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What is pipeline marketing & how it works: the complete guide


Sep 6, 2017
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There are lots of different types of marketing: content marketing, inbound marketing, outbound marketing — the list goes on. Pipeline marketing might just seem like another buzzword, but it’s actually rooted in dependable data.

As an entrepreneur, you probably have lots of goals for creating and selling courses online. You want to share your education, meet new people, create beautiful products, and establish yourself as an authority in your industry.

However, one goal likely reigns supreme over the others: You want to make money.

Pipeline marketing offers a solution for entrepreneurs who have no trouble generating leads, but who struggle to convert leads into customers.

A lead is someone whose contact information you’ve collected. That’s all. A lead is a potential customer.

A customer, on the other hand, has parted with his or her hard-earned money in exchange for one of your digital products. Clearly, a customer offers more value than a lead.

To put your knowledge business on the fast track toward success, you might want to give pipeline marketing a try.

Read on to discover the finer points of pipeline marketing and to learn how it differs from simple lead generation. You likely already know how to generate leads. Now you need to figure out how to maximize sales.

What is pipeline marketing?

Pipeline marketing combines sales and marketing data to focus on converting leads and prospects into customers instead of continuing to generate more leads. Entrepreneurs can use pipeline marketing to make their sales process more efficient and less costly.

Think of pipeline marketing as a way to converge your sales and marketing efforts where they matter most. It’s a strategy that allows you to focus on the narrower part of your marketing funnel instead of the top.

A traditional sales funnel template looks something like this:

Top of funnel: generate leads 

At this point in the funnel, you’re simply trying to reach as many people as possible. It’s like casting a wide net in the ocean and scooping up as many fish as you can trap.

You can collect leads in numerous ways, such as by making cold calls, inviting website visitors to sign up for your email list, and connecting with prospects on social media.

The top of the funnel is designed for capturing as much information about prospective customers as possible. It’s often called the “Awareness” stage because it’s the point at which you make potential customers aware of your brand.

For instance, if you collect email addresses after offering a free download, you might follow up with contacts with a drip-email campaign. You’ll explain what you offer, detail the value you’ve created through your online courses, and offer compelling reasons for those subscribers to buy your digital products.

However, you have no way of knowing why those people came into contact with your business in the first place.

Middle of funnel: nurturing prospects 

When you move to the middle of the funnel, you start nurturing leads to encourage them to become customers. You might invite them to attend a free webinar, show them a preview of your course, or offer a promotional discount or coupon.

Bottom of funnel: converting leads into customers 

The bottom of the funnel is when prospects become customers. They actually hand over their credit cards in exchange for your digital products.

Unfortunately, many businesses don’t pay enough attention to the middle and bottom of the funnel. Instead, they keep going after leads, hoping that some of them will convert.

It’s a strategy that works for many businesses. It’s just not very efficient.

The numbers suggest that aiming for a different part of the sales pipeline can make a more profound impact on your actual sales.

What is the sales pipeline?

The sales pipeline is the path your customers follow from the first touch point (when they first come in contact with your brand) to the moment of the first purchase. It continues through subsequent purchases as your customers become more loyal to your business.

The power of pipeline marketing 

The power of pipeline marketing lies in its ability to unite marketing and sales under one roof. This is particularly effective for entrepreneurs who have small teams. If you’re serving as both the marketer and the sales professional for your business, you have to think of those two activities as one unit.

Essentially, pipeline marketing allows you to directly connect your marketing efforts to future revenue. Instead of using marketing to generate leads and sales to close customers, you make it all part of the same process.

While this might sound confusing, it’s easy to implement once you understand the psychology and power behind it.

First, let’s start with a few solid facts from HubSpot on lead-conversion statistics:

  • About 80 percent of marketers describe their lead-generation strategies as only somewhat effective.
  • More than 50 percent of marketers devote at least half of their total marketing budget to lead generation.
  • Almost one-quarter of marketers don’t know whether their lead-generation efforts actually result in closed sales.
  • Nurturing leads can increase sales by more than 20 percent.

With those facts in mind, how can marketers use pipeline marketing to improve total revenue?

Essentially, this marketing strategy helps entrepreneurs focus their efforts on nurturing qualified leads toward sales instead of simply grabbing as many leads as possible.

It might sound counterintuitive — after all, marketers are always talking about brand reach and lead generation — but a lead has no value unless that person actually purchases a product.

The difference between lead generation and pipeline marketing 

Lead generation and pipeline marketing are two different approaches to the same goal. Lead generation is all about volume — get as many email addresses and other forms of contact information as possible.

Pipeline marketing, on the other hand, is all about generating revenue from the leads who already exist. In other words, entrepreneurs focus more heavily on moving leads toward a sale.

That sounds reasonable, right? After all, no matter how many leads you have, they don’t contribute any real value to your business.

So let’s take a look at how pipeline marketing and marketing revenue can work to your advantage as you sell more online courses.

How it works 

A pipeline marketing campaign starts with a set of specific goals. Once you know what you want to achieve, you figure out the best way to unite marketing and sales activities and put your strategy in motion.

Instead of focusing on lead generation, you focus on cost per opportunity. The lower the cost per opportunity, the greater your cash flow. You then continue to measure and monitor the important metrics — the ones that lead to sales — and continue refining your technique until you master pipeline marketing.

But let’s break it down a little so you understand how to put pipeline marketing into motion.

Define campaign hgoals

No marketing initiative is worth pursuing unless you have specific, measurable goals in place. What do you want to achieve with your marketing efforts?

“Make more money” isn’t a specific or measurable goal. It’s arguably the desire of any entrepreneur, but it doesn’t help you create a winning marketing strategy.

Start by examining your past record of sales. How many online courses have you sold per month over the last six months? How many sales have you made compared to the number of leads you’ve generated?

Knowing these data points can help you set a reasonable goal.

For instance, let’s say that you’ve generated 2,000 leads per month for the last six months. Of those 2,000 leads, 1,000 have bought one of your products. In other words, you’ve converted 50 percent of your leads to paying customers.

Those are really good numbers. However, you can make them better.

You might discover that you’ve only managed to convert 1 to 2 percent of your total leads. That’s okay, too. It’s a symptom of poorly designed marketing strategies, but pipeline marketing can help you boost your numbers.

You might decide that you want your marketing campaign to increase your conversion rate to 5 percent. When you’re going up from 1 or 2 percent, that’s a reasonable goal — at least for the short term. You want to test different strategies and make sure they work before you create a loftier goal.

You can also add even harder numbers to your goals, such as the following:

  • Sell X online courses per week for the next eight weeks.
  • Improve ROI on marketing and sales initiatives by X percent.
  • Generate X new customers over the next two weeks.

The numbers, of course, will depend on your specific business and your past history.

What if you haven’t sold any online courses yet? Maybe you’re just getting your business up and running.

That’s okay, too. In this case, create reasonable goals based on the success of your competitors. Conduct some competitor research to determine how large your audience is and how eager they are for the types of online courses you want to create.

Determine the best way to achieve your goals

Now that you know what you want to achieve, you need action steps to take you there. In pipeline marketing, you’re not going to worry much about the top of the funnel. Continue collecting email addresses, participating in social media, and meeting new people, but focus more of your attention on the bottom of the funnel.

Take a look at the leads you’ve already generated and start sorting them based on what you know about their past behavior. Have they interacted with your business more than once? Have they emailed you to ask for more information? Do they attend or participate in events connected to your business?

From this data, you can start qualifying your leads. In other words, you only want to spend time on people who might actually convert into customers.

A survey can prove invaluable for qualifying leads, especially if you don’t have a full-time sales force at your beck and call.

Send out a survey that asks questions designed to determine their position in the buyer’s journey:

  • Do you plan to purchase a course on [your topic] within the next six weeks?
  • What are your goals for learning about [topic]?
  • What, specifically, can my course help you achieve in your personal or professional life?

Generate questions with open-ended answers. That way, your prospects will share more information with you.

Based on the survey answers, you’ll get a feel for prospects who seem ready to convert. You can then spend more of your time nurturing them through the process.

Focus on cost per opportunity 

Pipeline marketing is an outcome-based marketing system. It’s designed to help you achieve specific goals that generate revenue.

Cost per opportunity is a far more effective metric than cost per lead. It establishes a connection between your marketing (not sales) efforts and the end result.

In other words, do your marketing efforts have an impact on the money you generate from online course sales? If not, how can you adjust your marketing tactics to make them more efficient and revenue-based?

In most pipeline marketing campaigns, each marketing effort is given weight when a customer converts. Let’s look at a quick timeline for a fictional customer.

The customer searches for a topic related to your online course and finds a blog post you wrote on the topic. The customer signs up for your email list and downloads the free report that you advertised. A few weeks later, the customer clicks on a link in one of those emails and goes to your sales page. From there, he or she chooses a course and buys it.

In this case, several marketing efforts contributed to the eventual sale:

  • Organic search and content marketing
  • Incentive-based email marketing
  • Email click-throughs
  • Sales page

When analyzing your marketing metrics, you would assign 25 percent of your revenue from that customer to each of the above marketing tactics. Each one was 25 percent responsible for converting the lead.

You do this with every customer. Eventually, you start to see which marketing efforts actually contribute to sales, and which do not. You can eliminate the ineffective methods so you’re not wasting energy on unqualified leads.

Your opportunities are the leads who eventually move into the sales pipeline. They continue to interact with your business and move through the pipeline to an eventual purchase. Instead of calculating the cost per lead (meaning the cost of every lead you collect), focus on the cost per opportunity (the cost to acquire every lead that enters the pipeline).

Monitor and measure 

Every marketing and sales strategy depends on metrics, but pipeline marketing might be the most dependent on Big Data if you want to generate results.

The goal, however, is not to increase the number of metrics you track, but to select the metrics that have the most bearing on actual revenue and sales.

In pipeline marketing, most entrepreneurs track the following metrics:

  • Revenue by channel: How much revenue do you derive from each marketing channel (such as email, social, PPC, and others)?
  • Lead volume: How many leads are you gathering in a specific time period?
  • Customers closed: How many customers actually buy a product from your online store?
  • Marketing ROI: how much actual revenue has your marketing strategy generated?
  • Revenue by lead source: How much money have you generated from each lead source?
  • Opportunities by channel: How many leads have become opportunities for each of your marketing channels?

Essentially, you should track the same metrics that a sales team would track when closing customers. You’re narrowing the gap between marketing and sales to ensure that your focus remains on revenue rather than on leads.

Adjust, and reap the rewards 

Over time, you’ll track the metrics mentioned earlier. As you gain more data from your efforts, you can refine your strategy.

For instance, maybe you don’t generate many opportunities from social media marketing. In that case, you would scale back on social and put more of your efforts into channels that result in actual revenue.

Over time, you’ll notice that your revenue increases while your marketing and advertising spend decreases. That’s the very definition of success.

Lead generation vs. pipeline marketing 

We’ve talked about lead generation and pipeline marketing, but how exactly do they differ? Obviously, you need leads for any type of marketing to become successful. However, the sales pipeline proves that you don’t need excessive leads to build a revenue-generating business.

Let’s look at some of the specific differences between lead generation and pipeline marketing so you can refine your marketing strategy successfully.

Top-of-funnel focus vs. full-funnel focus 

As we mentioned above, lead generation focuses on the top of the funnel. It’s designed to pour as many potential leads into the funnel as possible.

It’s kind of like brainstorming. You know you want to create something, so you sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. You let your imagination run wild, jotting down every idea that comes into your mind.

Eventually, when it comes time to actually create something, you won’t use many of those ideas. Some of them might make little sense at all, while others aren’t specific, interesting, appealing, or broad enough to warrant fulfillment.

Brainstorming is a great exercise, but it also results in lots of unused ideas. You put those ideas into your mental trash can and move forward only with the ideas that might actually turn into something you can use.

Lead generation operates off the same principles. Businesses know that, no matter how many leads they collect, some will never turn into customers. Still, they keep pouring leads into the funnel, hoping that at least a few of them will buy their products.

Pipeline marketing is different. It doesn’t cut off the top of the funnel — if it did, how would an entrepreneur generate any sales at all? — but it takes a full-funnel approach. In other words, after capturing leads, the marketing and sales team work to move as many as possible through the entire funnel until they finally emerge as customers.

Let’s return to the brainstorming analogy for a moment.

What if, instead of writing down every idea that popped into your mind, you gave each idea a few seconds of careful consideration. You could probably eliminate most of them during that time. At the end of your brainstorming session, you’d have fewer ideas, but each idea would have higher quality.

That’s the goal with pipeline marketing. Even if you generate fewer leads, you can rely on those leads to become customers because you know exactly how to usher them through the sales pipeline.

Slower sales vs. faster sales 

When you focus on fewer leads, you can move leads through the funnel faster. That naturally results in faster sales.

Think about the possibilities. Let’s say that you have 10 leads who have turned into opportunities. They’re in the pipeline, ready for you to nurture them through the rest of the process.

Contrast that with a situation in which you have 50 leads. You can’t possibly devote as much time and attention to 50 people as you can to 10.

Faster sales mean faster growth. As your online courses become more popular, you’ll have more time to create more courses, focus on customer loyalty, and drive further revenue. It’s a cycle that starts in the pipeline but never stops.

Faster sales also mean that your leads have less time to talk themselves out of a purchase. You can present them with the benefits they’ll gain from taking your course, then let them make their decision. If you’re persuasive enough, more of your leads will become customers. Furthermore, your leads might tell their friends, who automatically become more qualified leads because they’ve come to you via referral rather than an Internet search or PPC ad.

Contacts creation vs. customer creation 

Contacts are valuable. When you can get in touch with contacts via email or social media, you’re more likely to turn them into customers than if you had no contact information at all.

However, make no mistake: An email address isn’t a sale. It’s just the possibility of a sale.

Entrepreneurs remain in business because they’re able to generate revenue. With no cash flow, you can’t keep creating online courses because you’ll need to find another way to put food on the table.

Consequently, focusing 90 percent of your energy on contacts creation doesn’t make sense. You’ll get a few more leads, but you might not get any customers at all.

Lead generation focuses on collecting contacts. Pipeline marketing focuses on creating new customers. The latter goal is healthier for your business and for the customer. You won’t waste time with leads who never actually want to convert.

Excluding vs. including conversion marketing 

Conversion marketing refers to the marketing tactic that encourages a lead, prospect, or opportunity to take the next step — whatever it might be.

Lead generation often excludes conversion marketing. It’s concerned with pouring as many contacts through the funnel as possible, so it doesn’t take into account the need to get people to convert.

Think about your own business. You want people to buy your courses, but leads and prospects might need to take a few steps between first coming into contact with your business and actually buying a course.

They might sign up for your email list (an action), click on links in your emails to read your blog articles (action), and watch some of your recorded webinars (more action). Each of these steps represents a conversion.

However, the ultimate conversion is the purchase. That’s where you should focus most of your energy.

Vanity metrics vs. revenue metrics 

Vanity metrics make us feel good. For instance, if a blog post goes viral and brings 100,000 people to your website in one day, you’re likely to break open the nearest bottle of champagne. You’re excited about the exposure and the potential for success.

However, just like leads, website visitors don’t put money in your pockets. Metrics like web traffic, email open rates, and freebie downloads might make you feel like a marketing star, but they don’t have any direct impact on sales.

When you focus exclusively or primarily on lead generation, you might get led astray by vanity metrics. You’ll start to think that you’re succeeding in business when, in actuality, you’re succeeding only in driving traffic, writing enticing emails, or creating compelling free downloads.

Revenue metrics, on the other hand, are metrics tied directly to revenue. If a prospect downloads a freebie, then immediately buys your course, you can track those metrics as part of the revenue-generation process.

Most revenue metrics, however, are based on the bottom of the sales funnel. They’re directed at prospects who become opportunities and enter the sales pipeline.

Revenue growth, for instance, tells you how much your revenue has grown over a period of time. If your revenue steadily increases, you know you’re heading in the right direction with your pipeline marketing strategy.

Less efficient budget vs. more efficient budget 

Now that you’re more familiar with how pipeline marketing works, you can probably see that you’ll use your marketing budget more efficiently.

If you put more cash behind qualified leads and opportunities, you’ll gain more revenue, and your ROI will increase as a result. Lead generation often flushes money down the toilet because you’re funneling money into a strategy that doesn’t always produce paying customers.

Kajabi funnels (previously known as pipelines)

How can you apply pipeline marketing to your online courses on Kajabi?

  • Focus on key metrics: Choose key performance metrics (KPIs) that relate to revenue rather than leads.
  • Nurture qualified leads: Instead of chasing an ever-increasing stable of leads, focus on nurturing the ones you’ve already developed. Pay attention to their behavioral touch points so you know when to get in touch with them.
  • Avoid vanity metrics: Try not to give too much credence to website traffic and email open rates. Instead, focus on metrics that drive revenue.
  • Tie marketing to sales: Think of marketing and sales as one big machine. Watch for patterns that lead to actual sales rather than just more touch points.
  • Track your ROI: Pay careful attention to the marketing activities that don’t translate into dollars. Eliminate them if they become obsolete.

If you haven’t started creating online courses on Kajabi, now’s the time. Armed with your knowledge of pipeline marketing, you can blow the competition away and focus on marketing efforts that reliably produce revenue.


Pipeline marketing might seem a little counterintuitive. After all, we’re taught to get as many eyes on our content and brand as possible.

However, lead generation isn’t the source of your revenue. You can’t take leads to the bank and cash them. Neither can leads put food on the table.

Instead, the most successful businesses concentrate on revenue-based conversions, metrics, and marketing. They want as many opportunities to turn into customers as possible.

If you follow the steps outlined above, you can sell more online courses and become a bonafide Kajabi Hero!

Have you tried pipeline marketing for yourself? What tips can you offer others who are just getting started?

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