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KristaJun 3, 20248 min read

Refresher: What Is a Sales Pipeline? Close Deals with Confidence.

Those at the helm of a B2B business probably already know a sales pipeline is crucial to success. However, with near-complete digital adoption in the B2B realm, fewer and fewer people want to spend time scheduling and meeting with a sales rep. That means your pipeline has to be largely self-serve and operate seamlessly across sales teams, yield consistent results, and integrate seamlessly into the sales process without causing friction or slowdowns. You may know what a sales pipeline is but not feel confident in your next steps. In this article, we will explore an overview of sales pipelines and best practices, understand their challenges, and take a look at some recent case studies. 

Why is the Sales Pipeline So Important?

What is a sales pipeline? The sales pipeline, which represents the customers’  journey, serves as a roadmap for businesses, guiding potential customers through every stage of the sales process. It not only facilitates the management of all the activities that go into making a sale but also provides invaluable insights into the health of the sales process. By visualizing the progression of prospects, businesses can identify bottlenecks, optimize workflows, and ultimately drive revenue growth. If a business has a sales pipeline but is facing difficulties in closing deals, a sales pipeline management system may be required to maximize the company’s success. 

Each prospect progresses through the sales pipeline at a distinct pace, depending on the degree of interest, urgency, and quantity of research they've conducted on a product or service. Some particularly interested individuals could even skip phases. For example, imagine an eager customer contacts you via a reference and introduces you to the budget authority before you ask. In such a situation, you'd shift the transaction from "initial connection" to "meeting with the decision-maker."

The sales pipeline enables representatives and management to estimate revenue by evaluating where prospects are in the sales process and forecasting how many will close within a certain period.

Common Misconception: Knowing Versus Executing

A common misconception among B2B business leaders is the belief that understanding the concept of a sales pipeline is synonymous with effectively executing it. However, the reality is that creating and managing an efficient sales pipeline requires strategic planning, meticulous execution, and ongoing optimization. Merely possessing knowledge of the sales pipeline is insufficient without the commitment to implementation and refinement.

Sales Pipeline Challenges Faced by B2B Business Leaders

Creating an effective sales pipeline poses numerous challenges for B2B business leaders. These challenges often include:

  • Consistency Across Teams: Disparities in approach, tools, or understanding among sales teams can lead to disjointed efforts and inconsistent outcomes, hampering overall performance.
  • Achieving Repeatable Success: Balancing consistency with adaptability is essential for ensuring repeatable success in the sales pipeline. Overcoming the monotony trap while maintaining effectiveness poses a significant challenge for business leaders.
  • Alignment with Sales Teams: Friction points between the sales pipeline and sales teams can impede progress and hinder performance. Collaborative efforts and alignment between the pipeline and sales teams are critical for optimal performance.

Refresher: A Brief Overview of Sales Pipeline & Best Practices

A sales pipeline is a visual representation of the sales process that tracks and manages the progress of potential customers as they move through different stages toward making a purchase. It helps businesses effectively manage their sales activities and provides insights into the overall status of the sales process. It's important to note that every business's sales pipeline is unique, as each prospect advances through the stages at varying speeds based on individual needs and circumstances.

It’s important here to take a second and note that the sales pipeline is not the same thing as a sales funnel. Put most simply, the sales pipeline is from the point of view of the sales rep, while the sales funnel focuses on the customer’s mindset. 

A sales funnel is used to represent the customer journey from awareness to loyalty, while a sales pipeline organizes the things your company does to make sales and what activity the leads have taken. Your company may use both. 

A sales pipeline encompasses several key stages, each crucial for guiding your prospects through the sales process:

  • New Deal or Initial Contact: Marks the beginning of a potential opportunity, signaling the initiation of the sales review process.
  • Discovery: Involves engaging with prospects to gain a deep understanding of their needs and opportunities.
  • Quote or Negotiation: This entails presenting formal proposals and negotiating terms to finalize deals.
  • Closed Won: Represents the successful conversion of prospects into customers.
  • Closed Lost: Indicates prospects who chose not to move forward with a purchase, offering insights for process improvement.

Understanding the Challenges + How to Achieve Success

Inadequate data about your sales process and your customers may present challenges. For example, do you already know about common obstacles to closing deals? What is the typical time it takes your company to close a deal? It may be cumbersome to dig into years of data if you don’t have it top of mind. Other common challenges of having an efficient sales pipeline may include: 

Consistency Across Teams

Discrepancies in approach among sales teams can hinder cohesion and impact overall performance. Achieving consistency promotes unified efforts and enhances outcomes. Frameworks and tools to help you achieve this include clear, consistent pipeline stags, sales scripts, playbooks, email templates, and automated sequence follow-ups. We also use cohesive sales enablement tools like one-sheets and product frameworks that highlight your value propositions, key benefits, and features. 

Achieving Repeatable Success

Finding a balance between consistency and adaptability is essential for ensuring repeatable success. Overcoming the monotony trap requires strategic flexibility and innovation. Other tools for achieving repeatable success that we utilize are: 

  •  Notification when certain activities are taken for visibility of when someone is doing something relevant to our sales intents;
  • Automated outreach and follow-up on actions taken to ensure we're getting to people timely and efficiently, and;
  • Automated notification on opportunities and lead creation so we can get the right people to the right contact quickly and no one slips through the cracks.

Alignment with Sales Teams

Friction between the sales pipeline and sales teams can impede progress. Collaboration fosters synergy and alignment, driving optimal performance. Tools should be designed to work alongside the sales team, not make their lives harder. Using a CRM that helps require information to be collected when moving stages so the sales team doesn't have to remember, for example. Other tools may include: 

  • Automated actions based on how the sales process should work — internal notifications when actions are taken, automatically creating tasks for future items, etc. 
  • Centralizing data and information so it's easy to share and analyze current challenges, opportunities, and progress. It shouldn't be hard for anyone to have to dig for anything.

Strategies for Success

To overcome challenges and optimize the sales pipeline, businesses can implement the following strategies:

  • Ensuring Comprehensive Pipeline Coverage: Consistent lead flow is vital for sustaining pipeline health and driving growth.
  • Standardized Processes and Tools: Implementing standardized methodologies and tools streamlines operations and enhances efficiency.
  • Harnessing Data-Driven Insights: Leveraging data analytics enables informed decision-making and predictive analysis for pipeline optimization.
  • Fostering Collaboration and Continuous Training: Investing in ongoing training and fostering collaboration between pipeline architects and sales teams cultivates a culture of innovation and alignment.

How We Cleared One Growing Business’s Bottleneck

Real-world examples of businesses overcoming pipeline challenges offer valuable insights and lessons for B2B leaders. Success stories highlight the importance of proactive strategies and collaborative efforts in driving pipeline optimization and sustainable growth.

We have been working with one of our clients, an equipment manufacturer, since 2015. We helped them achieve a greater level of success through inbound marketing, a website redesign, and digital marketing efforts. This increased success resulted in a bottleneck during the sales process thanks to the abundance of leads ready to buy. 

To resolve their sales challenges, they worked to shorten machine lead times and answer customer service questions faster than their competition. We came in to help streamline the process of the handoff from marketing to sales. Together, we established an effective CRM solution before they tried scaling up with more salespeople. This way, they were able to grow on purpose and ensure the customer experience was at the top of their priorities. 

The CRM had to be intuitive and easy so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the sales process. We implemented the HubSpot CRM in a phased approach that eased the team into the use of the software. From there, we leaned on their management to help make sure it was used properly — and for every sale, every time.

Starting by tracking interactions with email integration, it has evolved into multiple pipelines with sales automation, service automation, and reports. We helped them set up templates and sales sequences in HubSpot Sales Pro and automated workflows for when a prospect fills out an online form. We have even rounded out the sale with a customer service survey and warranty workflow to help ensure customer delight.  

Today, they know where deals stand, what was ordered, and what can help with upselling through their CRM. 

Solve Your Lack of Leads with an Optimized Sales Pipeline

In the realm of B2B sales, a well-structured sales pipeline is indispensable, serving as both a roadmap and insight generator. Yet, understanding isn't enough; success demands strategic planning and meticulous execution. Challenges like team consistency and repeatable success are overcome by comprehensive strategies: ensuring pipeline coverage, standardizing processes, harnessing data insights, and fostering collaboration. Real-world examples, like our equipment manufacturer client's success, highlight the transformative power of proactive strategies. By prioritizing customer experience and embracing innovation, businesses navigate the sales landscape with confidence, closing deals with precision and fostering long-term relationships.

If you are looking for scalable and proven solutions for establishing and maintaining a sales pipeline, we've got you covered. Book a 15-minute call to pinpoint areas where your pipeline may need a boost and receive expert guidance on where to kickstart improvements.

Lack of Leads in Your Pipeline is Draining Your Team



Co-founder & VP, Client Services at TANK New Media.