The Pipeline

The pipeline should be a familiar term for anyone with sales experience. The sales pipeline has several basic steps: make contact and collect information, meet, make proposals, and close. You may alter the stages based on your company needs. Monitoring the pipeline allows you to monitor prospecting and lead generation.

Contact

The first stage of the pipeline is contact. You may contact a prospect through cold calling, but the prospect will often contact you in response to your marketing. Regardless of how the contact occurs, you must take the opportunity to learn about your prospect. Check the website history and look up your prospect online. Take the opportunity to ask questions if the contact comes through a call or meeting.

After making contact, companies typically compile information on prospects after making contact. Use websites, questionnaires, and conversations. Choose a method of storing information that works best for you, a database or even a spreadsheet. As you catalogue information, organize them based on needs, interests, etc. This information will be used to connect with prospects. 

Meet

After gathering information about the prospect, it is necessary to meet with the prospect. This does not need to be a face-to-face meeting; the meeting may be online or over the phone. Regardless of how the meeting occurs, it is important to be prepared. The meeting should allow you to develop your business relationship and explain ways that you can meet client needs. The first meeting is often too early to present a proposal, but the sequences of the pipeline are not static. 

Propose

The sales proposal is based on communication with the prospect. The proposal will depend on your business. Some will be based off of standard rates and prices, while others will require more research to develop. Once a proposal is submitted, it is important that you follow up with the prospect. Do not simply trust in fate, be available to answer questions or make adjustments. The proposal must include a timeline, and the details should be based on earlier discussions. You cannot consider the sale to be complete at this stage. The proposal stage leads to closing at a 1:3 rate. The proposal must be officially accepted before the sale is made.

Close

The final stage is closing. The sale is not finished until it is closed. It may be necessary for you to negotiate with the customer to officially close. Closing occurs when the contract or order is signed and the sale implemented. It is important to carefully guide customers through the closing process; just because someone accepted a proposal does not mean the sale is firm. Additionally, it is important close quickly. The more time that you give customers to consider their purchases, the more likely they are to think of reasons to avoid the purchase. 

Case Study

Fred contacts George about using his printing services. When they meet, Fred is extremely impressed with the product and finds the price reasonable. He expects George to contact him with a proposal. After a week, however, Fred begins to consider other options. George sends a proposal 10 days after the meeting. Fred decides to wait and compare the proposal to a few others that he is expecting. In the end, Fred decides that George does not seem interested and chooses another company.