Business gets complicated fast. The more your business grows, the more you must track and manage. That’s why process is so important and one of the best ways to manage process is with a pipeline.
You might have the urge to manage business details in your head. But let me stop you right there. That may work on the outset, but it’s only a matter of time until you drop something, disappoint a client or lose an opportunity.
As your business grows, complexity increases exponentially. I and many others have learned this lesson the hard way, but today I’m going to show you how to manage that complexity with a pipeline.
What is a Pipeline
A pipeline is a list of steps you need to take a prospective opportunity from start to finish. You nurture each lead or opportunity along this path and it works in many areas of business.
In sales, a pipeline may have steps (also called stages) like this: Lead > Contact > Meeting/Demo > Post Demo > Closed – Won > Closed – Lost.
With hiring, your pipeline may look like this: Resume > Phone Screen > Interview > Internal Decision > Offer Negotiation > Hired > Passed
In fundraising your pipeline could be: Lead > Pitched > Negotiating > Closed – Won > Closed – Lost.
The best pipelines are organized visually by step so you can see where to focus at a glance. On Monday mornings, you might focus on cold leads or maybe it’s time to try and close a few deals you’ve been working on for the last few weeks.
A great pipeline allows you to customize stages and see additional information about each opportunity. For example, you will want a place to put the expected value of an opportunity to better prioritize your time. You’ll also want a place to take notes and a quick way to see your date of last contact.
How to Use a Pipeline
Creating and working a pipeline is pretty simple. It only has two main steps.
First, Fill ‘er Up!
Collect a list of potential opportunities and start adding them to your leads section. This could be a list of local influential bloggers, the most popular Instagram accounts in your area or a list of companies you want to create a Host-Beneficiary relationship with.
While gathering your leads, don’t forget contact information. Note contact emails, phone numbers or websites where you can submit an inquiry. Always remember: people put this information online, so people like you can contact them with ideas and opportunities.
Next, Work it Baby
Now that you have your leads, it’s time to start working them through your pipeline. Craft the perfect cold email by doing your homework and learning a bit about their company, shared interests or anything else to show that you’ve done a bit of research. If you are more comfortable speaking, pick up the phone and give them a ring.
Some will be super excited to work with you, others won’t bother responding. For non-responders I give it two to three contact attempts until I move it to “Closed—Lost”.
People are busy and I find they are more likely to respond to your second and third emails if they are polite and brief. You may want to add pipeline steps like Contact #1, Contact #2 and Contact #3 to better track contact attempts.
Keep in mind, your second or third contact attempts are not limited to email. In fact, calling a week after sending your first email is a great reason to call because you are following up on an important email you sent.
Streak: My Free Pipeline of Choice
You might think software like this would be expensive, and it can be. After all, you are going to use it to generate a lot of revenue for your business.
Fortunately, there is a company called Streak that brings free pipeline software to Gmail. It’s dead simple to use and a few clicks will have you up and running in no time. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:
You can register for a FREE Streak account here.
Simplifying with Pipelines
Business is complex, but you can manage complexity with good systems and processes. Pipelines are a standard tool for sales, but can be used effectively across an organization.
If you’re a Frugalpreneur, multiple pipelines allow you to quickly switch hats between Sales, Fundraising, HR and other business functions with the click of a button. I’ve yet to find a more practical and simple tool to manage varying relationships and processes.
Do you use pipelines in your business? What’s your preferred software? How have they worked out for you? Let me know in the comments below.