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How to build an effective sales pipeline

How to build an effective sales pipeline

min read

One of the biggest challenges for any sales team is efficiently managing your communications and tracking your progress. When you’re juggling both prospective leads and existing customers, you’ll need a way to keep your contacts organized and maximize your chances of closing a sale.

screenshot of a Streak sales pipeline in Gmail
A sales pipeline in Streak

This is where your sales pipeline comes in. A sales pipeline is a tool you can use to track each customer as they move through the stages of your sales process, from the initial lead all the way to closing the sale. 

<a href="#what-is-a-sales-pipeline" class="anchor-link">What is a sales pipeline?</a>
<a href="#benefits-of-implementing-a-sales-pipeline" class="anchor-link">Benefits of implementing a sales pipeline</a>
<a href="#how-to-build-a-sales-pipeline-for-your-team" class="anchor-link">How to build a sales pipeline for your team</a>

  • <a href="#review-your-current-sales-process" class="anchor-link">Review your current sales process</a>
  • <a href="#determine-your-pipeline-stages" class="anchor-link">Determine your pipeline stages</a>
  • <a href="#determine-the-data-you-want-to-collect" class="anchor-link">Determine the data you want to collect</a>
  • <a href="#choose-a-crm-or-sales-pipeline-tool" class="anchor-link">Choose a CRM or sales pipeline tool</a>
  • <a href="#create-your-pipeline" class="anchor-link">Create your pipeline</a>
  • <a href="#prepare-and-import-your-existing-data" class="anchor-link">Prepare and import your existing data</a>

<a href="#tips-for-effective-pipeline-management" class="anchor-link">Tips for effective pipeline management</a>
<a href="#organize-your-sales-pipeline-with-streak" class="anchor-link">Organize your sales pipeline with Streak</a>

Here’s how to build and manage an effective sales pipeline for your team. 

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What is a sales pipeline?

Sales pipelines are often offered as part of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. A sales pipeline helps you organize and track leads as they move through the sales process. It serves as a visual representation of this sales process, allowing you to see exactly where each lead is at a glance. 

The pipeline also breaks this process down into key stages, which often correspond with a specific action item for the sales team. While there are many ways to organize a sales pipeline visually, a straightforward chart is most common. 

In addition to tracking leads through each stage of your sales pipeline, you can also track important data and interactions for each lead.

a screenshot of a lead in a streak sales pipeline with a call log and email conversations
Some CRMs allow you to log calls, meetings, and conversations

Many sales pipeline tools allow you to add notes from calls and meetings, and some have integrations with your email provider so you can add email conversations to each lead or opportunity in your pipeline.

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Benefits of implementing a sales pipeline

Using a pipeline is crucial to the long-term success of your sales team for several reasons. First, an effective pipeline keeps all of your communications organized so that your entire team is on the same page. This will help you stay on top of communications with leads and avoid missing any crucial sales opportunities. 

a screenshot of a funnel report for a sales pipeline
Reporting is an important feature of a sales pipeline

Additionally, a pipeline provides important insights to help you hone your sales strategy. For example, maybe your team is generating plenty of qualified leads, but they tend to drop off after your pitch or demo. This is an indication that you’ll need to hone this presentation further in order to close the deal. Over time, your pipeline will generate a huge volume of data to inform your sales decisions and help you win more customers.  

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How to build a sales pipeline for your team

Building a sales pipeline for your team doesn’t need to be a massive undertaking, and doesn’t have to send you into analysis paralysis. Many tools offer customizable pipeline templates that will help you get started quickly. 

Follow these steps to create a sales pipeline and start tracking leads. 

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1. Review your current sales process

Before you build your sales pipeline, convene with your sales team to identify the key stages that your leads go through. Your sales pipeline needs to be fully customized for your team’s workflow, and you’ll want to make sure that you don’t miss any important stages. 

If you’re managing a sales team, this is a great opportunity to learn how the process may vary from sales rep to sales rep. You may find that you need to get everybody on the same page by streamlining and standardizing your workflow. It’s also a good time to share best practices and what’s most challenging for each rep.

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2. Determine your pipeline stages

Once you have a good grasp on each step of your process, map out the stages that correlate with each action.

a screenshot showing the stages of a sales pipeline
It's helpful to be able to visualize your sales pipeline in your CRM

Here are some of the most common sales pipeline stages to help you get started. However, the exact stages of your sales pipeline should be customized to your team’s needs.

  • Prospecting: In this stage, you’re actively looking for potential leads. There are a variety of different prospecting methods you can use to source leads, from outbound sales communications to inbound marketing. Many teams separate this stage visually into two parts: leads they’ve identified but have yet to reach out to, and leads they’ve already contacted. 
  • Qualification: This step involves having a more in-depth conversation with your lead to determine if they are a good fit for your product or service. Lead qualification ensures that you’re using your time and resources wisely to maximize the chances of closing a sale. 
  • Meeting or demo: Depending on the products or services you offer, the next step in the pipeline is the meeting or demo phase. This gives your sales prospects the opportunity to interact with the product and your team directly. 
  • Proposal or negotiation: Some teams will also have a proposal or negotiation phase as part of their sales pipeline. In this phase, you’ll either send a proposal directly to your lead, or you will negotiate with them to close the deal. 
  • Closed: This stage of the pipeline can indicate either a lost or won sale. It’s important to keep track of both existing customers from sales you’ve won as well as leads from sales you’ve lost, as you may benefit from future communication. 
  • Nurturing and retention: Even after your leads have become customers, those relationships will still need nurturing. Use this section of the pipeline to keep track of ongoing communication with these leads. 

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3. Determine the data you want to collect

Sales reps need to collect and review data to help them understand how your product or service can fit each potential customer’s needs. Make a list of what you need to know about each lead throughout each step of the process. 

a screenshot of the fields being tracked in a sales pipeline
Track important data points in your sales pipeline

This will be tailored to your industry, product, or service, but common data points include: 

  • Product interest
  • Budget
  • Deal size
  • Team size, if selling B2B
  • Location
  • Lead source
  • Objections
  • Date of next meeting or call

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4. Choose a CRM or sales pipeline tool

Once you’ve determined what stages to track in your pipeline and have your information on hand, you should be able to choose a CRM tool with sales pipeline features. 

Picking a CRM can feel overwhelming, but you can narrow down your search by creating a list of requirements and evaluating whether or not a CRM meets your needs. 

For example:

  • Pipeline customization - can you track all of the stages and data points you need? 
  • Team collaboration - can your team work together within this tool?
  • Interaction history - can you easily track email, calls, and meetings with each lead? 
  • Implementation and set up - can you set this up yourself in a reasonable timeframe, or do you need to hire an implementation specialist? 
  • Reporting - will you be able to track the information you need to analyze your pipeline and make improvements in your sales process?
  • Usability - will your team actually use this tool because it fits into their existing toolset and doesn’t cause too much resistance in their daily work?
  • Automations and integrations - can you connect your CRM with other tools your business uses, like lead gen forms or call schedulers? 
  • Budget - does this fit within your budget? Does it offer enough value to make it worthwhile?

There are many CRM tools that you can use to build a sales pipeline digitally. For example, Streak offers built-in sales pipeline templates that sync with your existing Gmail inbox and contacts. Regardless of which tool you use to build your sales pipeline, make sure it’s one that your entire team can access easily and feels comfortable using.

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5. Create your pipeline

Now that you’ve decided on a CRM for your sales pipeline, it’s time to build. Depending on your CRM, this process can take anywhere from a few minutes to weeks or months. We always recommend using tools that let you get to work quickly (and make changes as needed), which is why you can get set up with a new pipeline in Streak in less than 10 minutes. 

If you need help, many CRMs offer support from a Customer Success rep or an Account Manager, which can be an invaluable resource. You can also keep an eye out for video courses, support articles, or blog posts that will help you get started. 

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6. Prepare and import your existing data

You’re likely tracking leads somewhere, even if it’s a stack of sticky notes or an increasingly chaotic notepad.

Throw all those leads into a spreadsheet if they’re not already in one or export leads from another tool and make sure your data is organized how you want it. This is a good opportunity to clean up your sales leads and remove any clutter. 

a screenshot of Streak's importer prompt asking you to choose a data source for your sales pipeline import
Most CRMs allow you to import your data from a file to quickly fill your sales pipeline with existing leads

Most CRMs will have an importer feature that allows you to upload all of your leads in just a couple minutes. Once you’ve completed this, you’re ready to start working in your sales pipeline!

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Tips for effective pipeline management

It’s not enough just to create a sales pipeline - you’ll also need to proactively manage it. Being proactive with your sales pipeline will help you make the most of this tool and ultimately improve your sales process - and your bottom line. 

Once your sales pipeline is in place, you’ll need to incorporate it into your daily routine. Assigning actionable steps for each stage in the pipeline, such as sending a follow-up email or scheduling a meeting, will help you stay consistent. This also ensures that you don’t fall behind on communication with your leads. 

Additionally, it’s important to set goals for your sales team that align with the stages in your pipeline. If you use sales quotas, you can even use your pipeline to track your progress towards these quotas. 

Finally, it’s important to continuously re-evaluate your pipeline. Look for new insights and use the data to determine where your sales team is excelling and where you need improvement. Don’t be afraid to make changes if your pipeline isn’t working for you. As your products or services change, you may need to adjust your pipeline accordingly. Ideally, your sales pipeline should be a tool that makes your existing operations more efficient. 

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Organize your sales pipeline with Streak

Streak allows you to create sales pipelines in just minutes with ready-to-use templates and easy set-up. Have a highly-specific sales process? Create your own pipeline with custom stages, fields and styling. 

a screenshot of Streak's pipeline templates with a sales pipeline template being shown
Create a new pipeline to track sales leads in Streak in just minutes with customizable templates

Streak integrates directly with Gmail, so you can add emails and contacts to each lead in your pipeline right from your inbox. If you’ve been using spreadsheets to manage your sales data, you can import them directly to Streak with our importer tool.

Start a free trial of Streak today to learn more about sales pipelines in Gmail.

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