As a small business owner, you probably have a lot on your plate. You need to juggle taking care of existing customers, bringing in new business, and improving on your products and services — all with no or very little help. It’s no wonder you feel overwhelmed. 

Yet, don’t feel like you’re alone. Eight out of 10 small businesses (defined as having fewer than 500 employees) actually have no employees at all. That’s 27.1 million companies out of 33.2 million small businesses registered in the U.S.

With so many competing priorities, business development can often fall to the sidelines. However, having a sound sales pipeline which is always brimming with leads can not only give you a much needed buffer when things are slow, but it can also help you target better quality leads and convert them faster. 

You may think that building a sales pipeline will cost you an arm and a leg, but that’s not necessarily true. With a bit of upfront planning and ingenuity you can create a bulletproof sales system which is replicable, scalable, and most important of all affordable.

Why is your sales pipeline so important?

Before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by a sales pipeline. In the broadest terms, a sales pipeline is the visualization of your sales funnel and how your leads progress through the sales cycle. This isn’t just a nice visual which you update every time you make a sale. Instead, your sales pipeline should give you key insights into how long it takes you to close a deal, what’s your conversion rate and how you perform as a business overall. All this information can help you be more strategic about the type and number of leads you engage with in order to reach your revenue goals.

How to build a sales pipeline like a big business

If you want to build a successful business you have to think like one. Big businesses are incredibly data and process-driven and that allows them to innovate, grow and stay competitive. While you may not have the budget big businesses do, you can still invest some time in establishing a clearly defined sales process which will keep your pipeline growing.

Know your audience

As a small business, it can be tempting to go after any business you can win, but that can quickly backfire as you can’t cater to everyone’s needs. Instead, understand the exact pain points of your target audience and focus on solving those alone.

Next, think about all the places your audience usually hangs out. Are you a B2C business whose ideal customers are on TikTok and Instagram, or are you selling to a B2B audience which you’re more likely to find on LinkedIn? Channeling your efforts to places where you know you have the biggest chance of engagement can yield you much better results with far less effort.

Set up your systems

Do you have an organized way of tracking and storing your data? Without a centralized system where you track and measure all of your sales activities, you’ll never know for sure what’s working and what isn’t.

Here, you don’t need an expensive system in order to see results. HubSpot, for instance, offers a free CRM which allows you an unlimited number of users and up to one million contacts. There are plenty of other free options as well like Zoho CRM or Bitrix24 which give you access to many features for tracking and managing your leads free of charge. As your business grows, you can upgrade to more advanced options which can help you finetune your sales and marketing efforts.

Start selling

This may feel like an obvious point, but how intentional are you in your sales efforts? Do you rely mostly on inbound leads to come to you or do you also proactively go after new business? Research shows that only 2% of cold calls lead to an appointment while about 50% of cold email campaigns have a response rate of under 10%. So, which one do you go for? A mixture of both is probably your best bet. 

For example, you can start with customized introductory emails, but then follow up via phone calls to start a conversation. People are inundated with emails every single day, so relying exclusively on your emails to generate new business probably won’t get you far. In fact, research by DiscoverOrg has found that 55% of high-growth companies (businesses that have experienced 40% growth in the past three years) say that cold calling is actually very effective provided you do it right.

Don't forget to follow up

Finally, invest some time in following up. Research shows that it can take up to eight touchpoints to convert a prospect, yet 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up. So, don’t shy away from following up several times if you get nowhere on your first few attempts.

Here, you can go a step further and invest in a local and custom phone number to reach out to your leads. You can buy phone numbers online by searching for vanity phone services and getting a local or toll-free phone line at a very low cost.

Getting started

Growing your sales pipeline and building a replicable sales process around it can be the key to your business success. While you may still be busy with competing priorities, knowing that your efforts are data-driven can give you peace of mind that you’re investing in activities that yield you the best possible results.

In this sense, you don’t need much to get started. Settle on a CRM system which suits your needs the best, then pick up a few vanity phone numbers based on where your customers are and start building those relationships.