Sales automation is a beautiful thing. Done right, it can help your sales reps build long-lasting relationships with prospects and customers—while helping them stay organized, keep track of leads, and save valuable time.
An automated sales pipeline, created with automation software like Infusionsoft, helps sales reps guide prospects through the sales process. When a prospect moves from one stage of the sales process to the next, automated emails are triggered, ensuring that the rep keeps in touch with relevant communication—without having to remember to follow up or manually type each email. When the sales process is tracked and emails are automated, reps don't lose leads or have to dig through notes to recall the status of each prospect. As a result, you have a clearer vision of the future revenue in your pipeline and the information you need to improve your sales process.
In this post, we'll give an overview of what an automated sales pipeline entails. For an in-depth guide to automating your sales process, download our e-book, "In the Pipeline: Keep, Convert and Close More Leads in Less Time with Automation."
Keeping track of sales opportunities
In Infusionsoft, the progress of a prospect in the sales process is tracked via an opportunity record. The opportunity record helps sales reps in two important ways:
- An opportunity record provides the big-picture view of where a lead stands in the process. For example, some prospects are in the Contacting stage, in which the rep is trying to reach them, and others are in the Qualified stage, in which the rep knows the prospect is qualified to purchase from your company and is working to close the sale.
- An opportunity record helps the sales rep manage the necessary follow-up with the prospect by tracking the date and time for the next action that should occur. Using opportunities, the rep can understand how many people are in each sales stage and know which prospects should be prioritized (those people with a next action date/time of today). Here's an example of an opportunity record in Infusionsoft.
Stages in the sales pipeline
Sales pipeline automation is all about driving people from one stage to the next. To be effective, the sales stages must be clearly defined, with each one symbolic of an important milestone in the sales process.
It doesn't matter what type of business you have: Every sales rep needs to determine whether the prospect is qualified to purchase the product or services being sold. However, getting someone qualified can take many conversations and contact attempts. In this example, the qualification takes place over three sales stages:
- Contacting: When the prospect is in this stage, it means he was identified as a new opportunity and the sales rep made unsuccessful attempts to contact him.
- Engaging: The sales rep has a dialogue going with the prospect but is still determining whether he's qualified.
- Qualified: The sales rep determines that the prospect should move further down the sales pipeline.
Here's what the process would look like in Infusionsoft. (For help setting up the pipeline, see these click-by-click directions.)
In this example, each of the goals (indicated by the circles above) trigger automated emails and tasks when the sales rep moves the prospect from one stage to the next. The automation is merely a tool for the sales rep—it should be used to supplement what the sales rep should be doing, anyway. For example, say the first step of the sales process involves the rep calling the prospect. If the rep doesn't reach him, he should send a follow-up email. With sales automation, that email is sent automatically when the rep moves the prospect into the Contacting stage.
Writing emails for the sales pipeline
Writing emails that will be sent automatically throughout the sales process involves thinking about the prospect's past and future communications with your company. To ensure your email is relevant to the prospect at the time he receives it, think about what you can—and can't—speak to in that stage. For example, in the Contacting stage, you can't assume that your company is the right fit for the prospect because you haven't yet spoken to him to determine whether he's qualified.
Before composing each email, answer these six questions:
- Which sales stage occurred to trigger this email?
- What will happen in the next sales stage?
- On which day and time is this email scheduled to sent?
- Which previous communications would the prospect have received by the time he reads this communication?
- Of which facts am I 100 percent certain at this stage?
- What should I not discuss at this stage?
Each email should be sent from the sales rep and doesn't need to be fancy. Actually, a "fancy" email may ruin the belief that the email was actually sent by the sales rep. Automated emails work best when people can't tell they're automated.
Making contact with automated emails
Let's take a detailed look at the Contacting stage of the sales process, in which your sales rep is merely attempting to make contact with the prospect. In this example, the Contacting sequence in Infusionsoft contains four emails spread out over the course of a month:
Each of these emails speaks to two facts:
- The sales rep has been trying to reach the prospect via phone.
- The prospect has not responded to communication attempts (otherwise, he would have been moved to the Engaging stage.)
In these emails, you'll notice the merge fields for "owner." When the email is sent, these fields will be replaced by the name of the sales rep assigned to the opportunity. It doesn't matter how many sales reps you have on your team. All leads can receive the same email, which is "sent from" the sales rep that they are working with. You'll also see merge fields for the day of the week, which give the emails the appearance of being personal, not automated.
Here's a look at each of the four emails.
Contacting #1: Just tried calling you
This email goes out immediately after the sales rep moves the prospect into Contacting and has a failed attempt to reach him by phone.
Subject Line: Just missed each other
I'm ~Owner.FirstName~ with Acme Widgets. I just tried giving you a call at ~Contact.Phone1~, but we must have missed each other.
I was calling to see if our solution might be a good fit. I'll try again in a few days, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up.
Feel free to reply to this email, too.
Have a great ~Date.DayOfWeek~,
Contacting #2: Can't reach you
This email is scheduled for a weekday morning one week after the prospect has been moved into Contacting. The only things we know are that the prospect hasn't been moved to the Engaging stage and that the sales rep has been making call attempts. Notice that we open with "Good morning" to make this automated email feel timely and personal—as if the sales rep actually sat down that morning and wrote it.
Subject Line: Hoping to get in touch
Good morning, ~Contact.FirstName~!
I'm ~Owner.FirstName~ with Acme Widgets and I've been trying to call you to discuss whether our solution might be a good fit. I haven't been able to reach you, but I wanted to let you know I'm still thinking about you!
Feel free to reply to this email if you'd like to discuss.
Have a great ~Date.DayOfWeek~,
Contacting #3: Should I give up?
This email goes out on a weekday afternoon two weeks after the prospect was moved into the Contacting stage. Again, the only things we know are that they haven't been moved to Engaging and that the sales rep has been making contact attempts. Because this email will be delivered at the end of the day, the merge field makes this email feel less automated. Also, we are starting to pull away because if someone isn't engaging by this point, we need to let them know that it isn't worth our time to keep chasing them.
Subject Line: Should I give up?
I'm about to head out and enjoy my ~Date.DayOfWeek~ evening but I wanted to shoot you a quick email first.
I've been contacting you over the last couple weeks but haven't been able to reach you. I don't want to keep pestering you, so I wanted to ask if I should give up and take you off my list. Please let me know if you'd still like to talk.
Contacting #4: I'm giving up
This email goes out on a weekday morning one month after the prospect is moved into the Contacting stage. This is the last automated email, so it needs to be a bit more aggressive to elicit engagement. The email will either inspire the prospect to finally respond or inform him that you won't be contacting him again.
Subject Line: I give up, ~Contact.FirstName~
I've been going through my book of business this morning, ~Contact.FirstName~. Did you know I've been trying to contact you for nearly a month?
Unfortunately, if I don't hear back from you, I'm going to take you off my list.
If you are interested, just reply to this email or give me a call at ~Owner.Phone1~.
Have a great ~Date.DayOfWeek~,
The next sales stages
Once the sales rep makes contact with the prospect, the rep moves him into the Engaging stage. In this stage, the rep is determining whether the prospect is qualified—for example, whether your company is suited to serve his needs and whether he has the budget to make the purchase.
In the Engaging stage, you can build a similar automated sequence that accounts for the fact that the prospect has not yet been qualified. The automated emails might contain blog posts, videos or other content that helps educate him about your offerings so that he can determine whether your company is the right fit.
Once the prospect is qualified, your automated sequences contain emails that help drive the prospect toward the sale. The emails could include more detailed pricing information, comparisons, or other information the prospect needs to make the decision.
What sales automation means for your business
Once you have automated your sales pipeline, you'll start reaping the benefits. When sales reps are working opportunities and tracking their progress, leads will no longer slip through the cracks. Plus, reps should be able to work their pipelines faster because everything is in one place—no more digging through notes or emails to figure out what needs to happen next.
From a management perspective, you'll be able to gather reliable data and identify bottlenecks that help you improve the sales process. For example, if you discover that most leads drop off after the Contacting stage, that means you have a problem—one that's different than if you find you lose leads after the Qualified stage.
Above all, the automation allows your sales reps to build relationships with their prospects, which should directly impact the bottom line by increasing conversions. And who doesn't like more money?