FeaturesPricingDocsBlog

The Step-by-Step Sales Process: How to Build and Manage Your Sales Pipeline

What’s one of the best problems you can have as a business owner or sales rep?

Outgrowing that spread sheet you’ve been using to track leads!

That’s right – because realizing you’ve got more opportunities than you can track without a CRM is a sign that your business is maturing. Once you have more prospects and contacts than you can manage manually, the Excel sheet no longer cuts it.

So, it’s time to take control of your opportunities by creating a sales pipeline in Propeller CRM. We’ll have you up and running in no time and you’ll be happy you made the switch!

Setting up a sales pipeline that works for your company improves efficiency, productivity, and ROI. Not only because your sales reps have a clear understanding of each step, but because they can easily visualize exactly where each of the opportunities stands – and how much harder they have to work to close.

Today’s article will show you how to:

  • Build and structuring your sales pipeline;
  • Create a weighted pipeline;
  • Align your sales process with your pipeline;
  • Measure and optimize your pipeline over time.

What is a sales pipeline?

Your sales pipeline is an overview of your sales process, broken down into specific steps that represent the actions your sales team must take to turn leads into opportunities into customers.

A quick glance at your pipeline reveals how much money is currently tied up in the sales process, whether your reps are on track to make their quotas, and whether you’re finding enough qualified leads to sustain your business.

Propeller provides you with an easy-to-setup visual pipeline, so you can see exactly how far along each of your opportunities are in the sales process. You’ll find this helpful for visualizing your deal flow and understanding the size of each ongoing deal for better forecasting.

Read: What is a Sales Pipeline and How Can It Streamline Your Selling Process?

How to Structure Your Sales Pipeline

Though the specific steps can vary depending on your industry, product, and sales process, there are five basic stages you should start with when first structuring your pipeline:

  • Initial contact
  • Lead qualification
  • Scheduling a sales demo
  • Submitting a proposal
  • Closing the sale

Let’s take a look at how you can set up this pipeline in Propeller and what you should do at each stage.

Setting Up a New Pipeline in Propeller

First things first, you’ll want to click on the Propeller drop-down menu and choose New Pipeline (or Edit Pipeline if you’re updating an old one).

First things first, you’ll want to click on the Propeller drop-down menu and choose New Pipeline

Go ahead and give your pipeline a relevant name. The pipeline will appear under this name throughout the platform, so make it something easily recognizable – especially if you create multiple pipelines for different activities, like sales, promotional outreach, and fundraising.

Next, fill in the specific stages you want to include. You can add as many stages as you want, but we suggest sticking to the five we’re covering in this article until you decide if additional stages are necessary.

Next, fill in the specific stages you want to include. You can add as many stages as you want, but we suggest sticking to the five we’re covering in this article until you decide if additional stages are necessary.

Once your pipeline is set up in Propeller, you’ll be able to instantly see exactly where each of your opportunities are at any given time.

Now, let’s dig into what each stage encompasses and how you can move leads from one step to the next.

Pipeline Stage 1: Initial Contact

When leads first enter your pipeline, they’re just that – leads. They may or may not turn into paying clients eventually, but first you need to open up the lines of communication.

Start by adding your leads to Propeller. Whether you enter contacts manually, upload them in bulk, or use a tool like Zapier to automatically create leads in Propeller, the first step is getting your contacts into the system so that you can track their movement through your pipeline.

Propeller contact list

Once you have a list of prospects you want to target, it’s time to make contact. Usually, this involves someone on your marketing or sales team cold emailing and cold calling leads to see if they’re interested in what your business has to offer.

If you’re calling, take notes in Propeller so your contact information is all in one place and you know where to look later on if you need to reference the conversation.

If you’re cold emailing, you can create, execute, and track your entire campaign using Propeller – all from within your Gmail inbox. For more detailed information about creating a cold email campaign in Propeller, check out our complete guide below.

creating an email campaign

Read: Cold Email Campaigns: The Complete Guide to Cold Email Outreach and Sales

Pipeline Stage 2: Lead Qualification

Now that you’ve made contact with your prospects, you need to decide which leads are most worth pursuing.

Lead qualification or discovery involves finding out how likely a lead is to make a purchase. For instance, are they currently searching for a solution like yours? Eager to learn more? Waiting to get their budget approved? Just browsing? Or not interested at all?

If you haven’t already, you should develop a lead scoring system that makes sense for your business model. Lead scoring allows you to identify leads that are ready to buy – or at least those that are ready to speak to a quota-carrying sales rep.

For example, the BANT framework is a popular approach that scores leads based on their budget, authority to make a buying decision, need for your solution, and timing. This model can provide a solid basis for your own lead scoring system if you don’t yet have one in place.

Read: The BANT Framework for Qualifying Prospects and Leads

Leads that do express interest in speaking to a sales rep – perhaps by responding to your email with a question about your product or spending considerable time on your pricing page – are considered qualified sales leads (SQLs). When a lead reaches this point, it’s time to move them to the next stage in your pipeline: scheduling a meeting.

Pipeline Stage 3: Meeting

Once a lead becomes an SQL, they’re ready to hear more about the product from one of your sales reps.

This is the stage where you schedule a meeting or demo to talk to your prospects one-on-one about how your solution fits their needs. The goal is to sell your prospect on the benefits of the product or service and segue into the negotiation process.

Whether you do so over the phone, video call, or in-person, conducting a winning sales demo requires tailoring your presentation to the individual you’re pitching to. If you want specific tips on how to deliver a successful pitch, we’ve got content on that, too!

Read: Product Demos that Sell: 14 Tips for Incredible Sales Demos

Read: 9 Storytelling Techniques to Elevate Your Sales Pitch

Pipeline Stage 4: Proposal

At this point in the pipeline, you have a more defined idea of what a given opportunity looks like and how much revenue you can earn. Leads at this stage have either received a proposal or you’re currently drawing one up to send to them very soon.

You can use Propeller to set reminders to send out proposals to prospects and to keep tabs on opportunities that stall here.

Why do leads sometimes get stuck at the proposal stage? This can happen for a variety of reasons: perhaps there’s a lot of back and forth on proposal details; perhaps the prospect is waiting for approval from a committee; or perhaps they’re still shopping around for other solutions.

Whatever the case, it’s always a good idea to add activity attributes so you can see exactly how long leads remain in each stage and how long it’s been since you made contact with them.

propeller proposal

Keeping an eye on the last activity date will help you identify any bottlenecks and hopefully inspire your team to brainstorm ideas to optimize the sales process.

Pipeline Stage 5: Closing

In most cases, your opportunities require a number of follow-ups before they close. In fact, most sales take five or more follow-ups to close – which means opportunities can get held up at this stage if you’re not persistent.

By the end of your pipeline, every opportunity is either closed-won or closed-lost.

If the deal goes well, the paperwork is signed, and you’ve got yourself a new customer, congratulations! You can move your opportunity to the closed-won stage.

If, however, the sale falls through, you should move the opportunity to closed-lost to clear out dead leads from your pipeline.

Both of these stages are automatically added to the end of your pipeline in Propeller.

Setting Up a Weighted Pipeline in Propeller

You can choose to make your pipeline either unweighted or weighted. We recommend creating a weighted pipeline because it gives you a more accurate understanding of the state of your pipeline and how much money you can expect to make in the near future.

The problem with an unweighted pipeline is that you end up forecasting revenue based on the potential value of every deal in your pipeline – even those that have a very small chance of closing in your favor. Unweighted pipelines can give you a false sense of security about your incoming revenue.

A weighted pipeline, on the other hand, allows you to forecast with greater accuracy. This is because it factors in the likelihood of winning each opportunity.

Basically, a weighted pipeline acknowledges that not every deal results in a sale, while an unweighted pipeline assumes you’ll close every single opportunity on the horizon.

weighted pipeline propeller

So, how does a weighted pipeline work?

You can create a weighted pipeline by assigning a value to each deal based on where it is in the sales funnel. For instance, you would assign a higher weight or value to opportunities that have reached the proposal stage than leads you’ve only contacted once.

How Do You Measure a Weighted Pipeline?

Each stage of your pipeline is assigned a percentage based on how likely it is to close. If you multiply the assigned percentages by the total value of opportunities at each stage, you can use the result to forecast incoming sales revenue.

The formula looks like this:

Probability of closing (%) * Deal value in dollars ($) = Weighted value ($)

For example, if your company offers free trials and 25% of prospects who start a trial become paying customers, you would multiply the value of the deals at the proposal stage by 25%.

So, say you have a prospect at the trial stage with a potential value of $160,000. According to the weighted pipeline formula, the weighted value would be $40,000.

How Do You Measure a Weighted Pipeline?

Arguably the hardest part of setting up a weighted pipeline is coming up with values to assign to each step. As deals move down your pipeline, they tend to become more likely to close. However, the specific percentages you assign to each step can differ greatly between businesses.

You need to look at past customer data and factor in elements like the length of your sales cycle, the number of stages in your pipeline, how your customers make buying decisions, and the type of product or service you’re selling.

Here’s a sample weighted pipeline for a SaaS company to help you visualize your own:

  • Step 1: Prospecting – 10%
  • Step 2: Qualification – 25%
  • Step 3: Proposal – 50%
  • Step 4: Demo – 65%
  • Step 5: Closing – 85%
  • Closed-Won – 100%
  • Closed-Lost – 0%
Here’s a sample weighted pipeline for a SaaS company to help you visualize your own:

Read: The Weighted Sales Pipeline: How It Works and How to Create One for Your Company

Including the Right Pipeline Stages for Your Company

Before we look at how to better manage and optimize your pipeline, let’s backtrack for a moment. If you’re still trying to figure out which stages you need to include, reflect on who your ideal customers are and what steps they take leading up to a purchase.

For inspiration for how to define your pipeline stages, ask yourself and your team these questions:

  • How many times do we need to contact a sales lead before they move to the next stage?
  • What specific actions can a prospect take to move from one stage to the next?
  • How many people are involved in the buying process?
  • Is the purchase approved by everyone together or separately? 

If you find that you’re really struggling to structure your pipeline, you might need to review your sales process to ensure each step is clear and actionable.

The Value of a Well-Defined Sales Process 

Your sales process refers to the steps your reps follow when moving a lead through the sales funnel.

A detailed sales process should include all notable customer interactions, beginning with prospecting, followed by outreach and selling, and ending with closing and nurturing your customer relationships. 

The more clearly defined your sales process, the easier it will be for your sales reps to do their jobs really well. 

Why?

Because a straightforward sales process outlines each stage and helps you develop more effective sales strategies to move leads from one step to the next.

More specifically, a well-defined sales process allows you to:

  • Understand what needs to happen at every pipeline stage;
  • Develop more effective marketing campaigns and sales strategies;
  • Move leads through the buying process more efficiently;
  • Cultivate high-value, long-term customer relationships.

Reviewing Your Existing Sales Process

Now that you know how to set up your pipeline in Propeller, it’s a good time to review your sales process to make sure its optimized. Let’s go through the key steps of your sales process and talk about how they should align with the stages in your pipeline.

Step 1: Prospecting

Sales prospecting is the process of finding new leads to fill your pipeline. So, this stage actually occurs before the first stage of your sales pipeline.

Start by putting together a list of potential leads and gathering the information you’ll need to create targeted cold email campaigns. This includes their full name, email, phone number, company name, industry, and professional title.

You can use a free tool like Hunter to verify the accuracy of your list.

Read: The Complete, Step-by-Step Guide: How to Find (Almost) Anyone's Email Address

Read: How to Find Your First 100 Customers and Get Your Startup Off the Ground

We also have a post dedicated to some of the most common sales prospecting strategies – and how you can excel at them. These strategies including cold calling, cold emailing, and lead nurturing.

Read: How to Strike Gold in Sales: A Comprehensive Guide to Better Sales Prospecting

Step 2: Connecting

This step in your sales process aligns with the first stage of your pipeline: initial contact.

By this point, you’ve got your list and it’s time to reach out. The first time you call or email a lead is your only opportunity to make an awesome first impression. But as long as you’ve done your research and put together a targeted list, you should have nothing to worry about.

So, how can you make sure you’re making a great impression? Be as relevant, be personable, and build rapport using whatever information you have about your leads.

Propeller allows you to easily run cold email campaigns that get through to your leads. Create campaigns targeting lists of prospects based on relevant characteristics, like specific job titles or company types.

Remember to schedule reminder tasks so you never miss an opportunity to follow-up with a prospect.

Remember to schedule reminder tasks so you never miss an opportunity to follow-up with a prospect.

For more advice on cold outreach, check out our guide to running a cold email campaign.

Read: 17 Cold Calling Tips Master Salespeople Use to Warm Up Leads

Step 3: Qualifying

This sales step syncs up with (you guessed it!) the qualification stage in your pipeline. As discussed above, lead qualification helps you find out if a prospect if ready to make a purchase now, later, or not at all.

Ask questions that help you find out how your prospect will use your product or service. What benefits will mean the most to them? Which pain points does your offering address? What’s their timeline like for implementing a solution?

Bring up these qualifying questions during your initial phone call or early on in your email conversation. If their answers suggest interest and you qualify them as a potential customer, then you should dig in and do even more research so you can personalize your sales demo.

Read:  How to Spot a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) and Sell to Prospects Who Are Ready to Buy

Read: How to Pinpoint Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Nurture Them into Sales Leads

Step 4: Demonstrating Value

The fourth step of your sales process applies to leads who are in the Meeting stage of your pipeline. This is your chance to show off your solution and explain why it’s a great fit for your prospect.

The more personalized, engaging, and relatable your sales pitch, the more easily your prospect will be able to picture themselves benefiting from your solution.

Read: Product Demos that Sell: 14 Tips for Incredible Sales Demos

Step 5: Addressing Objections

After listening to your pitch, most prospects will have a few questions they need answered before they’re willing to sign a contract.

Don’t take these objections to heart – it’s all part of the selling process. In fact, listening to your prospects’ concerns can actually teach you how to sell better. For instance, if there’s something you didn’t address or explain during the demo, you can use sales objections as a chance to do so in more detail.

Read: How to Overcome Sales Objections: Learn to Reframe These 4 Common Deal Killers

Step 6: Closing the Deal

When you’re this close to landing a new client, you can’t afford to lose momentum. Unfortunately, the majority of sales reps don’t bother to follow-up enough times to close the deal. That’s because 80% of sales require at least five follow-ups to close – but the majority of sales reps give up well before they reach that point.

Read: The #1 Mistake That’s Costing You Tons of Sales

Read: 20 Mind-Boggling Sales Statistics Every Sales Rep Needs to Know 2018

Propeller’s follow-up reminders can help you close more deals by ensuring you never let an opportunity slip through the cracks – especially when you’re this close to the finish line!

Propeller’s follow-up reminders can help you close more deals by ensuring you never let an opportunity slip through the cracks – especially when you’re this close to the finish line!

Read: 9 Techniques for Closing the Sale Like a Boss

Tips for Managing Your Sales Pipeline

Once you’ve set up your pipeline in Propeller CRM, there are a few things you can do to optimize your sales process even further:

  • Automate repetitive tasks to save time.
  • Set reminders so you never forget to follow-up.
  • Ensure your whole team understands the pipeline stages.
  • Communicate expectations and action items for each step.
  • Track sales metrics so you can analyze, reflect, and improve.

Pipeline Sales Metrics You Should Track

Measuring these metrics will help you manage your pipeline, forecast accurate sales revenue, and ensure you always know how your sales reps are performing.

Read: The 9 Essential Sales Metrics Every Team Should Track to Improve their Sales Process

Read: Everything You Need to Know to Create a Detailed Sales Report

Looking for a CRM that works great with Gmail?
TRY PROPELLER

Try Propeller Out Today

Free 14-day trial for the whole team. No credit card required.