How often do you hear your colleagues or fellow business owners say “I have to go, I’ve got a client” as they run out the door? After working with business owners for the last few years, I’ve heard this several times a week without fail. However, it wasn’t until recently when we were working with some beta testers on our new CRM solution, that I stumbled on an interesting misnomer. When the discussion of the sales pipeline came up, one beta user mentioned “What’s a prospect? Everybody I speak with is a client.” After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I began to wonder if every time I heard “I’m late for a client meeting” over the years, if they too were misinforming themselves.

Why Does Terminology Matter?

Terminology matters greatly, especially when you’re a soloprenuer running the ship yourself. It helps you set goals, stay focused on them, and lets you know when you’ve accomplished something. If you tell yourself that everyone is a client, you are going to wear yourself out for not a lot of reward. Unless the person has paid you for your time or a project, then they aren’t a client at all. Telling yourself that they are will cause you to run around to meeting after meeting, and then wonder why the accounts are in the red at the end of the month. Usually, the retort I’ve heard over the years is:  “But I’m in the people business, it’s about relationships, which take a lot of time”. That’s right. At the end of the day, every business in the world is in the people business, and yes relationships do take time. But until those relationships plunk down their hard-earned cash, what you have is a database full of contacts.

Start by focusing your marketing

Okay, so you’ve read every marketing book you can find. You’re on social media a few times a day and pushing out content as much as you can. Every once in a while you get some feedback or a question, but how do you know who to pursue?

It starts with a “Customer Avatar”. This is nothing new. Every dime-store business coach in the world, and even the good ones, will tell you to create a customer avatar. You need to know who you’re targeting so you know where to focus your marketing efforts. You need to focus on what problem your product solves, who it solves it for, and how you’re going to deliver it to them. However, THE most important thing you can focus on in your “product solution matrix” (it’s a Bookable term – no need to google), is WHEN are they going to need your solution? It’s rarely talked about, but without WHEN they need your product, you may as well be selling ice cream to Eskimos. The ironic thing is, by focusing on WHEN THEY NEED IT you’ll get a much clearer sense of WHO NEEDS IT… and you’ll get some of your workday back.

Sales Pipeline Stages

If you want to get a lot of your workday under control, having a clearly defined sales pipeline with associated tasks for each stage will increase your bottom line and save your sanity. It’ll give you the time and money you need to enjoy life with family and friends. So here is how to define who is in your marketing realm.

Stage 1: Contacts

Maybe you’ve exchanged business cards, they might be on an email list but you never hear from them. While it’s okay to consider everyone and anyone a contact, I would keep this to either suppliers, important contacts your business may need one day, and people who may use your product someday.

What to do:
Do not spend much time at all chasing these people other than having them on a drip email list or as a content subscriber. Unless they call a meeting and express interest in a product, save the chit chat for after work hours.

Stage 2: Prospects

Someone is a prospect when your experience tells you they are likely going to be using your product in the near future. What is the definition of near-future? It actually depends on the sales cycle of your product. If you’re building rocket ships, your sales cycle might be a year or two, if you sell cupcakes, your sales-cycle might be a day or less. They are a prospect if they have previously bought something similar, have initiated an expression of interest (though they might just be trolling for a quote), or are a few steps away from crossing the line to becoming a client.

What to do:
If they are going to be buying your product or a competitor’s product within the timeframe of your sales cycle, they are a prospect. Make sure you start sending them content that answers the questions they are going to have in their buying process. You are the professional, make it your business to know what they are going through, how they are feeling, and how your product addresses those emotions. Make sure you begin targeting content towards them about the journey they are going through. Try to find out if they are right to place them in your sales process, which begins at the Lead stage.

Stage 3: Leads

Ah hah, you got someone! Someone usually transitions into being a Lead because a two-way conversation ensues.  They may have been consuming your content and now have a question or they heard about what you do and made contact that way.  Either way doesn’t matter. What you want to do is begin transitioning your content to answer the specific questions they have.

What to do:
Now is the time to have a meeting. Every time you have a discussion with them, you need to make sure there is a call to action for further discussion or a demonstration. It’s important to move away from just relying on content, because content is too passive and most likely the person will slide back into being a prospect. Remember, business is about people, so now is the time to remain in as much contact as possible.

Stage 4: Clients

Most of the time, especially with consultancy businesses, a lead becomes a client when you have answered all the detailed questions of how your product provides a solution. The more you describe a process, the more comfortable they are going to be.  Remember, business is about people, but doing business with people is about trust. There is no better way to build trust than to give them as much predictability as you can. Having a clearly defined process that is conveyed ahead of time, allows them to know what they can expect and whether they will enjoy the experience.

What to do:
Have a process in place after the sale to remain in contact and see how they are getting on.  If you do a great job then they are going to sing your praises, and most importantly, may become a repeat customer.


Hopefully, that has outlined how you need to be thinking of a sales pipeline.  This is something we are building into our automated CRM system we are developing. If you want to check out more go to our CRM website here.   We do have a helpful shareable that you can download in our free resources that outline the sales journey. That can be accessed here.