A Guide to B2B Sales Pipeline Stages for a Successful Funnel

Tony Shannon

sales pipeline stages

For B2B companies, understanding your sales pipeline is absolutely critical to sales success. Without a deep understanding of the route that you want your customers to take, how can you reliably walk them through that process?

Sales pipeline stages are the steps that any prospect takes through the sales cycle. They are the steps that move them from first learning about your business and product, going through the process of learning more and connecting it to their needs, and finally, buying in.

In this article, we’ll skip the usual stages that most articles cover and dive straight into the real-world steps that most B2B companies go through in the process of selling to their prospects, without the vagueness.

This article will cover each of the sales pipeline stages and the tools that companies can use to track and improve their processes.

You can use these steps to create a sales process for your B2B business and products and have something reliable in place as you look to grow your sales team and scale.

1. Prospecting & Lead Generation

The first step in any B2B sales pipeline process is prospecting and lead generation. The prospecting process is the process that salespeople go through to identify potential buyers for their company’s product or service.

Lead generation is the next step in the process, as you take those would-be buyers and go through the process of generating some initial interest in the product.

The steps that you take in the prospect and lead generation stage will depend on the strategy that your company employs.

Some companies employ some tactics to great effect, but not others.  What works for you will depend on your industry and the product that you are selling.

There are many methods for prospecting. A few include:

  • In-Person Networking. In-person networking is perhaps the most effective, but effort-heavy form of prospecting. You can create real-world relationships that lead to direct sales, referrals, and general awareness in your company and product that are hard to duplicate through other means.

  • Cold Outreach. Cold outreach through cold calling or cold emailing can be an effective way to reach prospects and build initial interest and awareness. While conversion rates are low, it can be scaled and automated in a way that keeps a consistent stream of prospects and leads coming into your sales pipeline.

  • Social Selling. Developing real, genuine relationships with prospects through social media. Here, the idea is not to pitch them your service right away but instead to develop a relationship that leads to a possible relationship but more importantly leads to them recommending your service to other companies that are in need.

  • Advertising. For companies with the budget, paid ads can create a consistent flow of leads that keep your sales pipeline full of interested, qualified leads.

  • Inbound Marketing. At RiseFuel, we specialize in inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is all about publishing content to become a trusted source of information for your prospects and customers. Publishing high-quality content that answers your prospect’s most burning questions can be a great way to get prospects to come to you, rather than your sales team having to constantly go to them.

  • Events & Trade Shows. Another form of in-person networking. Trade shows are often full of highly qualified candidates and can be a great place to build awareness and help to build your relationships.

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Prospecting is absolutely critical to ongoing sales success in any B2B sales organization. Using a range of different tactics can be a great way to mitigate risk and keep a consistent flow of prospects through all of your sales pipeline stages.

sales pipeline stages

Source: Jeff Bullas

2. Sales Pipeline Management:  Qualifying, Managing, and Scoring Leads

Once you have generated leads, you have to make sure that they are a good fit for your product. Not all leads are created equal. This is typically done by examining a few targeted market criteria.

You have to make sure that your prospects have a need for your product and are willing (and able, both in terms of having the money and being able to make the decision) to buy it.

Managing leads can get tricky as your sales pipeline grows. When you have a handful of leads, it's easy to stay on top of them and make sure that you are giving each enough attention to nurture them through the pipeline.

However, when you have 50, it can become difficult to manage relationships with that many prospects, even when you have a sales team at your back.

Managing your leads ensures that your most promising leads stay at the top of your to-do list. One of the best ways to make sure that you are targeting the right leads is to install a lead scoring system.

A lead scoring system looks at a range of different variables to determine who is a good fit for your product. These include:

  • Demographics and target audience fit. Do your prospects fit your target audience? Does the prospect hold the right position? Assigning a score to each data point and using that to build toward an overall score that you use to evaluate the lead on the whole is critical.

  • Engagement scoring. Engagement scoring is all about tracking how your prospects interact with your content and sales reps. What blog posts do they read? White papers? Case studies? What CTAs do they click? Do they follow your company or sales reps on social media? Using the way that they engage with the marketing materials that you send them to determine whether they are a good fit is absolutely critical.

  • Company information. Is the company the right size? Do they operate in the right industry? Making sure that your B2B prospects are a good fit for your product is critical to prioritizing leads and ultimately securing sales.

In the end, your ability to prioritize leads will have a direct role in your ability to secure sales. We help our B2B clients install a lead scoring system that helps them to do this in a way that makes sense for their business.

Additionally, you’ll need a CRM to help you track and manage interactions with those prospects. We recommend HubSpot CRM as it's free and fully feature-rich.

lead-scoring

Source: Salesforce

3. First Meetings

With your leads properly qualified, you can begin scheduling your first meetings with prospects. During this meeting, you need to ascertain their needs, set the stage for how you can help them, and set the stage for what you can offer their company.

During your first meeting, your sales reps get to know the prospect. They ask questions. They dive into their needs. They understand their pain points and what your company can help them to solve.

There are a few steps that every company should take to ensure that they are prepared for these meetings and to give them the best chance of success. These include:

  • Develop a meeting plan. Before the meeting with your prospect, setup a call or a meeting plan. This is a plan that outlines what you want to happen during the meeting. You always want to be in control during a sales call if possible, but every meeting is different. Define the purpose of your meeting — whether that is to establish need and fit, find pain points, or simply develop a rapport for companies with a longer sales cycle. Organize information and intelligence to make sure that you are able to properly qualify and score the lead after the call. Give your sales reps questions that they should ask during the call for that purpose.

  • Know the Logistics. How will you be meeting? Will you be meeting in person? Will they be calling into a web conference? Make sure that you have these details ironed out and optimized for success with your intended audience. Work with marketing agencies? A web conference is probably the right call. Work with construction companies? They are more likely to prefer a phone call.

  • Show Up Early. Be at the meeting early and be prepared. Know what you are going to ask and how you are going to ask it.

  • Small Talk Works. Although many will advise you to skip the small talk, it actually is a great tool for breaking the ice and building some initial rapport. Find a common interest and talk about it.

  • Focus on Pain Points. What are their problems? How does your offer solve them? Ask the right questions to truly drill down into how your solution or offer can help them to solve those problems.

  • Provide Next Steps. Always tell the prospect what you need them to do next. Let them know exactly what steps they need to take to get started.

First meetings are so important in the sales process. They send the prospect on a trajectory toward buying your solution. It’s important that you have a solid plan in place and the tools that you need to effectively execute that plan.

4. Define and Understand Your Prospects Needs

To truly speak to a prospect in a way that makes them excited about your offer, you have to fully understand their needs. Tailor your proposal to speak directly to their needs. Put yourself in a position to be the perfect solution to the pain points that they have.

Deep-dive into their needs. Understand the exact issues that they are running into and align your offer as exactly what they need to tackle those issues. A few things that you can do to aid you in this step include:

  • Conduct a Needs Audit. Use the information that you have to identify their needs and directly connect those needs to your offer.

  • Send a Survey. Survey your prospects to gather more information and better understand how you can help them and exactly what they need to reach their business goals.

  • Schedule Interviews. Speak with more stakeholders at the company to get a broader sense of organizational needs. Speaking with a single person at the company gives you a single perspective. You need as many perspectives as you can to create a complete picture.

  • Keep Immaculate CRM Records. Record everything that you can. The more data and information that you give your sales reps, the more successful they will be. Train your team to jot down and record everything in your CRM, as even small things could be useful sales tools down the road.
hubspot-crm

Source: IMPACT BND

5. Offer & Negotiation

Now it’s time for you to make the offer. With a solid understanding of their needs, you can make your final offer. Position your product as a complete solution to their issues and pain points. Make sure that you are referencing previous discussions and conversations to drive home the usefulness and value of your product.

How much wiggle room you have for negotiation is defined by your strategy. Work together to determine how much room you have and whether or not negotiating is something that you want to be involved in. Not all deals are created equal.

6. Close the Deal

After the terms are agreed to, you sign the contract and close the deal. Closing is its own art form and there are many tactics and strategies that you can use to close the deal.

Some deals are more complex than others. The service that you are offering might be incredibly complicated. There might be multiple stakeholders that need to sign off before a deal is finalized.

Make sure that you know what the hurdles are and prepare for them before attempting to close the deal. No matter how complex the deal is in the end, your ability to prepare for the closing will play a key role.

7. Delivery Continue to Delight

Then the hard part. You deliver your offer and continue to delight your customers to turn them into loyal long-term customers. Continually delighting your customers and clients is the most important piece of the puzzle.

Mastering the Sales Pipeline Stages

Here at RiseFuel, we work closely with our clients to help them develop practices that will position them to grow their sales and develop real, beneficial relationships with their customers and clients. Helping our clients to better understand the sales pipeline stages is critical for our success.

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:Sales Enablement

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