- Pinpoint the common characteristics of opportunities that convert for every stage - both the actions your sales team takes (like sending a follow-up email) and lead responses (agreeing to a demo or meeting).
- Create a sales process or adapt your existing one around these actions and numbers.
When used correctly, a sales pipeline is monumental in sales forecasting and is a tool your entire sales team can utilise to stay organised and structured.
What are some examples stages of a pipeline and how can I automate them?
The stages of a sales pipeline should run alongside your buyers journey and is the steps needed to move a potential lead from first contact to becoming a customer. If you're not familiar with the buyers journey it has three different stages:
Every businesses sales process will be different so the sales pipeline stages may vary but generally the most common stages of the pipeline include:
1. Lead Generation
Firstly, you need potential customers and leads to sell your service or product to. Generally seen as a step for the marketing team, it is still important for sales to have input and systems in place to generate leads. If you're not across where the leads are coming from or the content that marketing is creating, your approach may be disjointed. So again, although this is for marketing, we strongly recommend aligning the departments.
This is part of the awareness stage when your prospect is trying to understand and identify the problem they are facing. The most common forms of lead generation is through content, SEO marketing or the hugely outdated strategy of cold calling.
2. Contact Stage
Initial contact has been attempted through phone, email or both. In this stage, the lead can receive a series of automated emails that help the sales rep follow up, keep track or provide further information. A chatbot across your website is a handy tool which allows the lead to make contact on their terms and can help you skip the qualifying stage by asking qualifying questions such as a leads company size, budget etc. The lead will remain in this stage until contact is made.
A lead will move to this stage once a sales rep has successfully made contact and initial conversations have started. Automated emails can be used in this step that provides further information for the lead or to automatically remind the sales rep when to follow up or to complete tasks.
Once contact has been made and the lead has engaged with the sales team it's important to understand if they are likely to progress. Qualifying a lead is essential because it's not worth putting in hours of work if you get to the closing stage and realise all along they weren't a good fit. The sales rep will uncover more information about the client and decide if they should progress. As mentioned before, an automated chatbot is a handy tool when qualifying leads and can save your sales team hours of time emailing back and forth.
As part of the consideration stage, this is where you'll schedule a meeting to go into more detail about your product and service. This is where you help the lead understand how your product can help solve the issues they identified in the first part of the pipeline.
Each businesses approach to this stage will be different depending on their product or service but this will be the point in the pipeline where you'll roll out the red carpet and sell to the potential customer. Automation doesn't have to be complex, setting up a simple automated email reminding both your sales member and the lead about your upcoming meeting could save both parties the embarrassment of forgetting and the chance of losing a deal because of it.
Set up post meeting automation to send a thank you follow up email which outlines the next steps along with an internal email that lists the follow-up tasks for the sales rep.
5. Closing the deal
This is the final step in your sales pipeline and if you're process has been followed, hopefully the result is the deal being closed and you ringing the bell, Wolf of Wall Street style. Once again, your best friend in this instance will be automation with quotes being able to be automatically generated and emailed to the potential customer. If you don't hear from them for a number of days send a friendly reminder to both your team and the customer reminding both parties you're almost there.
6. Deal Won/Lost
The final stage of the pipeline and the point you've been working towards. Either way the deal goes, automation is a godsend and can save you time and effort so you can spend your time cracking the champagne or focusing on deals that need extra attention.
If you've won the deal, the contract can be automatically generated and a series of welcome emails can outline what next the next steps are. If the deal is lost, automatic emails can be sent thanking the lead for their time and letting you know internally the reason for the loss. If the reason is they just aren't ready to purchase right now, set an automatic reminder to make contact again six months down the track and re-open the deal.
Where do I start?
Start off by looking at all the touch-points and the times when an action is required to be taken both by your sales team or by the lead. Look at the ones we've mentioned and think about what makes your business and sales department different. What information do you require and what tools should your consumer be armed with to assist them in making a purchase? They need to understand what you can do for them (meeting stage) and your costs (closing the deal stage), while you need to know if they fit your buyer personas (qualifying stage) and if you can genuinely help them (meeting stage).
Creating a sales pipeline not only helps you clearly visualise where deals are and helps you forecast revenue, it allows your team to uncover at which stages deals are being lost and where an issue could be. Automating your pipeline will take your sales strategy to the next level allowing your team to focus on winning deals rather than remembering to follow up or the menial admin tasks everyone wishes didn't exist.
Clearly defining your sales pipeline and adding automation will not only save you time but it can help you keep track of deals, forecast revenue and allows you to see where you're losing out on deals. If you're interested in learning more about how to set up a clear sales pipeline for your company or to learn more about sales and marketing automations then hit that chat in the bottom right of your screen and chat to one of our team today.