Filling the Sales Pipeline By Optimizing Lead Generation
Build Your Pipeline With Qualified Leads
While organizations' goals and processes vary, every sales leader's top priorities are finding sales qualified leads and closing deals. However, a healthy income stream relies on a lot more than the beginning and end phases of the selling process.
Strategic lead generation and managing your sales pipeline are crucial for filling every stage with hot, sales qualified leads. By being proactive, sales managers and frontline salespeople can consistently generate reliable streams of new prospects and avoid the all-too-familiar feast and famine nature of selling.
With more competition than ever, it's imperative to make the most of every sales opportunity. Technology, people-centric company culture and standardized processes are the best tools to help you streamline operations, gain deeper insights into your target audience and fill that pipeline.
How To Prepare for Increasing Your Sales Pipeline
With digital transformation firmly taking hold, the highest-performing companies no longer rely on guesswork to make decisions. Gathering hard data and using analytic tools is a more accurate and effective approach to maximizing growth. As such, there's plenty of preparation involved before you start building your business' sales pipeline.
Top-heavy pipelines are common, with ample new opportunities that the number of conversions doesn't reflect. Bottom-heavy pipelines are less common but also drain revenue. Having more closes than prospects might feel good short term, but it's a volatile situation to be in and makes accurate forecasting almost impossible.
The nature of a consistently full pipeline is flow. Minimize pain points and stagnation, with cold leads filtered out as quickly as possible. Before building a sales pipeline, business leaders need an intricate understanding of the following:
- Organizational goals and revenue targets
- Sales reps' strengths and weaknesses
- Ideal buyer personas
- The sales process
- The lead qualification process
- The lead nurturing process
- The lead conversion process
- Which software solutions can streamline sales operations and maximize revenue
Ways To Grow Your Sales Pipeline at Every Stage
Filling every sales pipeline stage requires taking a unified, strategic approach. Start by fine-tuning lead generation efforts, then put creative sales prospecting ideas into action and adopt a continual approach to maintaining the pipeline using data analysis.
Below is a breakdown on how to build a sales pipeline that successfully attracts, qualifies, nurtures and converts leads into long-term, loyal customers.
1. Improve lead generation management
Before defining your sales pipeline, fine-tune your company's lead generation strategy. Expert lead generation is crucial for any sales team looking to build a consistently reliable pipeline. The difference between a qualified sales lead and a random lead is significant, so ensure marketing and sales departments are 100% aligned on what a qualified lead looks like.
Consumers have changed a lot in little time. They're savvier to hard-selling tactics, short on time and often overrun with sales pitches. To attract leads, reach them on their preferred channels, customize messaging and establish an emotional connection.
A smart lead generation strategy focuses as much on qualifying and nurturing leads as it does on generating them. This requires a people-centric company culture, with sales reps with a winning mindset. You also need well-defined buyer profiles, a standardized sales process, clear-cut targets and digital tools to measure success.
You'll learn more about qualifying and nurturing leads in a moment, but first, let's look at generating awareness and inspiring interest in what your company has to offer.
How to attract more qualified leads
Let's look at some tips to help your marketing and sales departments continually add qualified leads to the sales pipeline:
- Establish ideal buyer personas.
- Create extensive documentation and training protocols around common objections and regularly ask reps to role play so they can seamlessly and confidently offer rebuttals.
- Refine cold calling scripts, email and DM templates and chatbot interactions to guide conversations and provide strategic responses to common objections.
- Develop an omnichannel content marketing strategy. Create engaging content that answers common questions across your website, social media and guest blogs, incorporating relevant keywords for SEO purposes.
- Create expertly written content to establish thought leadership, brand authority and trust.
- Use contact forms, calls to action, relevant links and lead magnets on your landing pages and digital channels.
- Follow up with email marketing, e-books, whitepapers, how-to guides, website FAQs and lead scoring.
- Integrate CRM and sales data.
2. Liaise with marketing to understand buyer profiles
Having a detailed, accurate understanding of your target market streamlines the processes of qualifying leads and closing deals. To engage customers on an emotional level, your salespeople need to understand their fears, desires, problems and preferences. Strong communication between sales and marketing departments (if the two aren't integrated) is essential, so both teams understand as much as possible about your customers.
With such a savvy consumer base, social selling is the best way to make an impression on a prospect and inspire them to move through the sales pipeline. Buyer personas should include the following information:
- Pain points and common problems
- Personal values
- Purchase patterns
- Favorite digital channels
- Professional standing
- Are they a decision-maker?
- How big is their company?
Sales qualified lead vs. marketing qualified lead
A sales qualified lead, or SQL, is a prospect ready for a conversation with a salesperson the marketing team has vetted. On the other hand, a marketing qualified lead, or MQL, is someone who's expressed interest in your product or service and could become a customer if nurtured effectively. An MQL turns into an SQL as soon as they're primed to speak to the sales team.
Lead scoring involves assigning points to each lead based on their engagement and interest levels. It's a great way to organize prospects so salespeople can prioritize the people who are most likely to buy.
3. Unify salespeople's mindsets
Sales leaders must train their team to have a customer success mindset. This involves imparting every ounce of knowledge about the company's target audience, organizational goals and best practices at each sales pipeline stage. It also means fostering a people-centric, upbeat sales environment in which you recognize and reward winning ASAP.
Enthusiasm, a positive attitude and confidence are the marks of top-performing salespeople, and there's a lot sales leaders can do to instill these values in the workforce. Aim to build a company culture that recognizes prospecting efforts as much as it celebrates closing deals and reward efforts at every sales pipeline stage.
4. Establish definitive sales pipeline stages
With company culture, lead generation and buyer profiles optimized, it's time to start building your company's sales pipeline. It should closely match your marketing department's buyer's journey stages to accurately track progress and make forecasts.
Every company should design a pipeline based on its unique sales flow, but here's an example:
- Prospecting: Providing targeted, eye-catching information to entice a potential customer
- Qualification: Using lead scoring and other methods to assess conversion likelihood
- Contact: This could mean meeting in person, speaking on the phone or chatting via live chat
- Proposal: Making an offer or pitching a product or service
- Negotiation: Responding to objections or offering a discount, if appropriate
- Closing: Confirming interest and making a transaction
- Retention: Follow-up emails, calls or social media messaging thanking the customer and asking for feedback — plus any ongoing retention efforts relevant to your industry
The key to nurturing prospects through the pipeline is strategically following up at each stage. For example, if a potential customer downloads an e-book on sales compensation best practices, follow up with an email about designing incentive compensation plans.
5. Crunch numbers across each pipeline stage
Filling your sales pipeline requires using each stage as a benchmark to measure KPIs. Calculate how long the average potential customer spends at the prospecting stage and compare it to how long the average close spends as a prospect. This information helps your reps prioritize leads effectively.
Other KPIs that help you calculate accurate forecasts include:
- The average percentage of opportunities that progress through each stage
- Conversion rate (yield probability) per stage
- Divide target revenue by average deal size for an estimated number of deals required
- Divide the estimated number of deals by conversion rate per stage for a milestone target for each one
- Sales pipeline velocity
6. Define or refine the sales process
In addition to the quantitative data above, glean qualitative insights to refine the sales process. Compare the steps taken in lead interactions who convert to those who don't to understand which sales actions lead to desired outcomes. Use this information to refine your sales process, creating standardized timeframes and follow-up protocols to make it easier for your salespeople to nurture leads and close deals.
7. Use data to maintain a healthy sales pipeline
Conduct regular sales pipeline analysis to ensure it flows at every stage. Doing this effectively relies upon centralized, highly visible company data insights that facilitate instant calculations for high-level decision-making.
The following baseline metrics act as measures of your pipeline's health:
- Total number of deals
- Average contract value
- The number of SQLs / total number of closes
- Total pipeline value
- Average sales cycle length
- Pipeline velocity
- Prospect response time
- Likelihood to close (%)
Growing Your Sales Pipeline With Data Insights
Trying to manage sales teams effectively with spreadsheets and disjointed outdated systems causes more problems than it solves. Harness technology's power to streamline managing your sales pipeline and gain full visibility at every stage. Doing so allows you and your salespeople to be proactive and strategic, attract more prospects, move them through the pipeline faster and close more deals.
Learn more about why data-driven sales leadership is important in this guide, “Accelerate You Sales Performance Management Journey."