It’s a term that people often find rather confusing, or perhaps take it too literally! Fortunately (or unfortunately) you aren’t sending someone down a literal pipeline à la Super Mario World. Now, there are all sorts of different definitions for the exact stages of a sales funnel. But the concept can be broken down into the following basics:
- The customer arrives. They are ‘cold’ – someone not yet interested in what you have. Maybe they’ve chanced across a link to your site. This is where they become aware of your business.
- You then take them to a point that shows the customer you could be of use to them. This is where your marketing copy comes in, bigging up your product/service. This is where you gain their interest- they aren’t committed, but they’re interested in what you offer.
- To warm them up, you then talk about problem points they’re suffering from – and offer a solution. This is the stage where you might be talking directly to the customer/client, in which case it’s a lot easier to get specific. This is called the evaluation stage.
- Evaluation is quickly followed by the decision stage, and if all goes well, the purchase stage.
Now, if it were so simple then it’s unlikely you would be here. Instead of just giving you more platitudes, though, we want to break down some pretty fundamental concepts about making this work in your favour.
How, then, can you go about creating a winning sales pipeline? What matters here?
1) Plan, Plan, Plan
The first thing you have to do is to actually plan out the details of your pipeline. To do this, you need to understand a few things first:
- Who are your likely customers?
- How many customers/clients are you likely to have? If you only have a few, you can focus on treating each one with a bespoke experience (like talking over the phone). If you have millions, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to offer the same personalisation.
- How do you close sales? Over the phone? By them booking online?
Depending on how you do it, outline your plan in as much detail as you can.
2) Understanding Who’s Where
The first part of any good pipeline is to understand exactly what stage each of your customers or clients is at. A thorough database is just what you need; databases that help you break down the who, and the what. Some customers will be the ones who come along semi-regularly for big orders. Others will be the odd return customer with small needs and singular requirements. Others, you’ll never have encountered before.
Understanding who wants what, and what it takes to help them find what they need, is vital. So, for new customers who you’ve never encountered, you’ll want to send them to your landing page. You could have more than one for people from different areas (for example), but the gist is always the same: introduce your product/service and try and garner their interest. There’s no point sending a repeat customer to your landing page. Instead, you’ll want to focus on showing them other products that might interest them based on their browsing or buying history. You can keep track of who’s where in your pipeline in your CRM: so when a customer buys something, they’re automatically tagged as a potential returning customer, for example.
3) Getting To Know You...
While you have the ability to essentially define customers by the ease of getting them to convert, other factors count too. For example, if you are working in a wider geographical area then you need to be more diverse in who you target- and need to tailor your marketing efforts, too.
You can categorize customers based on all manner of factors. Age, gender, location, interests, earning potential, industry and anything else that may help you personalize how you communicate with them. What’s this got to do with sales pipelines? Well, sales isn’t one size fits all. Even before you know anything about a potential customer, when it comes to your sales copy, it really helps if you tailor it for who you’re (probably) speaking to- men, women, older or younger, cool, stuffy or just plain crazy. The same applies to building interest, and if necessary, negotiating with customers and clients.
4) Briefing Your Team
Once you know what your pipeline is going to look like, just as important is to brief your team on it. If you’re using a CRM, make sure to drill home just how important it is to actually use it, and follow guidelines related to your pipeline.
Say that your sales team work with each lead all the way from beginning to end (as opposed to having specialist closers, for example). If your team don’t keep track of who’s agreed to what and when, and especially if they don’t keep that data centrally, they won’t know how exactly to best convince that potential customer to buy. This won’t see your sales plummet to zero overnight, but what it will do is make the whole point of having a sales pipeline redundant.
5) Rewarding Loyalty
Often, the worst mistake made with a sales pipeline is that once somebody finally makes their purchase, that’s it. If you spend all of your time chasing after new customers, the old customers will feel left out and move on. That’s not good for business.
So when it comes to building a successful sales pipeline, you have to add an extra stage to the end: one in which you reengage with previous customers. It’s as simple as keeping in touch through a newsletter or a simple email to say Hey- we haven’t heard from you in a while. Are you interested in A, B or C products related to your past purchase?You might want to think abobut doing this through marketing automation.
And most importantly, reward their loyalty. Again, it’s simple, because all you have to do is offer them a little money off their future purchase.
What we’re hoping you pick up on is that creating a sales pipeline isn’t just about ticking Box 1, Box 2 and Box 3. You can name your stages whatever you want, and you can have as many stages as you want (without being redundant, of course). So long as you take your customer from Point A— where they meet your brand for the first time— to Point B where they make their purchase, that’s all that matters.