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Filling the Sales Pipeline By Optimizing Lead Generation

Sep 14, 2023
7 min read

Are you tired of struggling to generate qualified leads and find out which sales activities actually bring in a return on investment? You’re not alone as it’s a common challenge for most Sales organizations. By implementing powerful sales pipeline management strategies, you can unlock a treasure trove of qualified prospects at every step of the buyer journey. Not only will this improve your forecasting accuracy, but it will also supercharge your sales numbers. Ready to learn how? Keep reading!

Build Your Sales 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 sales pipeline management 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, a people-centric company culture, and standardized processes are the best strategies to help you streamline operations, gain deeper insights into your target audience, and fill the sales 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 sales forecasting almost impossible.

The key to a consistently full pipeline is flow. Minimize pain points and stagnation, with unqualified 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
  • Software solutions that streamline sales operations and maximize revenue

Ways To Grow Your Sales Pipeline at Every Stage

Filling all sales pipeline stages 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 sales qualified lead and an unqualified 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 a short amount of time. They're savvier to hard-selling tactics, short on time, and are often overrun with sales pitches. To attract leads in today’s market, reach them on their preferred channels, customize messaging, and establish a personal connection.

A smart sales pipeline 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 Sales 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, 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, and website FAQs.
  • Integrate CRM and sales data.

2. Liaise with Marketing to understand buyer profiles

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 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. Having a detailed, accurate understanding of your target market streamlines the processes of qualifying leads and closing deals. With that in mind, buyer personas should include the following information:

  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Pain points/common challenges
  • Personal values
  • Purchase patterns
  • Favorite digital channels
  • Professional standing
  • Whether or not they are a decision-maker
  • Company size

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 sales 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 mindset

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. 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 journey stages to accurately track progress and build accurate forecasts.

Here's an example, but note that every company should design pipeline stages based on its unique sales flow:

  • 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 sales 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 prospect spends at the prospecting stage and compare it to the amount of time 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
  • Estimated number of deals required: divide target revenue by average deal size
  • Milestone target for each pipeline stage:divide the estimated number of deals by conversion rate per stage
  • Sales pipeline velocity

6. Define or refine the sales process

In addition to the quantitative data above, it is important to pull qualitative insights to refine the sales process. Compare the steps taken in lead interactions that convert to the ones that don't to understand which sales actions lead to desired outcomes. Use this information to refine your sales process and create standardized timeframes and follow-up protocols to make it easier for your salespeople to nurture quality 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 on centralized, highly visible company data insights that facilitate instant calculations for high-level decision-making.

The following baseline metrics act as measures of your sales 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 (%)

Grow Your Sales Pipeline With Xactly Forecasting®

Trying to manage Sales teams effectively with spreadsheets and disjointed outdated systems causes more problems than it solves. Instead, harness AI-powered forecasting technology, such as Xactly Forecasting, to streamline sales pipeline management and gain full visibility at every stage. Doing so allows you and your salespeople to be proactive and strategic, attract more prospects, accelerate pipeline generation, and close more deals.

  • Sales Planning
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Xactly News Team

The Xactly News Team reports on the latest product, events and market trends taking place within Xactly and throughout the revenue intelligence industry.