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7 Stages of a Sales Pipeline

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Sales pipelines are all different, but they typically have seven stages. You might be thinking, “How do I know what stage my deal is in?” or “What exactly happens in each stage?” Well, never fear—your friendly neighborhood marketer is here to help!

Some people seem endowed with a natural ability to sell. They can convince anyone of anything, and always have their next deal in the works. Other people find the sales pipeline to be intimidating, like being dropped into shark-infested waters. If you’re in the latter group, don’t worry—we won’t let you swim alone.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the seven sales pipeline stages and what goes on in each one. Trust us—by the time you’re done reading, you’ll be an expert on the topic and will be comfortable navigating each stage until you close.

What are the 7 B2B sales pipeline stages?

The sales pipeline is the set of steps salespeople use to move prospective customers through to a sale, from awareness to purchase. Each step of the buyer’s journey comes with corresponding steps the sales rep needs to take. Sales pipeline stages represent the key milestones in this journey, and each one presents its own challenges and opportunities.

There are typically seven B2B sales pipeline stages: prospecting, lead qualification, initial contact, scheduling a meeting or demo, needs analysis, close, and follow-up. However, some pipelines may include additional stages, such as proposals or price quotes. The exact number of stages in your pipeline will come down to your industry and the product or service you’re selling.

(Psst—still a bit confused about sales pipelines vs. funnels? It’s ok, we won’t tell. A pipeline is the sales rep’s view of the buyer’s journey; it shows where reps are and what steps they need to take to close the deal, while a sales funnel is the customer’s view of that journey, where they are in their decision process and their next steps before making a purchase.)

Let’s take a closer look at each of the seven stages and talk about what reps should expect at each one.

Sales prospecting and lead generation

The first sales pipeline stage—prospecting—is the process of finding potential customers for a business. This involves identifying and researching potential customers, then reaching out to them with an offer to do business. There are several ways to prospect; if you’re in sales, how many of the following have you done this week? Online research, cold calling, cold emailing, referrals, networking… The key to successful prospecting is identifying people or businesses that are likely to be interested in what you’re selling. However you do it, the most important thing is to be strategic.

For example, a salesperson might target a specific industry, vertical, demographic or geographic area. They might also look for companies that are undergoing changes or experiencing growth by keeping up with industry news. By taking the time to identify and assess potential customers, the salesperson will greatly increase their chances of finding qualified leads during this pipeline stage.

1. Lead generation

A related step is lead generation, or the process of identifying and nurturing inbound leads that come in from your sales campaigns and activities in this pipeline stage. If you need to generate leads yourself, here are 25 lead generation strategies:

  • Content marketing or free downloadable content
  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media marketing
  • Press releases or media mentions
  • Webinars
  • Live in-person events, trade shows
  • Referral programs
  • Brand collaboration or influencer campaigns

2. Lead qualification

Got those prospects and ready to move on? Great. The next sales pipeline stage is lead qualification. Most companies realize that not every customer is a good fit for their products or services. The point here is to save time and resources and do some sales pipeline analysis to eliminate bad leads before you speak to them one-on-one or start creating a targeted campaign.

There are a few key indicators that can help you qualify a lead. First, you’ll want to consider whether the lead is in your target market. If they’re not, it’s much less likely they’ll be interested in what you have to offer. Second, look at the lead’s company revenue. If they can’t afford your product or service, it’s not worth pursuing them further. Third, check whether your contact is a decision-maker. Does the lead have the authority to push the button on a purchase, or can they connect you with someone who does? Finally, in this pipeline stage you’ll want to assess the timeline of the lead. Are they ready to buy now, or will they sit on an offer for a while?

By taking the time to qualify your leads, you’ll be able to focus your energy on selling to customers who are more likely to buy from you.

3. Initial contact

Initial contact is the first sales interaction between a sales rep and a potential customer. This can be through interactions such as sales calls or emails. Regardless of the method, initial contact is crucial for generating leads and moving them through the rest of the sales pipeline stages. The goal of initial contact is to generate interest in the product or service being offered and to gather enough information about the potential customer to confirm whether they’re a good fit. By taking the time to craft a well-thought-out message, companies can increase their chances of making a lasting impression and moving potential customers one step closer to becoming paying customers.

Once you’ve found a promising new prospect, it’s time to reach out. Some ways to do this include:

  • Cold or warm calling
  • Cold or warm emailing
  • Social media messages
  • Handwritten letters or gifts

Of course, around this time it’s easy to get bogged down in finding and tracking the best contact information for all those shiny new prospects. Thankfully, there are a number of sales prospecting tools that can make the job easier.

4. Schedule meetings, presentations, or demonstrations

The scheduling pipeline stage is when reps schedule a meeting, presentation, or demonstration with a potential customer. This can be done in person or virtually, depending on the customer’s preference, product, or service. The goal of this stage is to provide more information about the product or service being offered, gauge the level of interest from the potential customer, and qualify them further. If the meeting goes well and the customer is interested in learning more, the sales rep will move them onto the next sales pipeline stage. If not, the sales rep will continue to nurture the relationship until they’re ready to move forward.

5. Needs analysis

The third sales pipeline stage is where things start to get exciting—this is where you assess your prospect’s needs and identify opportunities to sell your product or service. In a sales needs analysis, you’ll gather information about their current situation, their goals or desired outcomes, and the obstacles that stand in the way of those.

With all this information in hand, you can then tailor a nurturing or closing strategy to that company’s needs, craft a proposal, and finalize prices. A sales needs analysis typically begins during meetings, demos, and presentations or just after they have wrapped up. However, it can also include additional research, such as observing their long-term behavior, holding interviews or focus groups, or conducting surveys. Once you’ve gathered the information, it’s important to analyze it in order to identify patterns and trends. Ultimately, a well-executed sales needs analysis can be the key to closing more deals and generating more revenue in this pipeline stage.

6. Close the deal

Congratulations—you made it to the most important sales pipeline stage. This is when prospects make a purchase or sign a contract. No matter how great your product or service is, you won’t make sales until you master the art of closing the deal. There are a few key things to keep in mind during this stage.

  • Always exude confidence. Believe in your product and in yourself, and it will come through in your pitch. Confidence comes from mindset, approach, speech, and even how you dress. Make sure to practice your talking points, but don’t overdo it or you’ll sound robotic. Stand up straight, make eye contact, and smile. These simple cues can make a big difference in your persuasiveness.
  • Keep your pipeline clean. This means staying on top of sales pipeline management, deleting unqualified leads, nurturing the right people at the right time, and following up when needed.
  • Know where your prospect is in the buying process to tailor your closing approach. If you see they’re still considering and comparing you to competitors, give them resources that prove you’re the best. This pipeline stage is about making sure all information is accessible and clear.
  • Identify signs prospects are ready to close. This includes them asking questions about your product or service, giving detailed responses when you ask questions, consistent and punctual responses and communication, engaging with your brand on social media, asking about pricing or payment plans and monitoring sales pipeline metrics.
  • Never stop following up until you get an answer. Follow up with potential customers and continue to push until they say yes or no to your offer. Remember, you can follow up months or even years later. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say no.

7. Follow up with customers to secure future business

In sales, it’s generally agreed upon that the fortune is in the follow-up. After all, if you’re not staying top-of-mind with your customers, they’re likely to forget about you entirely when it comes time to make a future purchase. But what exactly does following up with customers mean? And how can you be effective at it without being annoying?

In this final sales pipeline stage, the goal is to keep your company and your salesperson top-of-mind with the customer so that when they’re ready to buy again, they think of you first.

There are a few different ways to follow up with customers. You can send them an email, give them a call, or even drop by their office for a quick visit or thank-you. The key is to be sure that your communication is relevant and helpful—no one likes to be bombarded with sales calls or emails, so if you’re going to reach out, make it count. Provide value (or gifts at events or networking opportunities) and show that you’re truly interested in helping the customer, not just making a sale.

In Conclusion

  • What are the seven sales pipeline stages? Prospecting, lead qualification, initial contact, scheduling a meeting, needs analysis, close, and follow-up.
  • The best lead generation strategies to fill your pipeline in 30 days include asking for referrals, building repeat business, working with brands or influencers and tapping into their audiences, and cold calling and emailing.
  • One sales pipeline tool you shouldn’t live without is a good B2B email contact finder and lead enrichment software. Luckily, Bruxt is the perfect tool to deliver contact info and firmographics on your leads and accounts. Use it to keep your pipeline full of qualified leads, create and send targeted sales campaigns, and smoothly move leads through the sales pipeline stages.

Test out Bruxt with a free trial, it has an amazing accuracy rate when delivering data!

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