by Jared Kimball
Looking for a “quick fix” sales pipeline template? Then you shouldn’t read this, because creating a sales pipeline framework for your small business takes some serious thought and planning—especially if you want to crush your competition (or impress your boss).
Also, this isn’t some guide to show you how to waste time building a horribly complicated Excel spreadsheet either.
This will help you build your sales pipeline strategic framework.
When you’ve created this framework you can use it with any tool you choose.
Here’s the problem: Many small business owners don’t have time to figure this stuff out so they ask Google and copy what everyone else is doing.
Do copycats push the envelope for innovation? Did Elon Musk copy other car companies with Tesla Motors or did he copy NASA and Boeing when it came to creating and launching rockets into space? Short answer—no. Long answer, that’s another story (and why his companies are worth billions of dollars now).
Now that we’ve weeded out all of the copycats and people looking for a quick fix (that doesn’t generate the sales you’re craving), let’s dive in and help you figure out how to create your sales pipeline framework to scale your business and save yourself and your sales team (if you have a team) some time.
When creating a pipeline template for your small business you need to focus on a few key questions:
Key question No. 1: How do you reach potential customers with your marketing?
Open up a word processor like Word or Google docs and list out all of the ways you attract potential customers.
Many small business owners will use advertising mediums like:
- Facebook ads
- Google ads
- Direct mail
- Door hangers
The point is to select your top one or two.
Start with these because this is where you start to create “micro-impressions” on potential buyers.
For example, when someone is browsing Facebook wouldn’t you agree they are in a different mindset if they see your door hanger on their front door? Yes, they are.
It’s important to realize this and start factoring that in when you connect with your potential customers.
With your top one or two in mind let’s move into the next question.
Key question No. 2: What’s the first step in your sales process?
Think of this question as what do you want them to do next so you know how to react.
Depending on your type of small business this first step could be when someone:
- Requests a free quote
- Downloads a guide or special report
- Requests a consultation
- Walks into your store or restaurant
- Calls your office
- Emails your business
The most common first step a potential customer takes is where you need to focus when designing your sales pipeline template.
Let’s say that I own a pool installation company. One common first step in a pool services company would be when someone calls or emails asking for a free quote.
I would make sure that I have a process to maximize my chances of earning their business. A pool installation is worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 depending on the package purchased. If a customer has that type of value, I could easily justify spending an extra $10-$100 to knock their socks off and earn their business.
When setting up my pipeline template I’d map out the first two steps, which would be:
- New lead
- Quote appointment scheduled
Why use a “new lead” stage?
The new lead stage would be for people who email and are not current customers. This would allow my sales team (or myself if I were the only sales person) to know who I need to follow-up with and schedule them for a free quote. Plus, when I can see a daily or weekly lead count I can easily gauge how well any new advertising or marketing campaigns are working.
For example, if I started a direct mail campaign to specific zip code in my local area that sends people to a free quote form on my website and I get zero quote requests I know that marketing campaign isn’t working so I need to adjust the copy, look at the demographic of zip code, or look at a number of different things to get that marketing channel working or just move to something else.
Another example could be that I’m running local Facebook ads and I consistently see one new lead generated per day, but all of a sudden the leads drop to zero then I know something is wrong and I’ll need to fix it as soon as possible.
This allows me to react quickly and find a solution so the business can keep moving and lowers the risks of lost revenue.
With a “new lead” stage I will have one single source of truth to measure, react, and predict future revenue.
Why use a “quote appointment scheduled” stage?
If I know my business closes one out of five appointments, I can easily see how much revenue the business is likely to generate based on this single stage alone.
If the business isn’t scheduling enough appointments I can see a potential revenue shortfall and create a plan to increase the number of appointments quickly.
For example, I could send out a broadcast email to prospects in the “new leads” stage offering them an incentive to schedule a free quote with the business.
With insights like this I’m empowered as a business owner and I’m not running blind. I can take action and solve problems quickly.
Take the time to answer, “What’s the first step in your sales process?”
When you have at least one or two of those steps written down you can create a sales pipeline stage that matches your business’ needs.
Look at the examples listed above and start with one of those and think about how you could translate that into a sales stage that will help you keep a pulse on your business.
Key question No. 3: What would you like to happen next?
With your first stage or two mapped out, what would you like to happen to really connect with your potential customer?
- Save their information somewhere (i.e. A CRM, Excel spreadsheet, a sticky note, etc.)?
- Send a follow-up email to them (with the appointment details so they don’t forget and to help you make a good first impression)?
- Save the appointment date and time somewhere (Google calendar, a physical calendar, etc.)?
- Notify and assign the appointment with a team member (like a sales rep, assistant, etc.)?
Sticking with the pool installation company example, ideally, I would want my company to stand out from any of my competitors and by following up I can create an experience that no one else in my local market can match.
I’d want to ensure that my businesses time and resources aren’t wasted, so I’d make sure that every quote appointment gets the following:
- An immediate follow-up email confirming the date and time of the appointment
- A task would get assigned to a team member or myself to call and confirm the appointment the day before
- If each potential customer is worth $20,000-plus, I’d even mail them a postcard reminder (because no one else is doing that and I know it would make a good impression, if time allowed)
I’d do those three things to make sure appointments aren’t wasted and customers show up, because a “no show” is lost revenue and impacts the bottom line.
These are just a few ways you can map out your sales stages when designing your framework.
I’d continue using the document you’ve been using for the earlier key questions and take the time necessary to outline out each step I’d like to have happen when an appointment stage is selected.
Key question No. 4: What are your common objections?
If you’re selling a product or service, you know there are common objections you hear all the time.
Why not create a process to for your sales pipeline that helps you overcome these objections by positioning your business as the premiere company to buy from, instead of calling more, emailing more, or knocking on doors more?
Those tactics only take you so far and you know there are companies in your business that aren’t working harder than you—the only explanation is that they are working smarter than you.
Creating a sales pipeline framework based on your most common objections is one of the ways to work smarter rather than harder.
Here’s how you can use this to your advantage.
With my example pool company, I will assume these are the common objections when selling pool installations:
- Need time to think about it
- We want to get more quotes
- Need to discuss with my spouse
With these objections listed out, I can create another pipeline stage, “Presentation/Quote Delivered.”
This stage would be common enough for me to understand how many quotes have been given and which ones I need to track and convert into customers.
I can setup my sales pipeline automation to educate and connect with potential customers who are sitting in this stage of the buying process.
When I have the objections listed out I can create specific education tracks for the prospective customers to receive custom tailored information to help them move towards a yes or a no.
Imagine what it would be like to set up sales pipeline automation that drips automated emails to prospective customers who are in the “Presentation/Quote Delivered” stage based on their objection.
For example, let’s say the prospective customer tells me they want to get a few more quotes before making a decision because purchasing a pool installation is a big decision and likelihood of getting a one-call close is slim to none.
I can create an automated campaign that keeps in touch with them and keeps the connection strong.
I could send a follow-up email a couple of hours after the meeting acknowledging their wishes to get more quotes, while thanking them for their time too.
It was great meeting you today.
I know getting a new pool installed is a big decision, and I wanted to say thank you!
If you have any questions don't hesitate to call or email me or anyone on my team.
Next, I could send them a follow-up postcard.
After that, I could then set up a task for either the sales person or even another team member to follow up with a courtesy call a day or two later.
The options are limitless.
If you take the time to answer this key question and design a way to impress your potential customers you’re almost guaranteed to increase your conversion rate.
We’ve seen it time and time again with Infusionsoft customers.
Key question No. 5: What happens after the sale?
The best time to create a positive experience for your customers is after the sale is made.
People don’t buy like they used to only 10 years ago.
Many people use Google, friends and family, online reviews, and other sources before even reaching out to a company.
When you get a new customer you want to create an experience that earns you five-star reviews and creates raving fans of your products or services.
Mapping out your after sales process is a key component for your sales pipeline template.
There are basically two options that will happen with a sale...
Option 1: I’d like to buy
Option 2: No thanks
With those options in mind you’ll need to create pipeline stages to accommodate those options.
I’d recommend creating a “closed/won” stage and a “closed/lost” stage.
When prospects are added to the “closed/lost” stage you can set up feedback loops like:
- Personal email to ask why they didn’t buy
- Personal email to ask what your product or service was missing
Those feedback loops will give you insights on where you can improve and although it might be hard to read the information will be invaluable and show you exactly what to fix.
Your after-sales map comes into play when creating a “closed/won” stage.
What are the processes and tasks that need to take place when a sale is made.
Taking the time to map this out will give you clarity and also show you areas where you can improve the customer experience.
For example, with the pool company, some of the following things will need to take place after a sale.
- Payment terms and contracts signed
- Contracts sent to office for processing
- Project manager assigned
- Book contractors/installers
- Check material availability
- Estimated installation time frame (i.e. five weeks)
- Project estimated start date planned
- Customer welcome call—next steps and notify of estimated start date
- Welcome package mailed to customer
- Contractors/workers booked
- Materials and supplies ordered
- Periodical project updates sent to customer
- Project wrap up booked
- Pool welcome and delivery meeting booked with customer
That’s only 14 steps that need to happen after a sale is made.
As a business owner, you can either list out the steps in an outline style like I just did or draw them out in a flowchart style.
Just doing this exercise alone will give you invaluable insights on how things operate in your business and you’ll quickly identify where you can improve.
If you take the time to think about and use these five key questions when designing your sales pipeline template, you’ll be miles in front of your competition who are just copying what everyone else is doing.
These questions will help you create an experience that will help you stand out, grow sales and knock the socks off your customers.
Jared Kimball openly shares his strategies and techniques for email marketing on his site MarketerLife.com. He’s also a conversion marketing strategist at Infusionsoft.