How to build a sales pipeline? The 4-step guide.

Build a solid sales pipeline

If you’ve ever looked at your diary, notebook, sticky notes and Inbox in the middle of a busy sales period and thought, “This isn’t working,” you’re not alone.

I used to try to organize my thoughts and ideas without structure and the result was I kept missing opportunities and sales forecasts. Then, I found the answer – the concept of sales pipeline. I now had order where there had been chaos; I could take the initiative, control the entire sales process, and win at sales management. Here are a few of the ideas that worked for me when I was building my pipeline:

  1. Decide what your ideal pipeline looks like

Let’s start by mapping out your pipeline so we can see how it looks. When you get those first ideas about people and companies that might need what you sell, you’re already taking the first steps in building a pipeline. You probably have more than one idea for prospects. Some of those will go all the way through and will close, others won’t. But these conversations and how they progress will form your pipeline. You build a pipeline by creating a number of steps from that initial idea to a closed sale – these are your sales stages. These might be:

  • Targets (very early days, not yet contacted)
  • Contacted (you’ve called or emailed)
  • Meeting Agreed (you’ve set an agenda and a date for the diary)
  • Proposal Sent (you’ve submitted a formal proposal with a $ figure)
  • Close (now it’s time to get the signature on the bottom line)

But that’s only part of it. It’s important to remember that your sales stages have to mirror the buying stages of your prospects or customers. You’ll see I included Proposal Sent in the stages – that’s because typically one has to submit a fully costed proposal to customers, as it’s a requirement in their “buying cycle.” Everyone’s buying cycle is different, but trust me, it helps to have a good idea of your customers and how they like to buy.

  1. Calculate the “magic numbers”

The magic question is: How many deals do you need to add to your pipeline to make your objectives? It would be great to win every deal you’ve submitted a proposal for, but this doesn’t happen. If you know how many deals you win on average, you can easily calculate the number of deals you need in each of the early stages. We explain more about this in a short video blog. If you calculate your numbers, you’ll be able to see how your pipeline looks and what number of deals you need to be adding to the top of the pipeline to reach your goals.

  1. Build stage-to-stage momentum

Once you have your pipeline stages laid out, you have to keep deals on track. When you’re moving your deals stage-to-stage what are the factors or variables that will help you advance your deal? It could be sending a written a proposal, identifying the stakeholders or it could be budget approval – there’s an event at each stage that moves the deal along.

It’s a good habit to set yourself objectives for these key events. You can control the activities to keep the pipeline moving, not the results. Setting objectives for yourself that relate to how many proposals you send and new prospect calls you make per day is the best guarantee that your deal flow doesn’t stall.

  1. Find your routine to fill the pipeline

Activities that add new deals to your pipeline need to be part of your routine – daily or, depending on your business, weekly. Back in my days of active sales I liked to start every day with a cup of coffee and that’s when I did calling and prospecting to find new deals. It worked for me because it was a habit. You might have to try out different ideas before you find a routine that suits you – a particular time of day, a day of the week or a regular slot in your diary when you can really focus on putting deals into the pipeline. When you keep that focus and habit for finding new targets you don’t need to worry about your sales pipeline.

Pro Tip No. 1: Do similar kinds of calls together with a team member. This introduces a competitive element and adds a bit of “peer pressure.”

Pro Tip No. 2: Use good sales management software. I’m confident Pipedrive will help anyone close more deals.

If you follow these ideas to build a sales pipeline, you’ll like the results. In summary, set up your stages and do what it takes to move deals from one stage to the next; then, adopt a healthy approach to your pipeline building activities. It will help you meet your numbers. And that, in turn, will help you build a successful business.

Get our free Sales Pipeline Academy

Fifteen-plus years of sales pipeline know-how condensed into one email course.
Find out more

Join Pipedrive CTA

Urmas Purde

Co-Founder of Pipedrive. 10+ years of sales and sales training experience. These days makes sure feedback from our customers gets built into product.

  • Paramdeo Singh

    Great summary of the steps needed to get a working sales pipeline model off the ground.

    Pipedrive is great, I love the probability feature — I use a 7 step model, and my 5th (Proposal) stage is actually at a lower percentage than the previous (Opportunity) stage, to represent the client’s volatility when presented with costing figures.

    The Deal Rotting feature within the pipeline comes in handy as well, I make use of it once a Prospect has been qualified and also when a deal is in the stage (Negotiation) before closing. Helps me pay more attention to clients and keeps me on my toes in case I’m slacking!

  • Thomas Daniels

    Thanks, I need to fill my pipeline.

  • On point 3 above on building stage-to-stage momentum, there will be overt and covert events that signal you to move the deal to the next stage.

    For example, a lead’s request for proposal is an overt event that indicates their interest in your product/service. Covert events like the lead opening the email/proposal, and how many times, gives you a good sense of when that deal will move to the next stage in your pipeline.

    If you are using Pipedrive, there is a simple way you can integrate these covert signals into any pipeline. Check this out:

    http://bit.ly/16J4diS

    Disclosure: I built this add-on.

  • Ben Billson

    Hey guys. FYI the layout for this article is kinda broken in the Android FB browser.

    Great article otherwise!

    • Ott Ilves

      Thanks Ben,

      We replaced the image now.

  • Thanks for this article. The organization I see in Pipedrive is really educational and helpful.

  • sy

    pourquoi c’est pas en francais pour une débutante comme moi il faut aller chercher l’information ailheurs alors que c’est a ma portée si on paye un abonnement au mois il va de sois que le francais doit etre de rigueur pour le pays concerné

    • Christopher

      Bonjour!

      Nous essayons de tout traduire dans notre centre de support, mais nous sommes une entreprise mondiale. Par conséquent, il n’est pas possible de traduire chaque article de blog dans les différentes langues de nos utilisateurs malheureusement 🙁

      Le blog est écrit dans nos deux langues officielles, anglais et portugais.