Businessman with clipboard explaining sales pipelines vs sales funnels

The terms “sales funnel” and “sales pipeline” are often used interchangeably. Sometimes, these phrases are even combined into a single concept, the “sales pipeline funnel.” But while the two terms are similar, they don’t represent the same thing. In fact, they’re two totally different terms and processes.

So, what is a sales pipeline, what is a sales funnel—and how do they compare? Let’s take a closer look at each of these terms and explore how they contribute to the B2B lead generation funnel.

What Is a Sales Pipeline?

A sales pipeline is simply a visual representation of where prospects are situated in the sales process at any given time. It represents a high-level view of the sales process from the sales team’s perspective.

In short, a sales pipeline lets salespeople know how close their leads are to making a purchasing decision, and it helps them determine the steps they need to take to reach their sales goals.

A sales pipeline generally consists of some variation of these five basic pipeline stages:

1. Prospecting – This first phase is all about finding or attracting leads to add to your sales pipeline. This often overlaps with the marketing pipeline as it’s about finding leads to move through the sales process. In other words, your lead generation funnel likely feeds into this stage.

2. Qualification – This phase involves ensuring the lead is qualified to hear your offer. You want to use this stage to ensure they’re a match and have enough education and information to be interested in moving forward.

3. Proposal This stage is the pitch process. It’s all about pitching your product or services and trying to move your prospect through the rest of the pipeline. They’ll either move onto the next stage or need to be moved into another pipeline for additional nurturing.

4. Commitment – In this stage, you’re going in for the close. You’ve completed your proposals and follow-ups, and it’s finally time to seal the deal.

5. Closing – This is the final stage. The prospect either bought from you or didn’t. In either case, you need to conduct some closing activities. If they did buy, you might need to connect them with an account manager or deliver their products. If they didn’t, you’ll want to figure out why and either move them to a nurturing pipeline or remove them from your system altogether.Ultimately, a sales pipeline should simply outline the stages of your lead’s journey from awareness through closing. It might take some trial and error to streamline your pipeline stages, but ultimately, the result is the same. So, how does this differ from a sales funnel?

Two businessmen comparing sales pipelines and sales funnels on clipboards

What Is a Sales Funnel?

Unlike a sales pipeline, a sales funnel is the sales journey from your buyer’s perspective. A sales funnel is often visualized as an actual funnel, where buyers start at the top and work through engagement stages until they enter your CRM funnel and sales pipeline.

Like a pipeline, a sales funnel has some predictable stages:

1. Awareness – This first stage is where the customer becomes aware of your products, services, or brand. Perhaps they see your social media posts, ads, blogs, lead magnets, or other branding. There’s usually a marketing funnel involved here, too.

2. Interest – This is the stage where the buyer moves from aware to interested. Now, they know what you have to offer. At this point, the lead is moved to the qualification part of the sales pipeline.

3. Evaluation This is where the leads are ready to hear more about how your specific offer will help them and evaluate whether it’s a good offer for them. This aligns with the proposal part of the sales pipeline.

4. Engagement – This is the point between the pitch and the purchase. It’s when the buyer still needs a little support to make a final decision. Unfortunately, this is often a stage where sales teams drop the ball by assuming the prospect is going to purchase when they actually need a bit more information.

5. Purchase – The prospect finally hears what they need to hear and is ready to close the deal. Sometimes, they might move back into other stages of the funnel if they don’t purchase, but this is the point where they either decide to move forward or back out of the deal.  Much like the phases in the pipeline, the lead funnel stages are all about moving the prospect from cold and unaware to a warm lead to a sale—from the prospect’s perspective. Understanding this process is essential so you can strengthen your B2B sales tactics and create pipeline stages that acknowledge this journey.

Combine Your Sales Pipeline and Sales Funnel to Feed Your B2B Lead Generation Funnel

It’s easy to see how people confuse the sales pipeline and funnel. They’re similar, and they often work in tandem. Whether you’re talking about a pipeline, a funnel, or a sales pipeline funnel, you’re really talking about the process of taking the leads generated from your B2B lead generation funnel and turning them into actual customers.

In short, both rely on lead generation and leads. That’s where we can help. LeadLander helps you identify your website visitors and understand what they want so you can move them through your sales pipeline more quickly. Check out our product demo today to see how we can help fuel your B2B lead generation funnel.


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