What is Pipeline Marketing? Basics, Strategies, and Examples
Before our digital age, marketing contributed to the sales pipeline with lead generation and by creating general assets for sales teams to use throughout the sales process, such as general overview brochures, charts with feature descriptions and benefits, PowerPoint presentations, and case studies. Nurturing and moving customers through the sales pipeline was primarily left to the sales team, with marketing remaining focused on their own set of goals, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Today, modern marketers are empowered with more data and marketing tools than ever before. One way they’re using them is to make data-driven decisions while working closely with the sales team, that nurture potential customers through the entire sales pipeline. It’s a shift from filling the top of the funnel with as many leads as possible to revenue generation and a cost per opportunity KPI.
Our guide below explains what pipeline marketing is, how it works, its various stages, how it differs from lead generation, and the steps to take to build a sales and marketing pipeline.
What is pipeline marketing?
Pipeline marketing combines marketing and sales data to better qualify leads and improve and enhance prospect engagement along the entire sales journey. The goal is to increase conversions and generate more revenue. It promotes teamwork with sales, aligns common goals between sales and marketing, and enables marketers to demonstrate its role in revenue generation more clearly. Ultimately, pipeline marketing can boost marketing investment (MROI) and help marketers justify future spending and budget allocation.
Let’s say, for example, sales and marketing data indicates there’s an issue with lead qualification in the sales pipeline. Instead of spending time and money on generating more leads, a pipeline marketing approach uses those resources to create ways to help qualify leads and move potential customers to the next stage of the sales pipeline. For instance, it could be changing the lead magnets used to gather contact details and data from potential customers that reveals interest and intent.
How does pipeline marketing work, and why is it important?
Like marketing and sales funnels, sales pipelines are wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, where prospects make a purchase decision and become customers. Pipeline marketing aims to widen the middle and lower sections of the sales and marketing pipeline, ultimately leading to a higher conversion rate. This is accomplished by viewing the sales pipeline as a whole and uniting sales and marketing efforts to create an integrated, engaging, customer-centric approach that better qualifies leads and closes more sales.
Pipeline marketing is also a solution that helps companies overcome the “numbers game” concept, placing more attention on generating a large volume of leads than the middle and bottom pipeline stages. The idea is that if the conversion rate is, for example, 5%, a greater amount of revenue will be generated with a larger quantity of leads. This creates a huge funnel at the top that’s very narrow at the bottom, and generally has a high cost per opportunity (CPO).
An effective pipeline marketing strategy not only creates a broader and more efficient, and effective sales pipeline, but it should also lower CPO. A low CPO means sales and marketing are achieving their goals. By bridging marketing and sales efforts, departmental goals become better aligned, and cost per opportunity can be used as a key performance indicator (KPI) for both teams.
What are the stages of a sales pipeline?
Let’s start by defining what a sales pipeline is. Simply put, it’s a summary of available and upcoming sales opportunities salespeople use to determine the set of actions they will take to move potential customers through the pipeline, identify bottlenecks in the sales funnel, and project revenue.
The seven stages in a sale pipeline, outlined below, should be tracked and monitored. Keep in mind that sales pipelines can vary from company to company due to several factors. If your sales team doesn’t have the bandwidth or the expert knowledge needed to create a sales pipeline and tracking metrics, consider staff augmentation with Upwork for the project.
The goal of prospecting is to create a pipeline of potential buyers most likely to purchase. At this stage, marketing may use various inbound and outbound marketing efforts designed to appeal to a defined target audience. Prospecting campaigns should also focus on buyer personas that best reflect the profile of an ideal customer and your current customer base.
2. Lead qualification
Leads are businesses or people that may eventually become a customer. Qualified leads are those you determine could become customers based on the criteria and information they have freely provided. For instance, you may elect to offer an ebooklet to decide if a person or business is interested in learning more about your product or service line. If they follow through and provide information to download or open the material, they move from being a lead to a qualified lead.
3. Demo or meeting
At this point, a qualified lead has signaled interest in learning more. Now is the time to schedule a virtual or in-person appointment or demo to personalize the buyer’s journey, build trust, provide more information about how your product or service line can meet the buyer’s individual needs, and answer questions. The goal is to determine if you can proceed with a proposal and move the prospect to the next pipeline stage.
Review how your product or service will best address the prospect’s pain points, needs, and desires, and why your solution is ideal. Highlight your competitive advantages and overall value in addition to providing pricing. Now may be the time to reveal a special incentive. This depends on many factors, such as whether you have sensed a potential upfront price point objection. If you decide to include some kind of motivating incentive in the proposal, remember you may need to offer a deal sweetener during the negotiation phase.
5. Negotiation and commitment
The potential customer has signaled they are ready to buy and it’s time to negotiate. You may need to manage expectations, handle objections, fine-tune a scope of work, and further clarify your brand’s value and your product or service advantages and benefits.
6. Opportunity won
Congratulations! You’ve made the sale and are ready to fulfill the order. Keep in mind the commitments you’ve made to the customer along the pipeline stages and take steps to ensure your promises will be fulfilled.
Follow-up and account management are essential components of the sales process and to developing and maintaining a meaningful customer relationship. Keep in mind, most every customer can become a loyal, repeat customer in the future. Plus, a satisfied customer can help you “sell” your service or product through referrals.
Pipeline marketing versus lead generation: What’s the difference?
Remember the “numbers game” we mentioned earlier? Lead generation is typically about volume. The assumption is the more leads you generate, loading up the pipeline at the top of the funnel, the greater the number of sales you’ll eventually close. Instead of striving to produce as many leads as possible and using lead generation as a key metric, pipeline marketing tracks leads but focuses on viewing the pipeline as a whole with attention to quality, efficiency, and buyer readiness versus sheer volume. And, as previously mentioned, cost per opportunity is used as a KPI instead of top-of-funnel metrics.
That’s not to say lead generation doesn’t play an essential role, but a lead doesn’t have real value unless it results in a sale. Using an analogy, what good is spending money and time to round up as many horses as possible if you can’t lead them to water, or if they won’t drink once they get to it? It’s a wasted effort. But, what if, based on data you’ve collected, you could apply more resources on developing better ways to identify the thirsty horses in the roundup and not only lead them to the water but convince them to drink? In essence, this is pipeline marketing.
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How to build a sales and marketing pipeline in 8 steps
When building your B2B sales and marketing pipeline, remember that every marketing campaign and content asset, and every contact a potential customer has with sales, should impact a pipeline metric. At the same time, stay adaptable and open to finding new or better ways to engage potential customers and increase the probability of closing a sale. Think of pipeline marketing as an evolutionary versus a static system. As new data comes to light, use it to review the pipeline and make modifications when appropriate.
1. Identify your target market, segment, and define the buyer persona
Start by building a strong foundation. Successful, optimized marketing pipeline systems require upfront planning.
Create an ideal customer profile, define your target market, then, depending on your audience and the product or service you’re selling, segment the market. Segmentation can be based on corporate revenue and market share for B2B sales and demographics, behavior, and even psychographics for B2C sales. These are the psychological aspects that influence purchase behavior, such as interest values, lifestyle, social status,
opinions, and activities. Once targeting and segmentation are complete, develop a marketing strategy, including inbound marketing, to generate awareness and support the sales pipeline from start to finish.
2. Design your pitch and selling strategy
Once you’ve completed step one, create your pitch. Most buyers today expect a customized buyer’s journey. Pitches and tools may be slightly different based on the marketing segments you’ve identified and different buyer personas.
Develop a brief elevator pitch as well as a formal sales pitch. Define the associated sales tools and fresh content needed, then create these marketing assets. Consider the pain points and needs that drive people or businesses to seek a product or service like yours, and address how and why you provide the best solution. Highlight benefits and anchor your pitch in data when possible. Close the pitch with an open-ended question creating a space to have a conversation.
3. Identify target companies and target accounts
Use the information you gleaned from the market and segmentation process to identify target companies and accounts. Prioritize them and develop a game plan that focuses first on those most likely to buy. If you’re selling B2B, identify the types of people involved in the decision-making process and who will ultimately make and approve a purchase decision. You’ll want to influence everyone involved in the process with customized content and sales messaging.
4. Identify the right internal contacts
Don’t waste your time contacting and talking with the wrong contacts. Perform research to identify the title or role to find the right decision-makers.
5. Perform outreach
Use different methods to engage with contacts and build interest. Customized emails, using social media (e.g., through LinkedIn) to connect with potential customers, or even direct mail and phone calls may be used. You’ll have identified and created the tools and content for this when developing the marketing and sales strategy.
6. Schedule meetings and demos
Based on your outreach results, move prospects to the next pipeline stage by scheduling meetings (video or in-person) and demos. Provide prospects with a specific case study similar to their own problem/solution scenario. Build their trust and confidence in your skills and expertise and your solution. If you determine a proposal is the next step, provide one after the meeting.
Every customer is different, but most will have more questions, present some objections, and seek some kind of additional incentive to buy. Be prepared for this by going through various scenarios and develop negotiation tools and strategies for each. Have pre-approved deal sweeteners available you can offer at your discretion. Develop methods to drive home the value and quality of your brand and your product or service and why it’s the best solution to meet their needs.
8. Sale and follow up
Don’t sell it and forget it. A happy customer is often a repeat customer and an advocate for your brand and product or service.
Ensure order fulfillment occurs as you described it and your company delivers the expected customer experience. Develop ways to stay in contact aside from formal customer reviews. Use e-newsletters, and send targeted new product/service announcements and pertinent press releases to keep in touch. Continue to build a relationship with a client and provide adequate account management.
Pipeline marketing is an essential component of the sales and marketing strategy for many companies. It requires collecting sales and marketing data, reviewing it, and accurately interpreting it, then taking actions to widen the sales pipeline and close more deals.
If you don’t have the available staff or people with the appropriate expertise to accomplish this, consider staff augmentation to meet your needs. Upwork enables you to hire top independent professionals with the confidence of using the world’s work marketplace. Learn more at Upwork.com.