How to Create and Analyze Your Salesforce Sales Pipeline

There is a direct correlation between the health of your business and the efficiency of your sales pipeline.

If you want your sales and revenue numbers to grow, you need to be paying close attention to them with regular sales audits and analysis.

But before you can perform an effective analysis, you need to be actively reporting and documenting all pipeline activity. One of the best ways to do this is through the Salesforce CRM.

In this post, we’ll walk you through:

  • The difference between a sales funnel and a sales pipeline
  • How to set up your sales pipeline in Salesforce
  • How to analyze your pipeline performance in Salesforce

Note: This article specifically addresses setting up a pipeline in Salesforce. Check out this article for setting up HubSpot for sales.

What is a Sales Pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a visual representation of the stages in your sales process. It should help your sales team quickly see how many opportunities are present at each stage and where their sales focus should be going for the upcoming day, week, and month.

Sales pipelines help us:

  • Gather insight around current opportunities
  • Measure team performance and monitor sales goals
  • Predict upcoming revenue
  • Identify process bottlenecks and areas for improvement

What’s the Difference Between a Sales Funnel and Sales Pipeline?

This is a common and frequently asked question. The terms sales funnel and sales pipeline are often used interchangeably – but there is a little difference. This difference is very subtle, but important.

→ A sales funnel refers to the stages of the buying process.

→ A sales pipeline refers to the stages of your sales process.

The sales funnel is focused on the customer’s journey (awareness, interest, consideration, decision), while the sales pipeline is specific and unique to your own sales process (qualification, meeting, proposal delivery, negotiation). The stages of a sales pipeline generally correlate with specific tasks your sales reps or sales teams need to complete.

sales funnel

Image via Freshworks

The sales funnel often takes a look at performance over time. It answers questions like, “How many MQLs became customers over the past year?” and “What’s our average MQL to SQL conversion rate?”

On the other hand, the sales pipeline answers the question, “What’s the status of all our open opportunities right now?”

Read more about the importance of your sales funnel and how to audit it regularly.

How to Create a Sales Pipeline in Salesforce

Now that we’ve covered some sales pipeline basics, let’s build the pipeline. Here are the steps we’ll follow:

  1. Define your sales pipeline stages
  2. Setup your opportunity stages
  3. Customize your opportunity fields
  4. Work your opportunities

Define Your Sales Pipeline Stages

Your first step to setting up a sales pipeline is to define your stages. These are the stages your leads will flow through as they move from stranger to customer.

Before we get too far, it’s important to note different types of businesses will have different steps in their pipeline, but most pipelines follow the general progression of:

  • Lead
  • Opportunity or Deal
  • Customer

Most companies find it helpful to expand different sections and provide more clarity. For example, some prefer to have six stages, expanding upon leads and opportunities:

  • Lead Generation or Prospecting (MQLs)
  • Lead Qualification (SQLs)
  • Initial Meeting (opportunities in value proposition)
  • Proposal or Contract (opportunities with a proposal)
  • Negotiation (opportunities in the final stages)
  • Closing the Deal (closed / won or closed / lost)
  • Post-Purchase (client follow-up)

primary sales pipeline stages

Image via Salesforce

Remember, these aren’t stages of your sales funnel – they aren’t the general steps of a buyer’s journey. These are your specific sales stages. 

Different industries and types of businesses will have different stages in their sales funnel. For example, software companies will likely have a product demo, while lean SaaS companies without big sales teams might not have an initial meeting. The stages of your sales funnel should correlate with your actual sales process – not an ideal version of it.

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A larger company with more sales staff may have even more stages like estimating, follow-up, needs analysis, and post-sales tasks.

sales pipeline stages

Image via Ideal CRM

Regardless how you name your stages, ensure they work for you, your product, and your process. And keep in mind they can be changed and optimized over time.

Learn more about setting up a successful lead flow plan in Salesforce.

Set Up Your Opportunity Stages in Salesforce

As we begin setting up our pipeline and stages in Salesforce, take note of which version of the Salesforce CRM your company uses. If you’ve started using Salesforce recently, you’re probably on Salesforce Lightning. But if you’ve been on the platform for some time, you may be on Salesforce Classic.

Opportunities refer to leads – and the default stages set in Salesforce start with prospecting and end with either Closed/Won or Closed/Lost.

Now that you have your stages defined, it’s time to set them up in your opportunity stages. To do this:

  1. Navigate to Setup.
  2. Under ‘Build’, click Customize > Opportunity > Fields.
  3. Click the ‘Stage’ field.
  4. Click ‘New’ to add a new stage.
  5. Click ‘Save’

Once you’ve created each stage in your pipeline, make sure to assign it a probability. This is the close rate for prospects who make it to this stage. If you’re a newer business and have no clue, take an educated guess and update them as you have a better understanding of your process.

opportunity stage picklist

Image via Salesforce

For more information on setting up opportunity stages, see this resource for Salesforce Classic, and this one for Salesforce Lightning. Now again – these should be the stages of your sales pipeline – not your sales funnel. So these stages shouldn’t be buckets like “Awareness” or “Consideration,” but actual stages that correlate with tasks for your sales team to complete.

Customize Your Opportunity Fields

Opportunity stages are vital for your pipeline, but individual opportunity records can’t be overlooked. Ensure that your fields support your sales process and give applicable insight to your sales reps.

If you don’t already have them, we’d recommend having custom fields that cover:

  • Budget: How much do they have to spend on a solution?
  • Authority: Is this contact the decision maker? What is their role?
  • Need: What are their pain points / what product or service do they need?
  • Timeline: How quickly do they need a solution?

custom objects in salesforce

Image via Gary Smith

The goal here is to make sure information needed for the sales process is directly visible on the opportunity, making their job as easy as possible.

Work Opportunities Through Your Pipeline

With your pipeline set up, it’s time to move opportunities through it.

The first step is to get your leads and prospects into Salesforce. There are two primary ways to do this:

  • You can add them manually
  • You can connect Salesforce with your marketing automation tool to have leads added as your marketing team converts them

To add leads manually:

  1. Click the “Leads” tab
  2. Add a new lead
  3. Fill in all fields possible

If you use a marketing automation tool like Jotform or something similar, you should connect it with your Salesforce CRM. Check out the AppExchange to see what kinds of integrations are available for your tool of choice.

new lead in salesforce

Image via Salesforce

For more information on adding leads in Salesforce, check out this guide for Salesforce Lightning and this guide for Salesforce Classic.

→ Learn more about successful lead scoring within Salesforce.

Once a lead is deemed ready for the sales process, you need to create an opportunity for them or convert an existing lead into an opportunity.

To create a new opportunity:

  1. Click New on your Opportunities tab
  2. If your org has more than one record type for opportunities, select the type that best represents this opportunity.
  3. Give the opportunity a name
  4. Select or create the account that the opportunity is related to.
  5. Select a close date for the opportunity.
  6. Select the opportunity’s current stage.
  7. Click save.

new opportunity in salesforce

Image via Salesforce

To learn more about working opportunities in Salesforce Lightning, see this guide. Check out this one for opportunities within Salesforce Classic.

For more information on converting existing leads within Lightning, see this article.

Analyzing Your Salesforce Pipeline Report

Setting up your pipeline in Salesforce would be pointless if you didn’t analyze and evaluate its performance on a regular basis. If your sales team is logging everything in Salesforce, you can do this easily right within Salesforce, with the Salesforce Pipeline Report.

If you’re using Salesforce Lightning, the Sales Rep dashboard will show you your pipeline.

sales dashboard in salesforce

Image via Salesforce

But another way to find your pipeline with opportunities by stage is to:

  1. Navigate to Sales Overview
  2. Click the View Reports Tab
  3. Click Edit
  4. Go to settings and select Funnel

sales pipeline in salesforce

Image via Coefficient

This should give you a high-level overview of your pipeline as it stands today. We’d recommend holding a weekly or monthly sales meeting where you review your pipeline and:

  • Evaluate overall performance
  • Forecast revenue for the coming months
  • Allocate resources and focus based on bottlenecks and revenue opportunities
  • Identify your biggest pain points and areas for improvement

Master Your Salesforce Sales Pipeline

Setting up your pipeline in Salesforce is just the beginning.

To get the most out of it, make sure your team is:

  • Logging and tracking everything in Salesforce
  • Evaluating pipeline performance regularly
  • Adjusting your opportunity stages as needed
  • Adding relevant and helpful data to your records

Here’s to your sales success!

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