What does pipeline mean in sales and marketing?
There are several processes that make (or break) a business. Perhaps the most important of these is the process that goes into your marketing and sales pipeline. This is where your leads turn into customers, where your main revenue comes from.
Your marketing and sales pipeline refers to the stages that your sales rep goes through to convert a lead into a customer. It is separate from the sales funnel such that the pipeline sums up all the customer sales funnels. It is a visualization of where things really are, in terms of sales, and what’s being done at each stage.
The sales pipeline is typically made up of the following stages:
- Lead generation
- Lead nurturing
- Lead qualification as marketing-qualified or sales-qualified
- Deal closing
In a way, your sales pipeline represents the health of your sales life cycles. Are you dealing with a clogged system, wherein the average sales cycle takes too long? Do you lose a lot of leads as they go through the pipeline? At which stages of your pipeline does the process stall?
A thorough examination of your sales pipeline can reveal areas in your sales and marketing that need improvement. Thus, it is important to regularly draft pipeline reports that show deal quantity and value per stage. This is data that’s crucial if you want to better pipeline management.
Sales pipeline vs. sales funnel
Your sales funnel captures your buyer’s journey. It represents the actions they take that move them from awareness to making a purchase.
The funnel has helped determine steps that you need to take in order to improve your content marketing, follow-ups and such, at its different stages. Knowing where your prospects are, can allow you to provide them with information and the push that they need to move further down the funnel and eventually towards a purchase.
The sales pipeline, on the other hand, maps the actions taken by sales reps. It is the sales cycle from the rep’s point of view. To them, it is not about moving from awareness to conversion. To them, it is about getting the leads, qualifying them and eventually closing the deal.
The overlap lies in the leads. Are the actions at each stage of the pipeline effective enough to move the majority of the leads down the sales funnel and through the pipeline?
A huge number of leads never get converted as customers. If you observe this in your sales pipeline, then it’s time to take a closer look and tweak where necessary.
Why focus on pipeline marketing
Until recently, when the power of CRM and data put a lot of guesswork on the wayside, lead generation was the metric that determined your sales pipeline’s success. If you have a lot of leads, then you can potentially close a lot of deals.
We know that this is actually not true. There are several stages within your pipeline that need attention too as these might be the weak links that cause lead leakage. We should no longer focus on quantity because quality is more important.
Pipeline marketing connects sales and marketing to information. It considers all outreach channels and marketing campaigns. Solid data becomes the basis of decisions and goals.
Pipeline marketing employs strategies that you may already be familiar with: inbound marketing, content marketing, lead nurturing, and growth hacking. Each of these factor into the individual sales funnels of your lead. In the same way, they are used at the different stages of the sales pipeline.
What does a healthy sales pipeline look like?
There are 4 key metrics that determine a healthy pipeline:
- Number of deals in the pipelines
- Average size of deals
- Average percentage of closed deals
- Average time for closing deals
Assess these metrics against your current production capacity, competitor metrics, and goals. See if there are stages where movement is stalled. Examine this against select sales funnels to see if there are common hindrances in moving clients down the funnel and through the pipeline. Are they lacking data, reports, guidelines and other information that can help in the decision-making? Are you failing to follow up at certain points of the funnel?
Your sales pipeline can serve as a guide for improving your marketing and sales operations. It’s a way to trim the fat and shape up. Be sure to build a solid sales pipeline report you can refer to on a regular basis to help your team track progress toward successful pipeline management.
Breaking down the barriers between sales and marketing
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