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The Digital Utopia Podcast Episode #45

How to Utilize Separate Sales Pipelines to Better Manage Your Team and Forecast Revenue

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About the podcast

The Digital Utopia Podcast is for SMB Marketers and Business Leaders looking to align their Marketing, Sales, and Service departments so they’re part of one powerhouse growth team.

Each episode will dive into the strategies, philosophies, and tools that will change your approach to organizational growth, give you renewed focus and clarity, and allow you to build a brand that not only helps you stand out—but win.

The Digital Utopia Podcast is produced by Digitopia and hosted by Frank Cowell and Joseph Freeman.

Episode transcription

Frank Cowell: [00:00:31] Hey gang. Welcome to episode 45 of The Digital Utopia Podcast. I'm your host, Frank Cowell. And today I'm joined by special guest Christina Gillenwater of digital Apia. Today, we're going to talk about how to utilize separate sales pipelines in HubSpot to better manage your team and forecast revenue, Christina, amazing to have you today.

I did a talk about the separate sales pipelines that you've architected inside HubSpot. In particular, of course you can apply this to any software. But in particular, we're sure you're going to talk through how you've done this in HubSpot and maybe help people who don't have HubSpot understand this.

I'm excited to jump into this because I see you doing amazing things with multiple pipelines. Whereas most organizations I come across one pipeline, right. And it's kind of one pipeline to rule them all. Let's get into, um, this first part of this, which is, you know, a sales pipelines versus sales funnels.

I hear both of those thrown around, but I don't know if they're the same thing. And I think you have some opinions on that. 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:01:42] I definitely do. They're not the same thing. I see a lot of SMBs conflate the two, which can be problematic. In my mind, a sales funnel is more about lifecycle conversion rate performance in maturing contacts, over critical life cycle stages.

So from a lead to an MQL to SQL, whereas a sales pipeline is actually about the steps in your sales process that a contact needs to take in order to convert and end up doing business with. And that's a critical difference in a critical differentiation when you're talking about. 

Frank Cowell: [00:02:17] Yeah. So it sounds like, um, maybe correct me if I've got the wrong assumption here, but it's, it's like macro versus the micro or macro is about your life cycle stages.

The micro is the stages in your sales process and maybe those milestones. Would that be a correct? 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:02:33] I think that assumption, I think that's a fair way to break it up because if you think about it, you can have a contact that is in the middle of a life cycle stage. Say there at HubSpot defines life cycle stages.

Uh, what do they subscriber lead,  MQL SQL opportunity customer evangelist. So those are the life cycle stages. You could have a sales prospect that is between the lifecycle stages of, um, opportunity and customer. So there's only two stages there, but within that life cycle, they may be 10 steps in your sales process and in your sales pipeline.

That the rep has to navigate that prospect across in order to get them from an opportunity to a customer. So that's critical. Otherwise, if your rep is not able to convert them to a customer, then you can look at the different sales stages in your sales pipeline and process and identify, okay, this is the critical stage in our process.

They're not making it over. Thus, they'll never get to. 

Frank Cowell: [00:03:33] Got it. Got it makes a ton of sense. So let's dive into, then, you know what we teased at the top of the show here, which is the multiple or separate unique pipelines. Talk about why someone would want to have separate unique, distinct pipelines in the first place.

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:03:52] There's two key benefits in my mind. One, it enables you to better forecast. Why is that? So typically when I work with small businesses, they have one pipeline established and they get into the habit of capturing every lead, no matter how mature that lead is in that pipeline. And it makes forecasting revenue incredibly difficult because you have no real semblance for time to close on the entire pipeline.

And so you can't look two weeks out, 30 days out, 60 days out and predictably say yes, this revenue will close. So predicting revenue on one pipeline is really problematic. If you can break those things out, becomes much easier to predict revenue and predict time to close. And we could talk more about that in a little bit.

Um, the second key benefit in my mind of having multiple pipelines, instead of one is managing your team effective. So if you're a sales manager, You have, uh, you have disparate roles in your sales department. Typically, if you're, you know, kind of a small to mid-size organization, you may have sellers who are classified as AEs, who are selling to your opportunities, pipeline, trying to close down business, but then you might have something like a BDR or an SDR whose job is to go hunt and find new leads to add to your.

And then turn those into appointments, set appointments booked for your eight. So if you're managing all of your contacts and all of your leads in just a single pipeline, then it becomes very difficult for these two very distinct, very different roles to effectively manage their own process. 

Frank Cowell: [00:05:35] While Chris, I think I'm hoping our listeners are really grasping the gravity of what you just said, which sounds very simple.

But I think a lot of organizations aren't taking this approach and they kind of use sales as just one function. And what you're saying is within sales, they're actually multiple functions. And I would guess that those different functions have specialists that are good at certain things and maybe not good at other things and dividing up the pipeline to match those functions, I think is really smart.

How did you come across this and you know, was this through trial and error or, you know, w when did you realize. It needed to be broken out this way. 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:06:15] That's a good question. I think that, I think that the sales world in general is moving more towards this concept, right? That hunters quote unquote are distinct from closers.

I think it's kind of a dying idea or philosophy that there's one sales person to rule them all. Who's a magical unicorn that can drum up their own book of business and close it. The buying, I think the buying journey has just changed so dramatically. Over the last 10 years, customers need a very specific type of engagement type of process at every lead stage.

It just demands different skillsets and it demands that organizations are more focused and more specific than ever before. And so honestly, a lot of this has learned through personal trial and error and failure. I'm an excellent closer, I think. Our opportunities close rate right now is something somewhat ridiculous at about 91% for all opportunities to customer conversions, uh, for the last 365 days.

But I'm not as great at prospecting and in filling our, our leads pipeline with leads, it's an entirely different skillset, a different mentality. And I think it will benefit organizations moving forward to break these out into distinct functions and let your closers be really, really good at closing, really focused, really disciplined and let your BDRs and SDRs be really good at customer service and, and nurturing, you know, perspective contexts.

Frank Cowell: [00:07:48] Yeah. Yeah. That's really great. And I think what that immediately brings up for me is then there probably needs to be some, some sort of distinct. KPI for those, each of those pipelines that maybe isn't about money or revenue. Right. So let's talk about that next, which is, you know, what are the KPIs and the metrics that you review in these pipelines and how are they different from each other?

I imagine they have to be different if the functions and the activities of these different, you know, sales professional, You know, those activities are different. So I imagine we're going to be measuring those differently. 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:08:28] Absolutely. That's a great point. So if I am a sales manager managing my account executives who are selling to our opportunities, pipeline, the opportunities pipeline, ideally you've structured that in a way that very closely matches your sales process, which is trying to convert an opportunity to a customer.

So that pipeline is that's where you're, you're managing and measuring and reporting on. So I want to see metrics in that pipeline related to average deal, size, time to close count of deals, things like that, so that I can start to predict and forecast what type of revenue we may have for the next 30, 60, 90 days.

That is the critical pipe. Right? So everything that goes into that pipeline then needs to be real. And that's a, that's a major factor, which probably marries a whole conversation. I do it though, but then for the. 

Frank Cowell: [00:09:21] Yeah. Yeah. As a side note, Krista, sorry to interrupt you, but I can't tell you how many organizations I've come across.

What's in their sales pipeline is like mostly fake. It's just not real because they're stuff that's like really old. And, uh, I hope this is a deal. They keep telling me it's a deal. It's just so much fake stuff in many org sales pipeline. So I'm glad you're talking about this because these metrics you're talking about.

If you're not managing to these things, then you can't do what you just said at the very top, which was you use this to forecast revenue. And if you can't use your sales pipelines to forecast revenue, then what good are 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:10:01] they? Absolutely. And we should absolutely have an entirely separate episode on real deals versus vanity deals.

Um, I talk to sales leaders all the time and they are incredibly happy with 30 to 40% close rates on their opportunities. Which just astounds me, like I mentioned at the top, you know, our opportunities conversion right now is somewhere around 90% for the last year. And that's because we're excellent at lead qualification and being very strict and deliberate about what makes its way into our opportunity to pipeline again, because it's, it's how we build and grow our business.

It's how we decide who we need to hire next. And when, what tools we need to invest in all of those things, we make critical business decisions off of. Our revenue we're projecting and our opportunities. So it's critical, but to your earlier question about metrics reach pipeline. So if you're measuring, you know, revenue and deal performance in the opportunities pipeline, then in your lower level pipeline, the one that feeds your opportunities, pipeline, however you want to label that we call it our leads pipeline in our business.

I want to see things that are more about business development, performance, BDR, performance. So I want to see count of deals added week over week to that lead pipeline. I want to see time at each stage because if you've mapped out a, a good process for maturing a lead into a sales opportunity, then they shouldn't sit in every single stage too long.

They need to move fairly quickly through that pipe within I'd say 20 to 30 days. Um, and then critically, I want to manage conversion from a lead to an appointment booked. Now this is actually really tricky in HubSpot. I talked to sales managers a lot that struggle to manage their BDRs in their SDRs and HubSpot because HubSpot originally wasn't built as a sales tool, right.

HubSpot's flagship offering is their marketing. And that's where they put most of their effort into when they first launched their tools. Their sales hub has come long way and it is now enterprise level. So it has incredible capabilities, but it's not necessarily a BDR manager tool. And so I think this is the big opportunity for sales managers and HubSpot is to actually leverage a leads pipeline to better manage your BDRs and SDRs.

And they're not doing that today. When I have conversations with them. And so what they're trying to do, alternatively, is leverage sequences. Sequences is a great sales management tool. Absolutely because you get built in high-level metrics, you get, you know, email opens appointments booked for your meeting link and things like that.

But what happens oftentimes is things fall out of process. Right? That's how business goes. So a rep might book an appointment with a contact and this contact never went through a sequence. So there's no way to actually track that conversion of, to appointment booked. And so I always recommend, especially for sales managers, managing a BDR SDR team to build out a pipeline and leverage that as a tool to better report on meetings booked and the success of your, your BDR team and maturing.

Frank Cowell: [00:13:30] Yeah, I think you have to do that to just see the flow of these contacts, right? As opposed to granular level activity, like you would look into granular like activity when you want to dig into a particular prospect or maybe investigate one of your reps to find out, you know, what they're doing, but to see the flow of the contacts, I think is really important because I think what you end up having without that, as you have.

Leads that becomes stale or stagnant. They sit there and they don't have enough, you know, attention given to them. Let me ask you this, Chris. I think I know the answer. It seems pretty obvious, but in your main sales pipeline, I believe the ultimate KPR or the outcome would just be the deals Mon. And whether you measure that by revenue or account, right?

It's it's the revenue or the deals one what's the KPI then in your leads pipeline, is it meetings booked? Is it like, what is. Closed win closed one. All of them they're in, in that pipeline 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:14:28] for me, the close one column is the lead conversion to, um, an opportunity. So there's actually two stages that fall into that lead level pipeline when you're measuring on life cycle, stage and HubSpot.

So we have leads enter into our leads pipeline as MQL for their life cycle stage. And it is our BDRs. To mature those to an SQL first meaning they want to talk to sales and they based on lead scoring and some kind of at a far information seem like they're a qualified lead. That's the first maturation MQL to SQL in that lead level pipeline.

But then the real closed one in that deal pipeline is from SQL to opportunity. And there's some very slick things you can do with, you know, automation, um, and deal validation, uh, and reporting to make sure that. As soon as you drag that deal to close one deal stage in your leads by blind, and it's now book, date discovery meeting.

Then you can create a duplicate deal card. Now in your opportunities, do you have really good historical deal performance on that leads level pipeline? Um, and you can still manage the next level up, 

Frank Cowell: [00:15:38] which that part sounds really important. Uh, you mentioned duplicating it because I would imagine if you just moved the card, you kind of lose.

The success of that bottom level 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:15:49] pipeline a hundred percent. Yeah. The benefit of having the closed one deal stages is historical, uh, performance based reporting. So if you were to just move that card to a new pipe entirely, then I can not go back on my lead level pipeline and analyze the success in my reps, ability to take a MQL and turn it into an opportunity.

Frank Cowell: [00:16:12] Super important, really important. Wow, Chris, this is all great information. I want to just touch on one thing before we close out the show today, managing reps in these pipelines. What are some of the key things you're looking for now that you've kind of got this flow there? You know, the activities are now in pipelines.

I believe if you use that, uh, Kanban view, right? It really helps visualize that flow. W when you, when you. You've got all this setup now, what are some of the things you're looking for to manage, you know, maybe not down to the detail, but at a high level, what are you, what are you managing to tell you whether or not it's flowing or it's not flowing?

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:16:54] Well, I think you brought up a great point about being able to visualize stagnant deals as one of the major benefits for leveraging the pipelines tool that probably merits even more conversation in my mind. The difference. But one of the key differences between managing by pipeline versus managing by a report is that you can literally visualize, visualize where the deals are at, based on deal stage.

So you can't report on your sales process and all the steps within it, unless you're using pipelines as a reporting. And so now I can see based on how my sales process is set up. If there's a deal sitting at. Uh, you know, outreach one outreach to, if that's where they're kind of being nurtured from a BDR perspective, or if they're sitting at Maita connection or following up or attempting to book an appointment versus an appointment booked, and they need to be matured to discovery, you just have a lot more visibility into the micro stages within your sales process, that those deals reside in.

And so you have more levers to pull. If so, as a manager, I'm looking at. Time in stage, critically at my leads level pipeline. If there's a deal that has been sitting in outreach, one for more than a week, that's a miss in our process. Those contacts need to be engaged with more frequently so that I would connect with my rep and look at deal activity as a major way to increase performance.

Frank Cowell: [00:18:28] Wow. What a great visual there to. You know, deals stacking up in a column and it's a column, you know, that, you know, the deal really. Isn't supposed to sit there for any real length of time. And so I think if you see that stacking up as a manager, it's pretty like low tech, right? Like, Ooh, deal column, lots of deal cards in there.

There shouldn't be that many in there. Right. It's, it's pretty low tech and makes it easy to, to bring about that awareness and accountability. 

Krystina Gillenwater: [00:18:59] Absolutely. The only deal column where deals should stack up is in your one column. 

Frank Cowell: [00:19:05] I love it. Well, Chris, we are out of time for this topic. I want to have you back on again, to dive more into the operationalizing of sales.

Cause that's really what we're talking about is how do you operationalize your sales process? So that way you can bring people into your organization and have them consistently execute sales for your organization. Right? That's what we want is predictability and scalability in our sales process. So I want to have you back on if you're open to it where we can talk about operationalizing.

Even further. I'd love to great folks. Thanks for joining us. If you want to connect with us and find other episodes to tune into is where we're at. We'll see you next time.


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