Sales Pipeline Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you’re interested in a particular sales pipeline topic, feel free to jump ahead:

What Is A Sales Pipeline?

Sales Pipeline Definition

A sales pipeline is a visual representation of all your opportunities and prospects in their respective stages and of the next steps and activities needed to get your company closer to the winning stage.

You can think of a sales pipeline as a map of the steps and activities that a sales rep needs to perform in order to transform an opportunity into a project or a prospect into a customer. When you look at your sales pipeline, you know exactly what to do next to move prospects and opportunities toward the winning stage.

How to build a sales pipeline?

Building a sales pipeline for your organization is a methodical process with several steps that need to be executed and tested. First, you need to define and document your sales process. Then, you create sales pipeline stages to match and support your sales process. And lastly, you implement a sales pipeline tool to help your sales team manage the sales pipeline efficiently. After the initial implementation, you can fine tune the steps and the activities to increase your win rate and focus your efforts on the sales activities that impact your bottom line.

PROCESS: Pipeline Process

The process of creating a sales pipeline starts with the sales process itself. A sales process is a step-by-step process with instructions for your sales team to know exactly what to do in order to transform a lead into a customer and an opportunity into a project. 

Depending on the industry, your sales process may include several phases and each phase may be executed by a different department. In most industries, the sales process is comprised only by the Lead-to-Client Phase. Once a person or company becomes your client, you earn their business. However, in industries like construction for example, the Lead-to-Project phase doesn’t encompass the entire construction sales process. An Opportunity-to-Project Phase is also needed. Let’s look at all the construction sales process steps as this process is a rather complex one.

Lead to Client Phase

This is an 8-step sales process in which your business development team is working to get your company’s name on the prospect’s bid list. The steps in this lead to client phase are:

  1. Prospecting – Lead generation from events, your website, advertising, and marketing efforts.
  2. Contact – This is a first discovery call or meeting to find out what the potential client’s needs are.
  3. Lead Qualification – Make a decision on whether the prospect is a good fit for your company and the services you offer or not.
  4. Lead Nurturing – In this step, your business developer will build rapport with the prospect and drill deeper into their needs and requirements.
  5. Presentation – The presentation step of the lead to client sales process is an important one. Each presentation you give has to be personalized to the prospect’s needs. Read our Construction Sales Process Guide to learn more about presentation content and delivery.
  6. Follow-up – This follow-up step is to overcome any objections your prospect may have and ultimately convince them to send an opportunity your way.
  7. Receive the Opportunity – The request for pricing (RFP) or invitation to bid (ITB) on a project makes its way to your email.
  8. Close the Lead – At the point you win your first opportunity with a lead, you can move it on your client list.

Opportunity to Project Phase

In the next phase of your sales process your sales team is focusing on winning the opportunity. We’ll again look at an example from the construction sales process. The 8 steps in this sales process phase are:

  1. New Opportunity – Enter the opportunity in the tracking system as a new opportunity.
  2. Gathering Information – Gather more information on the project.
  3. Go/No-Go Decision – Decide whether the opportunity fits your company’s services and schedule.
  4. Take-off – This is the list of materials needed to complete the project. Use take-off templates so all take-offs follow the same format.
  5. Estimating – In this step, your estimating department is going to price the opportunity.
  6. Proposal Creation – Once a price is established, your sales team will move on to putting the proposal together for the project. Check out Elements of a Construction Proposal to know what to include. Also, you can download a free library of construction proposal templates to get you started on your proposal design and content.
  7. Proposal Sending – Email your proposal right on time with a tracking system.
  8. Follow-up – The follow-up step in the opportunity-to-project phase is an extremely important step. Learn more about this step in the construction sales process. Also, make use of these follow-up email examples for the construction industry. And don’t forget to read what the 10 must-haves of a follow-up tool are.
  9. Close the Opportunity –In construction, closed opportunities can be: won, lost, no-go, opportunity died, lost by all clients you bid.

STEPS: Sales Pipeline Stages

Most of the time, your sales pipeline stages will mirror your sales process steps. Each sales pipeline stage also defines the stakeholders and the sales activities that need to be completed.

Let’s turn our attention again to the construction sales process and look at a sales pipeline stages diagram and roles and responsibilities.

In the lead-to-client diagram you will notice that the responsibilities may be split between the marketing and the business development department. For example, you may charge your marketing team with generating leads from your website and events and to qualify leads for your business developers. On the other side, you may put your business developers in charge of lead nurturing, presentation, and follow-up.

Sales Pipeline Stages for Lead to Client Sales Process

In the opportunity-to-project diagram you’ll see that all responsibilities may be carried out by an estimator in smaller companies, or they may be split between estimators and sales representatives in a larger organization.

Sales Pipeline Stages Example

VISUAL: Pipeline Visualization

The visual representation of your sales pipeline is as important as establishing the sales pipeline stages. The best pipeline visualization is simple, practical, and contains all necessary information for your sales team to perform their duties.

Therefore, we recommend a vertical-column representation with each stage becoming a column and each lead or opportunity listed as a ‘card’ or ‘tile’ in its respective stage column. In this vertical representation of your pipeline, the leads and opportunities move naturally from left to right.

iDeal CRM Sales Pipeline Management

A list representation like the one in the example below is also feasible, but it is not as practical or clear as the vertical vertical-column visualization. However, if you choose the list view, we do recommend grouping by due date and then by stage so you can at least identify your To Do’s on a given day.

Sales Pipeline Made Simple Opportunity List View

Sales Pipeline Management

What Is Sales Pipeline Management?

Sales pipeline management is the process of organizing and tracking leads and opportunities and the sales activities associated with each of them at every stage of the sales process. With the ultimate goal of winning new clients and opportunities and reaching established milestones.

Pipeline Management Best Practices

When it comes to sales pipeline management, there are a few best practices to operate by:

  1. Establish sales pipeline stages that match your sales process.
  2. Define clear quarterly sales goals that are measurable and attainable.
  3. Identify the sales metrics that matter most to reaching your goals, and track them. Less is more here. Select the sales pipeline metrics that help you measure performance against goals. 
  4. List sales activities that need to be performed at each pipeline stage.
  5. Establish roles and responsibilities; who does what and when.
  6. Develop a pipeline management standard operating procedure (SOP) document.
  7. Implement a sales pipeline tool to help your sales team execute necessary sales activities and keep track of the pipeline. A pipeline software or Excel template are good examples here.
  8. Build a library of supporting sales collateral and templates for your sales team.
  9. Train your sales team on the sales process, SOP, and the sales pipeline management tool.
  10. Perform sales pipeline analysis weekly, preferably at a weekly sales meeting, and identify sales team To Do’s.
  11. Fine-tune your sales pipeline in small increments and measure the improvements. Small changes are key here to

Sales Pipeline Tools

In order to successfully manage your pipeline, a tool or set of tools is needed.

  1. First you need a sales pipeline management solution – a way to track prospects and opportunities in the form of software or a spreadsheet.
  2. Secondly, you need a calendar of sales activities and reminders – this is usually part of the sales tool software, but just in case you are using a spreadsheet you’ll also need to implement a calendar.
  3. Thirdly, you need a library of proposal templates or bid templates. You can download a variety of construction proposal template library for free.
  4. And lastly, you’ll need a library of follow up email templates and call scripts that your sales team can use to quickly get in touch or follow -up on prospects and opportunities.

Software: Sales Pipeline Software (Sales Pipeline CRM)

Sales pipeline software is preferred when it comes to managing your pipeline. If your sales process is a simple one with steps from the Lead to Client stage, marketing customer relationship management (CRM) software like Hubspot or Freshworks is a good solution.

However, a construction company with a complex sales process that needs to track opportunities with multiple clients as well, needs an opportunity-centric or sales pipeline CRM. iDeal CRM for Construction is a great example of an opportunity-centric CRM.

iDeal CRM for Construction Features

This type of pipeline management software or sales CRM like iDeal CRM enables sales teams to:

  • Organize leads, clients, and opportunities.
  • Track opportunities, including the ones with multiple bidders.
  • Create, send, and track proposals (or tenders).
  • Streamline and automate follow-up activities.
  • Leverage a calendar of sales activities, tasks, and deadlines.
  • Access meaningful reports.
  • Centralize ALL sales data in 1 single source of truth.

You can create a free account for iDeal CRM and test to see how your company can organize and improve sales with software. It is free for a 1-user company. No credit card needed. No strings attached.

Excel: Sales Pipeline Excel Template

A sales pipeline in Excel is a suitable sales tracking solution for companies with a low number of opportunities and clients. However, there are some downsides to using a sales pipeline spreadsheet instead of sales pipeline management software. For example, not receiving notifications when a bid is due or when a client opened your proposal. Collaboration on an Excel pipeline is difficult as changes are not visible in real time. Proposal creation is not possible from an Excel list of opportunities – proposals will have to be created separately. A calendar of sales activities and deadlines is not automatically generated. Reporting is difficult to build. Also, there is no automation you can build into a spreadsheet and it is pretty hard for the business development team to keep track of all sales activities.

You can download this sales pipeline template xls file to see whether it would work for your organization or not.

Google Sheets: Sales Pipeline Template Google Sheets

While a Google Sheet can’t compete with a sales software solution, it is a better-suited solution than an Excel spreadsheet. All Excel functionality needed to track your sales pipeline is available in Google Sheets as well. The added bonus is that your sales team can collaborate and changes made by one sales rep are visible to the entire team when you share the Google Sheet. The downsides are that you still can’t have sales-related notifications or a sales activities calendar. Reporting is difficult to build. Also, proposal creation and follow-up automation are not possible.

Supporting Documents

Supporting documents are very important for sales enablement and increasing productivity. The faster your sales team can respond with the right information the higher the chance to win the client or the opportunity. The sales tools kit can be developed over time, as the need arises. For example, sales collateral and supporting documents can include:

Reporting and Analytics

Metrics: Pipeline Health Metrics

Sales pipeline metrics are important to track the health of your pipeline, the performance of your sales team, and overall state of your sales. Examples of sales metrics derived from your sales pipeline are:

Open Opportunities by:

  • stage
  • client
  • due date
  • project source, type, category, size
  • location

Win Rate (% of opportunities won from opportunities closed)

  • overall win rate
  • win rate by client
  • by sales representative
  • win rate by team
  • by project source, type, category, size
  • Won opportunities by source, category, size, location
  • Lost opportunities by reason, region, project type
  • And more…

Reports: Pipeline Report Examples

The pipeline reports you want to set up are the ones that reflect the sales metrics you want to measure. But even more important are the comprehensive reports that combine some of these metrics and provide you with actionable insights.

Here are a few pipeline report examples that you can easily set up:

  • Opportunities by Bid Submission Date
  • Overall Win Rate: Won from Bid and Won from Closed
  • Client Win Rate – How many jobs did they win and how many of those did you win with them
  • Sales Quota Tracking and Progress to Meet Sales Quota by sales person
  • Sales Forecasting – these reports are especially important to make sure that you have enough opportunities and clients in the pipeline
  • Many more

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Sales Pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a visual representation of all your opportunities and prospects in their respective stages and highlighting next steps and activities needed to get them closer to the winning stage.

You can think of a pipeline as a map of the steps and activities that a sales rep needs to perform in order to transform an opportunity into a project or a prospect into a customer. For example, when you look at your pipeline, you know exactly what to do next to move items closer to the winning stage.

What are the stages of a sales pipeline?

Most of the time, your sales pipeline stages will mirror your sales process steps. Each stage also defines the stakeholders and the sales activities that need to be completed. An organization may have multiple pipelines. For example, you can have a prospect or lead pipeline and an opportunity pipeline.

Lead to Client Pipeline Stages:

  1. Prospecting 
  2. Contact 
  3. Lead Qualification 
  4. Lead Nurturing 
  5. Presentation 
  6. Follow-up 
  7. Close the Lead (or Receive the Opportunity for construction companies)

Opportunity to Project Pipeline Stages:

  1. New Opportunity 
  2. Gathering Information 
  3. Go/No-Go Decision 
  4. Estimating 
  5. Proposal Creation 
  6. Proposal Sending 
  7. Follow-up 
  8. Close the Opportunity

Further Reading