I got my first ever introduction to pipelines from my friend and mentor, Beth Grant. And when I did my training to become a Certified Ambassador for the Alignment Grid™, she taught me everything I need to know to help my clients build pipelines that do (most of) the work for them.
A friendly introduction to pipelines
Imagine you’re out for a walk in nature, and you come across a sign that says “beach this way.” You’re a little hot and sweaty, so decide you’d like to check it out and see what the water’s like.
You turn in the direction of the arrow and notice a path in front of you. Someone has laid out the way to the beach with stepping stones. You walk along the path, stepping from one stone to the next.
As much as you’re curious to get to the beach, you’re aware that you’re free to step off the path at any time and go exploring in other directions. It’s your choice.
You decide to stay on the path, and soon you arrive at the beach. There’s no one else there.
The sand is clean and soft on your feet. The water is beautiful – a stunning blue colour, calm, and glistening in the sun.
You dip your toe in and feel that the temperature is just the way you like it. Without hesitation, you wade in and let yourself be supported by the water.
That path you walked to the beach is like a pipeline
A pipeline is just like the path that took you to the beach, only you build it to take prospective buyers towards whatever it is you’re offering them.
In this analogy, the beach is what you have to offer.
Each stepping stone represents what’s called a “gateway” in your pipeline. Every step your prospective buyer takes along your pipeline gives them increasing clarity on their problem or challenge.
Let’s imagine that while you were walking along the path to the beach, a storm rolled in. You could call it a day and leave. Maybe you get hungry and decide to sit down and have your picnic lunch. When you check your watch, you realize it’s getting late and it’s time to head home. You don’t make it to the beach.
The same is true for your pipeline – people are free to stop or step off at any time, even if it means they don’t get to your final offer.
Maybe you get to the beach and realize there’s so many people there or that the water is really rough and it’s not safe for you to go in, so you leave without going any further.
That can happen with your pipeline, too. Some people will get to your offer and take you up on it, and others won’t. And that’s okay.
Just like the “beach this way” sign serves as an invitation and points beach-goers in the right direction, you’ll also need to invite your people into your pipeline.
A pipeline is different than a sales funnel
Overall, a pipeline is much more empowering than a sales funnel, because it’s purposefully designed to give people the choice to continue forward or leave – at any time. Just like you could leave the path anytime, your prospective buyer can too.
Your pipelines are designed to actually get the buyer what they want – clarity on their problem and a solution to it. A sales funnel is really all about getting the seller what they want – people to buy (or download) what they have to offer.
When you design your pipeline, you set it up so people are drawn through it – you attract people with what’s along the path. If you use a sales funnel, you tend to push as many people down the path as you can, so they have no choice but to get to your offer.
Like the stepping stones to the beach, the steps in a pipeline are so natural, it’s easy for people to see if it’s right for them to move forward or step off. On your end, it feels really good, because you’re helping people get clear as you take them along. And while it’s not true of all sales funnels, many do really on tactics that manipulate people to keep moving forward. You may have experienced this yourself, if you’ve ever been in a sales funnel where the seller has used FOMO, false scarcity, or has really pushed your pain point buttons to get you to buy their solution. You don’t have to do any of that nonsense with a pipeline.
Types of pipelines
There are a few kinds of pipelines you can build in your business.
Used to make a blatant offer at the end
You offer a conversion, Discovery Call, or Clarity Call at the end
Brand Awareness pipeline
Helps prospective buyers get to know you ie. your website
Audience Building pipeline
For future marketing
Ie. email list, social media following, or community
To identify groups of prospective buyers with a common issue or challenge. Ie. you tag people on your email list that sign up for a webinar on a specific topic
Benefits of a fully functioning pipeline
There are a few main benefits to a pipeline that’s in peak performance, three of which I’ll cover here.
1 ⎮It brings you “qualified” buyers
Whether your offer is a call, a paid offer, a “freebie” or an invitation to follow you or join your hosted community, your pipeline brings the right people towards you. That’s because it lets people self-select out along the way. Only the people who resonate with what you have to say and want what you have to say make it through the pipeline.
I say “most of” the work, because you do need to make sure you’re inviting people into the pipeline. What that looks like will depend on what you offer at the end of the pipeline as well as your unique Marketing Foundation.
2 ⎮It doesn’t feel like you’re marketing at all
Because your pipelines are meant to empower people and designed to give them clarity about their problem rather than push them into buying from you, you’ll likely find that you don’t feel like you’re marketing. Your pipelines end up being another way for you to help or serve your people. And I know you love to do that!
3 ⎮You have more time to play and practice self-care
I see so many purpose-driven entrepreneurs working way too hard to make an impact through sales of their programs, services and products. Showing up at networking meeting after networking meeting, posting every day on social media, aiming to guest on one (or more) podcast every week. Geesh. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Pushing yourself that hard can leave you tired and disillusioned, especially when all the work doesn’t pay off with more clients and customers.
I love how Beth suggests that a pipeline is “like an employee who works 24/7 on your behalf.”
What you do with all that extra time? It’s up to you (perhaps a trip to a real beach?)
Pipelines are the key to more (and consistent) clients + customers
Pipelines increase the likelihood that you’ll have access to lots of potential buyers for your products, programs, packages, and services. If you’ve never built a pipeline before, you may need some support and guidance to create, build and fill it.
And if you’re struggling to make enough sales each month, or your sales are up and down like a yo-yo, it’s important to understand what’s causing these problems. There are lots of reasons purpose-driven entrepreneurs think are responsible for their situation. But chances are, the real issue lies with your pipeline.
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