Learning how to build a sales pipeline may seem out of scope for a small business owner, but it’s more in line with your work than you may think.
HubSpot defines a sales pipeline as a series of steps that prospective buyers move through as they get closer to considering a purchase; the article notes: “Because sales processes differ from company to company (and even product to product), your sales pipeline should be unique and reflect the typical buyer’s journey.”
The services you provide, like sales, marketing and customer support, may already be laying a foundation for a sales pipeline. To help you close more sales, let’s take a closer look at the buyer’s journey and stages they normally travel through.
The 3 Sales Pipeline Stages
Let’s examine the case of a hardware store owner, Harold, who would like to build a system that will help increase sales. If Harold looks at his current efforts through the lens of a sales pipeline, he could gain insight into what’s working and what needs revamping.
Most buyers’ journeys break down into three stages:
- Awareness: Customers learn about your business or products.
- Consideration: Customers evaluate different products on the market to find what meets their needs.
- Purchase: Customers reach the final stage when they decide who to purchase from.
You can tailor your marketing and sales efforts to target customers at each stage. Building a sales pipeline can be as simple as exploring what you’re already doing and focusing on areas that need more attention.
Awareness: Keep Customers in the Loop
If you want customers to keep you top of mind when they have a business need, it’s important to keep them abreast of your products and services.
Harold needs to promote marketing at the awareness stage if he wants to win over potential clientele who usually buy from big box building suppliers. He could achieve this through advertising, speaking at local building association trade meetings, and promoting a loyalty discount club.
Consideration: Simplify the Options
Consumers at the consideration stage evaluate products. For example, a homeowner who is considering buying a Jacuzzi will read blogs, watch videos, consult experts, read product literature and shop around for prices. What steps do you take to make product information available and support buyer education?
Harold wants his hardware store to be a go-to destination for these big purchases, so he’s made improvements to help buyers at the decision stage. He offers product literature and pricing in-store and online. By partnering with a larger vendor, he’s also able to give consumers access to a free virtual reality tour to help them envision which model is right for their needs. Focusing on product information and offering consultations makes it easy for customers to compare prices, and providing access to visualization options helps them narrow down their options.
Purchase: Offer Decision Support
During the decision stage of the customer journey, the buyer makes a purchase. This is one of the most crucial sales pipeline stages. What makes you a better choice than the competition? Here, small businesses can make a big difference by highlighting discounts, easy return policies, post-purchase support, loyalty rewards and more.
In Harold’s case, more generous credit terms and flexible return policies help him stand out when customers make large purchases. He’s updated his messaging to make this information easy to find and offered incentives to drive larger sales.
Refresh Your Plan Often
It’s important to review your plans over time. Your target customers can change, as can the products you’re selling. Review your sales plans regularly so you don’t miss out on new opportunities. The key factor is building a regular review — and room for improvement — into your plans.
If you’re trying to grow your business, learning how to build a sales pipeline is in your best interest. But you don’t have to do it alone: with a small business loan you can pursue expert consulting or technology that will help you develop your sales pipeline over time and better understand your business’s unique customer journey.