My Funnel Script

From Lead to Close: A Comprehensive Guide to Building an Effective Sales Pipeline

In sales, it’s almost like you’re the tour guide on a fantastic journey. Every time you pick up the phone to cold call a new lead, it’s the start of a new adventure.

Your goal: Take these leads through the sales cycle and convert them into happy customers.

Like any journey, this can be both exhilarating and exhausting. It takes an insane amount of energy, knowledge of your product, and charisma.

But even the pluckiest of tour guides need a good map to get started.

What’s the ‘map’ you use to take prospects on their journey toward a purchase?

Your sales pipeline.

Using your sales pipeline as a guide, you can smooth out the journey and make it easier for your leads to convert. This not only helps you increase customers for your product: it’ll make those customers even more valuable to your company.

If you’ve landed here, it means you want to know more about sales pipelines. Well then, you’ve come to the right place.

You’re about to learn everything you’ll ever need to know (and more) about sales pipelines.

Before we get started though, you’ll need to know the answers to these basic questions:

  • What is a sales pipeline?
  • What are the 6 main types of sales pipelines, and what are they used for?
  • Are sales pipelines different based on your industry?
  • How do sales pipelines enable sales and benefit your team?

Let’s find out…

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a visual representation of your current leads and prospects in relation to your sales process. It’s normally set up in Kanban board style, with each column representing a different sales stage. A sales pipeline gives you a clear view of where your leads are in the sales process, how likely they are to close, and what kind of revenue you can expect when they do.

For a sales pipeline to be truly effective, you need to adapt it to your business, your customers, and your product.

In fact, many companies create multiple pipelines for different purposes, each with their own unique stages and processes.

What are some different types of sales pipelines, and which one(s) should you be using?

What are the 6 main types of sales pipelines, and what are they used for?

Remember: the type of sales pipeline you choose will depend on how your business works and how your team sells best.

A sales pipeline is only valuable to you if it helps your team close deals faster and convert more customers.

That said, here is an overview of six popular types of sales pipelines:

1. Simple sales pipeline

This is your basic visual pipeline with stages such as prospecting, qualification, meeting, and close. This is best for a no-frills sales process that moves smoothly from start to finish. Leads come in, they see your product, and they purchase it.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

2. Sales and marketing pipeline

While pipelines are mainly for sales teams, there can be quite a bit of overlap with the marketing team as well. A sales and marketing pipeline bridges the gap between these two teams, giving both access to the areas where they shine. For example, this type of pipeline might include stages at the beginning for lead generation and cater more to the inbound leads generated by marketing.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

Pro tip: A sales and marketing pipeline works best with automation, sending leads directly from your marketing tools to your pipeline. That’s why Close CRM integrates with marketing tools like MailChimp, Marketo, Hubspot, Facebook ads, Unbounce, and more! Try Close for free today.

3. Post-sale pipeline

Just because a deal is closed, doesn’t mean your work is done. Depending on your business, you might need a post-sale pipeline that includes the work you’ll do after the contract is signed. This could include creating or designing a product, delivering or implementing it, providing a service, asking for a referral, or providing training.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

4. Retargeting pipeline

When you lose contact with a lead, put them into your retargeting pipeline. This pipeline will have specific stages to retarget lost leads down the road with relevant follow-ups.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

5. Product/service-based sales pipeline

Depending on whether you’re a product-based or service-based company, your pipeline can be specifically adapted to what you sell. In fact, some companies create multiple pipelines based on the different selling processes they use for their different products.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

6. Profile-based sales pipeline

If you sell to very different customer profiles, a profile-based pipeline will help you sell to that specific type of customer. For example, a business that sells a product to both SMBs and enterprise companies will have a different selling process for each and could create multiple pipelines to reflect that.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

These main sales pipelines guide today’s biggest businesses toward their next sales (and could be the basis for your sales pipeline).

When deciding whether or not to create multiple pipelines, remember that this only makes sense if the sales process varies greatly. Depending on your business, you may only need a simple sales pipeline that takes your customers on a clear path to the sale.

When it comes to your pipelines, the simpler the better. If you want to sell faster and shorten your sales cycle, don’t overcomplicate your sales process.

But how does your industry affect your sales pipeline?

Are sales pipelines different based on your industry?

Yes and no.

It’s true: a SaaS company may have a different sales process than a real estate agent or a field sales team. And a company that sells a service may have a different process than one that sells a physical product.

However, the basic sales pipeline stages still remain the same:

  • Prospect to find the leads that will be interested in your product.
  • Qualify those leads by researching them, their needs, their location, or other factors.  to see if they’d be a good fit for what you’re selling.
  • Contact your prospect and set up a meeting, demo, phone call, or free trial. Sell them on the product.
  • Present your offer with a stunning proposal.
  • Negotiate and close the deal.

These basic sales pipeline stages are the foundation of your sales process and will work in pretty much any business. (Want to know more about sales pipeline stages?

Of course, different industries may have their own take on these stages. For example:

  • In a SaaS sales pipeline, the ‘contact’ stage would likely include a product demo.
  • For a field sales team, the qualification stage will likely revolve around a geographic location, and contact will be done in person.
  • In a B2B sales pipeline, the negotiation stage may be more complex, involving approvals from multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.
  • A real estate sales pipeline will develop qualification around the type of buyer, and may be adapted based on the properties currently for sale. The negotiation stage will also involve getting a home inspection, taking an offer back to the current homeowner, returning with a counter-offer, and so on.
  • For a construction sales pipeline, proposals may be in the form of blueprints, and will likely need to be adjusted and approved before the contract is signed.

That said, the basic process remains the same. What really changes are the actions that sales reps take within those different stages.

You can use the same basic process to build a sales pipeline that’s adapted to your business, customers, and product. When you do, there are some clear benefits you’re bound to see.

How sales pipelines enable sales and benefit your team

With a well-developed pipeline, you’ll see at least five clear benefits:

1. Get a clear view of all deals going on

A visual sales pipeline allows you to see what deals are currently in your pipeline, what stage they’re in, and how likely they are to close.

This not only helps your team set reasonable goals but also helps them achieve those goals.

Conduct regular sales pipeline review meetings to maintain a squeaky-clean pipeline that leaves you with no doubt on how to move forward and reach your goals.

2. Know whether or not you’re going to reach your goals

Since your pipeline shows you exactly what’s going on with your sales, you won’t sit around guessing whether you’re going to hit your quota or revenue goals: you’ll know for a fact.

For example, having a visual pipeline clearly shows you when you’re running low on leads. Instead of waiting for your pipeline to dry up, having this visual view allows you to see the drought in advance.

Example of a simple sales pipeline

Then, you can implement the right methods to fix a dry sales pipeline before it even happens.

3. Shorten the sales cycle

A pipeline dictates an exact order for your sales process. Without that, reps are just guessing at what they should do next to push a sale forward. They might be trying to close too soon, or they might be delaying the sale for no reason.

With a sales pipeline in place, reps know exactly what they need to do, as well as the order they need to go in. Actions and next steps are outlined clearly, like a map that helps them take prospects on a smooth journey to purchase.

The rest is just common sense: the smoother your sales process, the shorter your sales cycle will be.

4. Monitor your team’s progress

A good sales pipeline will also help sales managers monitor their team.

For example, managers will be able to see the stages where certain reps always get stuck, or where some reps truly excel.

This information helps sales leaders to give relevant training and encouragement, pushing all of their reps to sell better.

5. Focus on the right deals and actions

With the right information in your pipeline, you’ll be able to see which deals are more valuable, which ones are losing speed, and which ones are more likely to close.

When you manage your pipeline effectively, your team will focus on the right deals. They’ll know which deals hold the most value, and which actions will lead those deals to a sale.

Ready to blow the doors off your competition?

Then let’s get into the nitty-gritty of sales pipelines.

When you build a sales pipeline that works, you’ll have a smoother process for closing big deals, and your reps will be working smarter to build your customer base.

That’s a fancy way of saying you’ll be one step closing to beating your biggest competitors.

In this guide, you’re going to learn more about what a pipeline is and what it’s not, how to build one that works for your business, what metrics you should be tracking, and how to manage your pipeline effectively.

Have you ever had to deal with a blocked pipe at home?

It’s a frustrating situation, and it means that whatever was supposed to go through that pipe isn’t getting through easily. This can result in a huge mess in your home and can cost you valuable time and money.

Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to your sales pipeline.

If that ‘pipe’ isn’t clear, it’ll be harder for prospects to travel through it and turn into customers. Without the right processes and stages in place, you and your team could be wasting valuable time and money using a sales pipeline that isn’t adapted to your unique needs.

That’s why we’re going to discuss:

  • 7 essential pipeline stages to follow
  • How to implement these stages into your sales process

7 essential sales pipeline stages to follow

The stages in a sales pipeline are built around the actions that reps take to turn prospects into customers.

While these stages loosely follow your sales process and buyer journey, they are more focused on rep activity. That way, your whole sales team will have a clear view of how to move prospects towards the sale.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these stages and what they include.

1. Lead generation

For the most part, lead generation is a job that’s reserved for the marketing team. Does this mean you can forget about lead generation as part of your sales pipeline?

Heck no!

In fact, sales can do a lot to help generate new leads. That’s why this should be the first stage in your pipeline.

Here’s what your team should be doing at the lead generation stage:

  • Create clear customer profiles: Take a look at closed deals that have been mutually beneficial to your company and theirs: what common denominators do you see? By defining clear, specific customer profiles, your team will get one step ahead on lead generation. This is a task that both sales and marketing should have a hand in.
  • Join forces with marketing to create and promote relevant content: Yes, content marketing makes up a large part of the best lead generation tactics. However, this doesn’t mean you should just leave the marketing team to do it on their own. Schedule regular brainstorming sessions between both the marketing and sales teams, and you’ll be able to share valuable insights that will make your company’s content even more attractive to prospects.
  • Get better at asking for referrals: Sometimes we don’t ask because we’re shy. Sometimes we don’t ask because we think they’ll say no. And sometimes, we just forget. But when you learn referral sales tactics and put them into practice, the resulting leads are likely to be highly qualified.

2. Prospecting

Unlike lead generation which involves reaching out to many people at a time, prospecting is a more one-on-one approach to pull in prospects that may want to buy from your business.

At the prospecting stage, these are the actions you should be taking with your leads:

  • Build relationships at industry events: Have a lot of leads heading to an industry event? Make sure your sales team is there and visible. Whether you’re making the rounds and having meaningful conversations with people or speaking on a relevant topic, make sure you work these events to your advantage and leave a memorable impression on your prospects’ minds. (And if you’re unable to attend industry events, you can still leverage them creatively!)
  • Share your knowledge as an expert consultant: In the prospecting stage, your leads still have very little trust in you or your business (if they even know who you are). So, don’t immediately sell to them. Instead, offer to share your knowledge. Be an industry expert, someone they can trust for good information. Set up a meeting for coffee, just 15 minutes to talk about strategies to reach a relevant goal. Then, your company will be on their radar.
  • Do some cold outreach: Ice, ice baby! But seriously, reaching out to prospects, whether through cold emails or cold calls, can (and will) work for your business if you do it right. Once you’ve created your customer profile as mentioned above, take to the internet and find companies that fit that profile. Then, reach out!

3. Qualification

By now, your pipeline should be full of people who are hungry to buy your product.

Or are they?

Up to 67% of lost sales are a direct result of improper qualifying. If you take an unqualified prospect through the sales process, you’re just wasting your time on a deal that will never close.

That’s why during the qualification stage, you’ll need to make sure that the prospects you’ve discovered are really a good fit for your business.

These are the things you should be doing during the qualification stage:

  • Use the BANT method: BANT stands for budget, authority, needs, and timeline. This method, developed originally by IBM, serves to establish the four most important characteristics of a qualified prospect. If your prospect has a big enough budget, the authority to make decisions, needs that are filled with your product, and the right timeline to purchase, then odds are this deal will close.
  • Ask the right questions to match prospects to your customer profiles: Above, you created clear customer profiles that define the people who are most likely to purchase your product and benefit from it. So, how do you find out whether your prospect fits that customer profile? Ask questions. Remember, this isn’t an interrogation: but by knowing what questions to ask and when, you’ll be better prepared to qualify this prospect.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of who’s competing for their attention: It’s essential to find out what other options are currently on the table. When talking to your prospect, learn more about the other vendors they’ve worked with, what they liked or didn’t like about other solutions, and (if you can) find out who else they’re currently considering. This will help you determine whether or not this prospect is really qualified.

4. Contact

Now that you’ve narrowed down your prospects to the most highly qualified opportunities, you’re left with the people who are interested and may actually buy your product.

It’s time to get in there and really sell it.

This will require contact, whether that’s a phone call, a physical meeting, a product demo, or an email or text message.

Here are some important tips for the contact stage:

  • Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the goal or purpose of this meeting: When setting up your meeting, start by making sure you know exactly who is going to be involved, including any relevant stakeholders and decision-makers. (If it’s a complex sale involving a large number of stakeholders, account mapping might be necessary.) Then, make it very clear to everyone what the goal of this meeting is. That way, everyone will come into the meeting ready to get things done.
  • Prepare a clear agenda ahead of time, and keep things rolling: While it’s fine to answer questions along the way, don’t let your meeting get hijacked by a Chatty Patty in the group. Set your meeting agenda, and keep it handy while you’re there. That way, things will continue to run smoothly, and you’ll accomplish what you came for. There are many ways to go about this, but a generally good framework is to ask these three questions before your meeting.
  • Have the right resources on hand: Case studies, webinars, data sets, and other relevant resources can help seal the deal at this point. Make sure you can back up each of your most powerful statements with clear, hard data. We’ve created a set of ready-to-use templates for resources every sales team should have. 
  • End with clear next steps, and follow up promptly: Don’t leave the meeting without an exact plan of what’s to follow. With this in place, you can send a friendly follow-up email the next day with a brief meeting recap and a summary of the next steps you agreed on.

5. Proposal

If you get this part right, you’ll knock the ball out of the park and close the deal.

Proposals should generally include information such as:

  • A summary of your prospects’ key pain points
  • The solution you’re offering (with specs)
  • Clear pricing info
  • Timeline for implementation, training, etc.
  • Exact terms

Don’t forget these essential guidelines for the proposal stage:

  • Personalize the proposal to their wants and needs: Inside your proposal, you have the opportunity to make your prospect feel special. Show off the fact that you personalized this to their needs by including details you gathered during the qualification and contact stages.
  • Be hyper-focused on customer benefits: This proposal isn’t about your product: it’s about your customer. Instead of listing the features of your solution, dig down into the benefits. Whenever possible, include specific stats on the kind of benefits they’re going to get with your product. Don’t let them get bored for even a second: keep selling your product!
  • Include an FAQ: At this point, there are probably some common questions that arise. A back-and-forth discussion at this point could seriously slow down the sales process. So, include common questions in the FAQ section of your proposal. Problem solved!

6. Negotiation and close

Both sides have put all their cards on the table. A decision is about to be made: so let’s make it a yes!

Maybe you’ll need to answer some last few questions, respond to discount inquiries, or renegotiate some of the terms.

In the end, if you play your cards right, you’ll have closed a deal. And that’s worth a bit of celebration.

Here are some tips for the negotiation and close stage:

  • Be prepared to walk away from the deal: Define the point where you’ll walk away and then stick to it: that way, you won’t waste your time or theirs. And who knows: you might still get the deal even after you walk away (that’s exactly what happened to us, in fact).
  • Make signing the contract easy: Or in other words, make it digital. Digital signing is super easy for everyone involved, and helps you and your customers keep everything in its place.

7. Retention

Just because you closed the deal, doesn’t mean your work is over. You need to retain that new customer into the long-term.

Here’s why it’s important: when you increase your retention rates by just 5%, you can boost your profits by as much as 95%.

That’s why customer retention is its own stage in the sales pipeline.

Here’s what you should be doing during the retention stage:

  • Help the customer onboard successfully: Whether through training materials, help docs, or just being available to answer their questions, make sure your customer is getting the best use out of your product with an effective onboarding process.
  • Schedule a time to check-in and see how things are going: After you close a deal, set a reminder in your CRM to follow up with the customer in a month and see how things are going. This helps show you care about them and keeps them engaged with your product.
  • Ask for feedback: Not only will this help the customer feel appreciated, but you’ll also get some fantastic insights on how to improve your product.

By implementing these seven typical sales pipeline stages, you’ll have a smoother process that helps turn leads into happy, long-term customers.

How to implement these stages into your sales process

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all sales pipeline. We’ve just outlined the general stages that your sales pipeline should include: but to fully implement these stages, you’ll need to adapt them to your own particular sales process.

Let’s examine how to do this step-by-step:

Step 1: Define your process for lead generation and prospecting

Who brings in the leads at your company: Sales or marketing?

Obviously, both teams have their roles to play. But, how do those roles work in your business?

It’s time to get specific: have both the sales and marketing teams write down a brief list of the ways they generate or prospect for leads. Then, check the data: which of these methods is consistently delivering solid, healthy leads?

Finally, set a clear process for lead hand-offs between marketing and sales.

???? How this accelerates your process:

When both marketing and sales teams have a defined process for lead generation and prospecting, everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. With the steps for hand-offs clearly in place, your sales pipeline will always be full of valuable leads.

Step 2: Understand your qualification methods and needs

What research tools does your team use for qualification? What questions seem to hit home the most when on a discovery call? What are the most important aspects you need to learn about your prospects in order to qualify them correctly? Is the timeline more important than the budget? What are their priorities?

By defining clear characteristics you need to see in a prospect and analyzing your reps’ phone calls with prospects to see what works best at this stage, and you’ll be able to set clear processes for qualification.

???? How this accelerates your process:

By knowing exactly what qualities or characteristics your prospects must have to become customers, your reps won’t waste time with prospects that aren’t likely to buy.

Step 3: Choose your best contact and negotiation strategies

Each industry and field has its own personality and methods. If you’re selling to enterprises, or older, more established companies, you may need to add steps in the contact stage to run things past more stakeholders. When selling to younger, more digital-age companies and startups, you might try implementing more video sales calls or interactive demos.

How this accelerates your process:

With your customer base clearly in mind, setting rules for the best contact and negotiation strategies will help your reps sell more effectively to that particular group.

Step 4: Identify stages that are unique to your business

Since your sales pipeline must be unique to you, it’s important to adapt the above stages to fit your particular business.

  • B2B sellers may need extra stages to include stakeholders
  • SaaS sellers might include stages for demos instead of meetings
  • Real estate agents might include stages for visits to the property
  • Remote sales reps could include specific stages for video chats and sending digital contracts

???? How this accelerates your process:

When you add the stages that are specific to your business, the process will be smoother and more effective for you and your team.

Step 5: Work out specific steps for post-sale follow-ups and retention methods

What kind of follow-ups seem to resonate more with your customers? How many respond to a ‘checking in’ email as opposed to a phone call? Are they more likely to fill out a survey with their feedback, or would they rather talk to someone about their concerns?

???? How this accelerates your process:

By answering these questions, you’ll have a clear view of the kind of follow-ups that work best with your customer base. Then, your sales team can focus on those efforts rather than letting their follow-ups fall on deaf ears.

These five sales pipeline steps will help you analyze the stages of your sales pipeline, define your processes, and ultimately create a pipeline that is adapted to your business.

Build your own sales pipeline with custom stages

Your pipes are all clear: it’s time to let the customers flow in.

Above, we highlighted the seven essential stages your sales pipeline should have. They are:

  • Lead generation
  • Prospecting
  • Qualification
  • Contact
  • Proposal
  • Negotiation and close
  • Retention

Then, we developed five steps you can take to define and implement these stages in your sales pipeline:

  • Define your process for lead generation and prospecting
  • Understand your qualification methods and needs
  • Choose your best contact and negotiation strategies
  • Identify stages that are unique to your business
  • Work out specific steps for post-sale follow-ups and retention methods

With these steps, you’ll be able to outline a sales pipeline that is effective for your sales team and unique customer base.

We hope this guide has been helpful in providing you with the knowledge and strategies you need to get started. Good luck and happy selling!

We offer a range of services to give your business an online presence, allowing you to focus your time and energy on the rest of your company, contact us at