How to Build a Sales Pipeline That's Always Full of Qualified Leads

Written by
Josh Ruff
December 30, 2021

Ask almost any sales rep in the SaaS industry, “What’s the hardest part of your job?” The answer you’ll get is most likely “cold calling.” Plenty of sales professionals agree that getting prospects to book a sales call or meeting in the first place is often the most difficult part of tech sales.

As a result, some sales reps may struggle to achieve consistent performance each month. If you’re a sales manager, you might occasionally find your team scraping together just enough deals at the end of a cycle to meet quota.

While you can’t always control the outcome of a deal, there’s no need for reps to settle for hit-or-miss results all the time. To get your deals flowing in consistently, you need a sales pipeline—a strategy of consistent lead generation and keeping deals in play at all times.

This isn’t just a tip or hack to help you boost numbers. Having a sales pipeline is absolutely essential to any successful B2B sales team. If you’ve never built one before or if your existing pipeline isn’t providing the results you need to hit targets, don’t worry. We at Prehired have helped thousands learn how to build powerful sales pipelines that ensure a consistent revenue stream. Let’s take a look at how you can start building and maintaining your own successful sales pipeline.

What is a Sales Pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a strategy or large-scale sales model in which you have multiple deals at various stages continuously moving toward closing. The effect of this strategy is a consistent revenue stream. It ensures that you are always closing new customers and facilitating steady growth.

Once your pipeline is functioning properly, the routine process of working those deals will serve you well. However, building and managing a sales pipeline does require strategic work. The main focus of working a sales pipeline is balancing inbound leads with outreach, networking, and other lead generation methods to build a robust stream of incoming deals.

To achieve this, you’ll need a solid sales process and methodology. You will also need to make use of one of the most important sales tools in the industry: a CRM.

How to Use A CRM

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. This is a type of software designed to help you dynamically visualize the status of all leads in your sales pipeline. A CRM allows teams to identify each key stage in the sales cycle and locate each deal within a specific stage. It also helps define how much value is sitting in the pipeline at any given time. In some cases, a CRM may even help your team identify key resources and obstacles to closing deals.

Even if you don’t have any other sales tools at your disposal (hint: you should), you absolutely need to invest in a good CRM. It is an essential tool that helps you manage deal progress and leverage your strengths to move more revenue into the “closed” stage.

What Can It Do?

The features included in your CRM software will depend on which product you choose. Some of the most widely used CRM platforms are Salesforce, Hubspot, Zendesk Sell, and Monday.com. A good CRM platform should help you do the following:

  • Create customer personas
  • Customize and organize deal stages
  • Prioritize and assign dollar values to deals
  • Log and track activity metrics (demos, meetings, calls, emails, etc.)

How to Start Using a CRM

Your CRM platform helps you visualize and manage your sales pipeline. However, the pipeline itself is built on efforts outside of the software. To start using your CRM effectively, start with your sales plan.

A proper sales plan will outline department goals and the methods you will use to meet those goals. By reviewing and documenting your sales plan, you can start to identify key roles and resources to leverage for success.

Your sales plan should also detail the stages of your sales cycle. Use this to customize your CRM to work with each stage in your process. The program may also allow you to add more information such as the probability of success or associated procedures for each stage.

Ultimately, your team should have the data and insights necessary for success. It’s up to you to implement that data and customize your CRM solution to meet your needs. However you choose to do that, be sure to train your reps in how to use and manage the pipeline effectively. This means helping them focus not only on newer leads, but also on leads from a few months prior.

The idea with a CRM is to think of the bigger picture. Work the entire pipeline for deals, and develop your sales process and methodology to begin meeting your revenue targets (and beyond).

Develop Your Sales Methodology

The key to building a solid sales pipeline is to optimize your process to work well with the buyer’s journey. Why? Because the sales process is the force that moves deals toward a close. It is what makes the whole machine work.

You will need to lean on your sales plan to develop an effective process. Start by defining your target market and revenue goals and analyzing key roles. Then, you can build a process that allows each rep to perform the most efficient and productive work toward your goals.

Define Your Target Market

Sales is all about the value you present to your target market. That’s why the first step in any good sales process is to know who you are selling to. To accomplish this, the best sales teams build detailed customer personas. These are theoretical profiles (based on real people) that define your ideal customer.

Most basic customer personas include a position, salary, geographical region, job experience, and educational background for a potential customer. However, these profiles should include more than just demographics. In order to truly understand the ideal customer, your team needs to know the values, concerns, challenges, fears and desires of the people you make contact with each day.

As you accrue more loyal customers, ask them to take surveys or answer questions from sales reps so you can gain important insights about their needs. The more you speak with your customers and receive their feedback, the more you should be able to better define your target market. Use this information to build detailed personas that help your reps qualify leads and speak directly to the needs of prospects.

Know Your Sales Targets

In order to succeed in SaaS sales, you need to have a clear idea of your revenue targets for each month, quarter or year. Then you can divide those targets down into the actions required for you to get there.

For instance, if you want your department to reach $5 million in sales by next year, you need to figure out how you’re going to get there. How many leads do you need to bring in each month or quarter? What percentage of those leads need to book demos? How many deals do you need to close (and of what value) to achieve this target over that period of time? How often do reps need to follow up on each deal (on average) for it to close?

The key is to set realistic goals for these revenue targets. Obviously, not every prospect will answer the phone. Even fewer will book a demo. Only a small percentage of all the deals in your pipeline will close. That’s why many people also visualize the pipeline as a funnel. As you progress through each stage, you are often left with a smaller number of deals than before.

Our goal is to have that funnel or pipeline bursting with opportunity. To achieve that, you need to set goals based on real data. Depending on the size of your company, you will likely have existing sales analysis available within your department.

Once you know your revenue goals and you’re able to analyze how best to achieve those goals, you can start breaking them down into individual performance metrics and quotas for your sales reps. If you have a strong sales plan, that document may already have workflows outlined for success.

Leverage your Key Roles

You will also have key roles on your sales team that will be responsible for making your process run correctly. In order to develop your process, you need to know what each role is responsible for and what they are capable of achieving. Most sales teams are structured like this:

  • SDRs - A Sales Development Representative (SDR) is usually responsible for bringing in new pipeline value by qualifying leads. They can handle inbound or outbound leads, depending on the needs of the department.
  • AEs - An Account Executive (AE) is in charge of closing deals. While some AEs will do outbound cold-calling or other forms of outreach, they are supplied with a stream of qualified leads from the SDR team.
  • Account Managers - After a deal is closed, Account Managers are responsible for continued customer satisfaction. This means renewing subscriptions, continued software customization, and solving other issues that maintain customer loyalty.
  • Sales Managers - Sales Managers are in charge of directing teams of SDRs, AEs and Account Managers to meet their share of the department goals. They often direct strategy and workflows for their teams each day and provide feedback that helps each rep succeed in their role.

While there are certainly other important roles in a sales department at any SaaS company, these are the ones that will be most directly responsible for building a sales pipeline. To achieve success with your sales process, you need to make sure you leverage the abilities of each role by defining their KPIs and providing incentives for good performance.

Build a Standard Process/Workflow

The goal with a sales pipeline is constant movement. To accomplish that, you need to develop a steady workflow that is task-focused.

What does this mean? While quality is definitely important, focusing on activity metrics is more within your control. Your reps won’t make any progress if they don’t pick up the phone or send a follow-up email. But even a single attempt to make contact with a prospect gives you a better chance of success. Your success can only increase as you put in consistent work at each stage.

That said, focusing on activity metrics first ensures that your success does not depend on any single deal. In other words, consistent work across your entire pipeline takes the pressure off of failure. Instead, you can apply adequate effort across your team's entire work week to maintain consistency.

Think of it like exercising. If you want to burn calories by running, you don’t try to run ten miles in a day. Not only will this be ineffective with your long-term goals, but you may also suffer from burnout and never run again. Instead, you need to form a habit of running average distances every day. This way, you will build a routine of consistent exercise and will maintain your health over time.

It’s the same with a sales pipeline. In order to fill each stage with deals and keep closing them, you need to have a consistent process for generating/qualifying leads and turning them into valued customers. You don’t want to focus so much on prospecting that your deals never close. You also don’t want to close a hundred deals and look back to find the rest of your pipeline dry with no leads. Just like a real pipe, you don’t want it to be empty and you don’t want anything to clog it. The goal is consistent deal flow.

The 4 Stages of a Successful Pipeline

To succeed with building a powerful sales pipeline, you also need to define each stage. In terms of workflow, a sales process or cycle can be divided into 4 main stages: research/prospecting, making contact, booking meetings and closing. You should certainly define your own process more granularly than this, but these stages define the general cadence for most B2B SaaS companies. 

Research / Prospecting

The first stage of a successful pipeline usually involves research. In order to bring in new sales opportunities, your reps first need to spend time finding them. SDRs will most often be responsible for research and prospecting more than any other role. While there is no proven strategy that works 100% of the time, the best way to consistently find new leads is to always be looking for them.

That doesn’t mean probing for business potential at the dinner table with your family. That’s rude. Instead, it means that sales reps need to constantly leverage multiple different channels to generate new leads for your pipeline. Networking opportunities present themselves in almost every corner of life for a tech sales rep. They only need an attitude of constantly looking for those moments and actively seeking to build relationships via calls, emails, and on LinkedIn (or other social media networks).

Remember that the goal is to create a steady stream of leads. To do this, you need to curate a variety of reliable lead generation sources and mine them for all they can offer. These sources can be anything from email marketing campaigns to social media platforms, or more intensive strategies involving paid ads or content marketing.

While consistent effort is great, automation is better. That’s why no sales team is complete without solid lead generation software. Programs like Pipedrive, Intercom and Leadfuze allow reps to automate lead generation workflows by gathering key contact information from potential customers. These tools make the process more efficient and often help reps discover more leads than they could on their own.

In order to offer a clear and relevant value proposition, your reps also need to know the company’s customer personas like characters from their favorite book. As your reps do more research and prospecting, having a deep knowledge of the ideal customer will make them sharper at finding the deals that are more likely to close.

Making Contact

After you have a steady stream of leads filling your pipeline, it’s time to make initial contact with these leads via email, phone call or social media messages. The goal with this is to discover relationship potential and establish your reps as trusted advisors. You’ll need to place more of your focus on the prospect themselves rather than your company or your product, especially during the initial contact phase.

That said, making contact with a prospect for the first time can be pretty unpredictable. While you may have a lot of research on these leads that indicates they are good candidates for your product, your pitch may still fall flat or you may hear the dreaded click of someone ending a call. That’s okay. Initial contact is mainly about qualification—seeing if these prospects are truly a good fit for your product or service.

Qualification

The most common and effective way to qualify prospects is with the BANT qualification model. It stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline. Each of these is a key trait used to rank the level of qualification for your leads. Think of it this way:

  • Does the prospect have the budget to buy the product?
  • Does the person you’re talking to have the authority to make the buying decision? (If not, who does?)
  • Does this person/company have a valid use case for the product?
  • Do they need it soon? (If not, what is their timeline?)

If your reps answer “yes” to all of these questions, you have a highly qualified potential customer. Qualifying leads with this model ensures that each deal in your pipeline is a practical fit for your product and is therefore more likely to close.

Your pipeline should almost always focus on leads that are highly qualified (referred to as warm leads). Cold leads may still have potential later on, but they don’t warrant nearly as much immediate attention as those deals that show clear signs of closing. Cold leads should be categorized differently or removed from your pipeline until a later time.

Take a Unique Approach

It’s a fact that some outreach efforts won’t pan out. But you want to minimize this as much as possible in the initial stages. The threshold to overcome resistance from prospects is more difficult at the beginning when there is no established relationship. Many people have a pre-existing aversion to sales reps and their immediate reaction is to hang up.

Your team can cut through this by diversifying their outreach methods and developing a playbook to overcome objections.

If you’ve done any analysis on your sales process, you might realize that some outreach methods are more effective than others. However, sometimes it is all about the sequence of contact. Research the ideal times to reach out to your prospects to increase the rate of response at different touch points. Take note of these trends and optimize your sales script according to customer awareness at different stages of the buying journey. Lean on insight from customer personas when developing this strategy. Demonstrating empathy and understanding with a prospect during an initial sales call will establish a relationship much faster.

You can also get creative with the format of your outreach. Try recording your message as a video or introduce yourself using a GIF with subtitles to grab your prospect’s attention. Anything you can do to positively stand out in that person’s inbox will bring you closer to a valuable conversation with them.

Once you make contact with a lead, most of your job should be asking thoughtful questions and listening. You don’t want the conversation to end because of small objections that shouldn’t be deal breakers. If a truly qualified lead has an objection to your product, a lot of times it’s because they don’t totally understand the value it can offer them.

In overcoming these objections, you will want to maintain the momentum of the conversation. Make your response automatic, and don’t spend too much time floundering for an answer. Try building a playbook of common objections and training your reps to ask questions to dig into the true reasons behind those objections.

Discovery and Initial Meetings

After a few rounds of calls and emails, you should be left with a pipeline full of qualified leads. You should also have a booked calendar full of additional meetings with those prospects.

The third stage of an effective sales pipeline is all about continued discovery. This is where you dive into the specifics of your prospect’s challenges and how your product can serve those needs. As your reps grow to understand their prospects, so do prospects get to know your sales reps and the value of the product. By providing a closer look at the product through multiple meetings and follow-ups, you help people see if the product is actually a good fit for their situation.

Discovery Calls

Discovery calls are so named because they allow sales reps and prospects to explore the benefits of a potential partnership. While part of a discovery call is helping the prospect understand the value proposition, the main job of the sales rep in this stage is listening. The more information you can discover about the prospect’s unique challenges, the more you can effectively present your product as the ideal solution. If all you do is pitch the benefits of your product for thirty minutes, it may come across as ignorant or irrelevant to their situation. That’s because your pitch isn’t backed up or personalized with insight from the conversation. By listening more than talking, your reps help prospects feel valued and will continue to establish a position as a trusted advisor.

Product Demos

While discovery calls are mainly about the prospect, demos are an opportunity for the sales rep to showcase the product’s capabilities and user experience. The goal here is to engage and delight the customer so that they are ready to buy soon afterward.

With a software demo call, it’s the same effect as trying on a ring in a jewelry store. Prospects get an idea for what it might be like to use the product or implement it with their team. Be sure your team leverages the information gained from the discovery call to personalize demos as much as possible. You may even do some level of initial software customization if the prospect needs any unique features.

Follow-Up

Most deals require at least five follow-up attempts  before closing. That’s why it’s important to build follow-up into your regular workflow. This can be done via email or phone call, depending on the needs of the prospect or your most effective sequences. When doing follow-up, it’s best if your reps always personalize those messages as much as possible. Even if you are using a template for efficiency, a small amount of effort toward personalizing follow-up messages will greatly increase your response rate.

Closing

A pipeline is only a good strategy if it continues to help you close deals. After all, this is the end goal of any sales process. You want deals to exit your pipeline and enter your list of long-term customers.

Most often, closing is the responsibility of an Account Executive (AE). While these reps are also likely responsible for some demos, discovery calls and follow-up as part of day-to-day operations, their main job is to bring deals to a close.

You may be thinking about all sorts of closing tips and tricks you’ve read about online or by watching old movies like Glengarry Glen Ross. If that’s the case, forget about them. If your reps are focused on being clear about your value proposition, closing is hardly a process at all. Instead, it’s a natural occurrence of the environment you’ve created in your conversations.

Our Closing Philosophy

At Prehired, our philosophy of sales is Clarity > Closing®. The sales methodology we teach our members is focused on making the unique value proposition as clear as possible for any product. We arrived at this strategy not just for ethical reasons. Our research demonstrated that being honest and clear with prospects also results in a higher closing rate.

Why does this work so well? In order for a buying decision to stick, it has to come from a place of personal conviction or a belief in the value of your product. In other words, it has to come from a genuine place. If the prospect makes a decision based on pressure or cheap manipulation tactics, the belief in the product won’t last. Even if they do sign a contract, they may opt out at the first sign of trouble.

To achieve this, your reps need to encourage prospects to make an intelligent decision. Once again, closing a deal is about trust. If the prospect trusts you to tell them the truth, they will believe you when you say your product is the best. By focusing your closing strategy on clarity, you’ll start to build a list of long-lasting customers who are sold on your brand.

Sending Proposals

Once you know a prospect is ready to buy, you will need to send them a formal proposal. When doing this, focus on providing value to the customer and being open to negotiations.

Many times in B2B SaaS sales, prospects will require some unique software customizations before officially signing the contract. Try to accommodate as much of these requests as possible without compromising the value of the deal. In the end, the deal should be mutually beneficial. While you want to make as much money from a deal as possible, you don’t want deals to be stuck in the pipeline due to a proposal that wasn’t flexible.

Final Thoughts

Building a sales pipeline isn’t a secret strategy to give you a leg up on the competition. It is an essential part of a sales plan for anyone who is serious about growing their business.

To build a sales pipeline, you will need to create an effective workflow to optimize interactions at each stage. In other words, it takes hard work and intelligent strategy to keep your pipeline flowing.

It also requires great salespeople with a high degree of empathy. While you can help reps perform well and put in good work through your onboarding process, it’s best to have a wheelhouse of highly skilled reps that can ramp up fast and provide a great ROI.

By becoming a Prehired partner, we will offer you a curated list of highly trained candidates that you can hire right away. Our members are trained and vetted in our research-backed Science-Based Sales® curriculum, a sales methodology built to be effective and based on insight from thousands of interviews with sales professionals and hiring managers in software sales.

Start working with some of the best salespeople in the industry—hire a Prehired member today.

Josh Ruff

As the Partnerships Team Lead at Prehired, Josh has built 150+ partnerships with companies like Drift, Gong, Sisense, Citrix, LeadIQ, Outplay, Wix and many more. He also built a network of LinkedIn influencers, including Collin Cadmus, Belal Batrawy, Morgan Ingram & Larry Long, Jr. In his free time, you’ll most likely find him reading sci-fi and fantasy novels and wrestling with his pre-teens and toddler.


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