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How to build a sales pipeline: 6 steps for effective sales pipeline management in 2024

How to build a sales pipeline: 6 steps for effective sales pipeline management in 2024

min read

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

Streak sales pipeline in Gmail

This is where your sales pipeline comes in. A sales pipeline is a tool for tracking each customer as they move through the stages of your sales process, from the initial lead to closing the sale. 

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

What is a sales pipeline?

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

The pipeline also breaks this sales 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 lead in a the 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 sales funnel.

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 sales pipeline organizes all communications so that your entire team is on the same page. This will help you stay on top of communications with leads and avoid missing crucial sales opportunities. 

Sales funnel report for a sales pipeline

Reporting is an essential 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 indicates that you'll need to dial in this presentation further to close the deal. Over time, your sales pipeline will generate a huge volume of data to inform your sales decisions and help you win more customers.

Struggling to develop an effective sales process? This may be a clue that you need a pipeline to manage your sales in a more efficient and organized manner.

How to build a sales pipeline for your team: improve your sales efforts with these 6 steps

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 six steps to create a sales pipeline and start tracking leads. 

1. Review your current sales process

Before you build your sales pipeline, convene with your sales team to identify the key stages in your sales cycle 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 of your sales reps.

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.

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. You can use a variety of different prospecting methods to source leads, from outbound sales communications to inbound marketing. Many teams visually separate this stage 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 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 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 become customers, those relationships will still need nurturing. Use this section of the pipeline to keep track of ongoing communication with these leads. 

3. Determine the data you want to collect

Sales reps need to collect and review data and essential sales pipeline metrics 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. 

Data points being tracked in a 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

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 the needs of your sales or marketing team. 

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 emails, 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 cycle and 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?
  • Automation and integration: 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 for building 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, make sure it’s one that your entire team can access easily and feels comfortable using.

5. Create your pipeline

Now that you've decided on a CRM for your sales pipeline, it's time to build it. 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 quickly set up a new strong sales pipeline in Streak. 

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.

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. 

Streak's importer prompt asking you to choose a data source for your sales pipeline import

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

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 processes—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 managers and the rest of your 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. 

Organize your sales pipeline with Streak

Streak allows sales professionals to create pipelines in 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. 

Streak's pipeline templates with a sales template being shown

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.

Get started with a free trial of Streak today to learn more about effectively using sales pipelines in Gmail.

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