Even if you are starting your business from scratch, especially if you are a webpreneur, you must have a model that can be easily scalable, so you don’t have to put in extra hours of work to grow your business. One of the most efficient tools to achieve it is the sales pipeline.
The sales pipeline (alternatively, sales process or revenue funnel) is the journey your customer takes to make a purchase. This journey isn’t random since you will be leading it, carefully creating each step. How?
It takes a lot of work, but it isn’t rocket science. Anyone can do it. Some pipelines are simple, some are more sophisticated and detailed, but there are general rules one can apply to their particular business.
Building a sales pipeline
All pipelines are similar in one important aspect. If we present them as diagrams, the top will always be the widest part (all your potential clients) and the bottom will be the narrowest (people who actually make the purchasing decision). That’s why it’s also aptly referred to as a sales funnel.
The important thing here is to remember that you can influence the number of customers that pass through your sales pipeline stages to the bottom. In a perfect world, your sales funnel should look more like a pipe. Still, sales don’t happen spontaneously (with the rare exception). It is a structured process of turning an unaware person into a loyal customer, step-by-step. The most basic ones are the following:
Sales pipeline stages
The first step is to let your potential customers know that you exist. You don’t have to think about making sales at this stage – your primary concern is to get yourself out there in front of your audience.
Classical advertising and promotional events – everything that sweeps broadly and makes you visible is employed at this point. New malls spread leaflets and play music on full blast, new brands of food and drinks organize samplings, entertainment companies let giant mascots loose in the crowd, online courses launch viral giveaways with promo codes and branded goodies.
Result: people know you exist. Ideally: they know you can offer some benefit to them.
Now people know about you but they must have some reason to come into your shop or to visit your landing page. This is the stage of lead generation. Simply bombing your audience with emails or promising them “updates and latest news in their inboxes” isn’t enough anymore. They must see that you can offer something of value to them.
This is the time of subtle content marketing that employs neuromarketing techniques to tease, pique interest, create needs, build trust, and engage with your audience.
Result: people are interested in what you have to offer/see you as an authority in the field. Ideally: they are considering the purchase.
Your customer is now in your shop/on your sales page. Unfortunately, that is not yet enough to make a sale. The objective of this step is to make them say “yes” to your offer. To achieve that, you must create an offer they will be unable to resist.
- Sales copy that addresses the pains of the customer
- A discount or an opportunity to get something free
- A limited offer (limited time, limited edition item, limited number of places available)
- A trial or a demo
Result: your customer decides that they want your goods. Ideally: your customer is ready to make a purchase.
At this point, your customer must be ready to strike a deal. Why is this a separate step at all? Because actually closing the purchase can be quite a pain in the derrière… for the customer. And they may decide to go away because you’ve made it too complicated for them.
Your task for this step is to create and maintain a check-out system that works without hitches. For online stores, there are tools like Shopify and other add-ons that close the deal in one click. Make it easy to sign up, minimize the number of steps required to make the payment or complete the sign up. You don’t want to lose your customers at this point only because they don’t have any Bitcoins on them, now do you?
Result: closed deal. Ideally: a satisfied customer who will spread the word and come back.
Although I mentioned the pipeline rather than a funnel in a perfect world, you must be prepared that you will lose potential customers on each step. Your task is to lose as few as possible. Also, depending on the industry, you might want to break these basic steps into smaller ones for a smoother and effective sales process.
Strategies for building a sales pipeline
Your strategies will loosely correspond to the segments of pipeline that I’ve described. Remember, your goal isn’t simply to make a sale, but to create a happy experience for your customers and turn them into loyal ambassadors.
To make your audience aware of you, you must first become aware of your audience. Who are they? You can hardly target everyone. Even Google has its target audience. People with internet-connected devices who are looking for something specific online may sound like the whole world, but it’s not.
That’s just a half of your work. When you know who they are you must research everything about them. What are their pains? What annoys them? What do they want and expect? What social media and other channels they prefer? What type of information do they consume and share with others?
Knowing the answers to these questions will make it easier for you to find your audience, address their pains effectively, and position your brand in a unique way.
Creation of buyer personas
Although your target audience shares many common traits, it is still very diverse. Their pains and motivation to buy your product may differ widely. It is impossible to address each one individually, but you can do better than a one-size-fits-all message.
Based on what your customers want from your product and how they are going to use it, you can group them into a persona that represents these features. For example, you have among your audience working mothers in their thirties, who want to waste as little time as possible on making the decision, but at the same time, it is important for them to feel in control. To create a more personalized and enjoyable experience for them you take a fictional Tracy, 34, mother of two and craft the journey for her.
Now when you know your audience, you are ready to drive them to you. At this point, the smartest way is to leverage social media. Thanks to its broad reach social media is good for raising awareness and attracting traffic to your landing pages. Strategies to use at this point:
- Social media campaigns (LinkedIn ads, giveaways, teasers) – to pique the interest
- Partnering up with influencers – to build trust
- Guest-posting – to give more information
Don’t forget about organic search traffic – optimize your site and make sure that people who look for stuff online will find you.
Okay, you’ve got the attention of your audience, the stage is set and you’re in the spotlight. It’s time to entertain – and at this stage content is king. Video tutorials, reviews and guides, useful blog posts, case studies, infographics – anything that is engaging for your customers. The key is to do this all regularly and make sure to promote it on social media.
You already have some idea of what content will work the best (from your research). Now you have direct feedback and can tweak your strategy if something doesn’t work the way you planned it.
At this point, your audience has developed sufficient interest in your product and needs just one final push in the right direction.
Make your sales page simple, without any clutter that may distract your customer. Ideally, there should be no more than three key features:
- Sales offer wrapped up in a video, a picture, short copy or a snappy slogan (Evernote’s “Never forget anything” is a great example).
- A call-to-action button that leads to check-out (Buy now/Subscribe/Choose a plan)
- A call-to-action button for customers who still hesitate (Learn more/Start a trial/Sign up for free/Claim a discount) – here you will collect their email address and follow up with your up-sell proposition.
Don’t forget to keep in touch with existing customers – ask for their feedback, offer them a promo code for the next purchase, or just a thank you for choosing you!
Sales pipeline management and tools
The best way to measure the success of your pipeline is to monitor conversion rates. If people come to your site but that doesn’t bring you sales or at least leads – you should inspect your pipeline more carefully.
Check how many customers don’t go to the next step on each segment of your pipeline. Are there any noticeable “holes”? Where do you lose the most? Why? Can you convert them or should you just improve your targeting on the preceding step of your sales process?
You should be able to track the performance of your pipeline with the following sales tools:
- CTR (Google Analytics) for social media campaigns
- Social media tools (Hootsuite, Buffer) to diversify your ads for more buyer personas
- Hotjar or CrazyEgg recordings to understand how your visitors engage with your site via attention heatmaps, session recordings, and feedback
- A/B tests of your landing pages to find out what converts your audience better
- CRM and email-tracking software (Drip, MailChimp) to track your leads
- Leadfeeder to track anonymous website visitors and identify companies at the beginning of your sales process
As your business grows, your product changes or you learn more about your audience, you will need to tweak your pipeline – that is absolutely okay. No pipeline can work once and for all, it’s a work in progress, yet once you have a working model it gets much easier to improve as you go.
Author’s Bio: Adam Wakoski is a product manager and adviser who helped to launch many startups into a successful future, from music apps to professional paper writing companies.
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