How to Build a Sales Pipeline: 4 Steps for Startups and Small Businesses

If you’re at a small company or startup, you probably are impressed by the highly sophisticated and advanced techniques that your peers at large companies use for building sales pipeline. But you might also be discouraged – since you don’t have the same resources they do, and most of that shiny new tech is out of reach.

Account-Based Marketing – yeah, sounds great,” you’re thinking. “But I’m also doing the job of demand generation and customer marketing and product marketing, and sales development for my new business … without enough tools or time to do it all!”

Here’s the good news. In spite of your small company size, you have access to information about your sales prospects that, even five years ago, wasn’t available to new, smaller companies.

The broad availability of data is truly democratizing growth – and as a small startup, the trick is knowing how to use it. You need to get your sales and marketing engine running quickly, efficiently, and without the budget and manpower of some of the larger companies in your space.

Read on for four simple steps that will help you build a pipeline, regardless of your company size – wherever you are in your growth journey.

4 Steps to Building a Sales Pipeline

1. Identify and narrow down your target buyers.

Who is your target customer? If your answer is either “I don’t know” or “everyone,” stop right there!

Even if you do have a total addressable market that could theoretically include “everyone”, you will never get off the ground if you’re trying to sell and market to the entire world.

You might think: “But I don’t have an operations team to help me build a model to focus on my target market. And, I don’t even have enough customers yet to know who my best customers are.”

No problem. Let’s assume you have just 10 customers. Believe it or not, that’s more than enough to start to narrow down your target audience. Begin by asking yourself what those customers have in common. There’s almost always a common denominator. Look for a pattern related to any of the following data points:

It won’t take an advanced regression model to discover that you did your biggest deals with Financial Services companies who recently hired a new CTO! From there, you have the information you need to start building your pipeline strategy.

Remember: this is just a starting place. You’ll come back and tackle the broader target markets down the road. But first, let’s build a great group of target prospects based on the customers you’ve already had success with.

2. Build a targeted list of your most viable prospects.

Let’s say you’ve identified your first, most viable target segment as Financial Services companies with a new CTO, because 3 of your first 10 customers had those details in common.

Now it’s time to find potential buyers that look like those companies. This example means that you are gathering two out of the three primary types of prospect data: Fit data, intent data, and opportunity data.

Chart showing fit, intent, and opportunity data, which can help you build a sales pipeline.

“Fit” data refers to firmographic and demographic information. On the company level, this includes data points like industry and company size and location; on the individual level, this includes contact information and job title. This type of data is basic, but critical. For example, if a prospect works in a role where they don’t have the authority to sign a check, asale will never happen – even if all the other pieces are there. In the example above, the company’s industry – financial services – is fit data.

The example also touches opportunity data – a newly hired CTO – which indicate favorable conditions, and the right time for sales outreach. Opportunity alerts often take the form of funding events, hiring events, new initiatives, and CXO moves – which indicate investments (i.e., sales).

With a list in hand of viable prospects from companies that you KNOW are a great fit for your product, it‘s time to start developing your outreach strategy.

3. Develop relevant messaging and content for the prospects in your pipeline.

One of the most effective ways to create a message that your targeted buyers will listen to is through brand storytelling. But to go even further, we recommend you allow your target buyers’ peers – your current customers – tell the story.

So start with a simple case study and testimonial from one of your lookalike customers, highlighting why your product created value for them. Be specific about the characteristics that make them similar to your target buyer. From there, here are a few ideas of what to do with this piece of content:

One last thing: Make sure your team on the front lines knows how to tell these customer stories. The more you can put your value story front and center – before your product features – the more likely you are to really connect with your prospects.

4. Test a variety of demand generation tactics.

Now it’s time to put down the pen to paper and grow the pipeline. We always recommend a mix of both inbound and outbound demand generation tactics, as long as you’re careful not to spread your resources too thin.

Demand Generation for a Startup:

After trying a variety of tactics, you’re likely to figure out which ones are most effective for your business. Invest more in the tactics that work until you’ve found a successful formula for your business.

Key Takeaways on Building a Sales Pipeline

Build this playbook for your first target buyer segment, document everything, and then you’ll be able to replicate and tailor the approach as you target second, third, and fourth segments and expand your viable addressable market.

Don’t be fooled, though: none of this has an easy button. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of all new businesses don’t survive past five years. Those that do survive do the hard tasks – but they don’t overcomplicate them:

Businesses who can do this are growthbound: They start small, and they know the next stop on their path to the goal – whatever that goal may be.

To learn more about how ZoomInfo can dramatically scale and improve all aspects of your go-to-market strategy, contact our sales team today. We offer the most intelligent B2B contact database on the market.

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