If you’ve been in sales for longer than a week, you have heard someone – a manager, co-worker, or accountability partner – stress the importance of building an active sales pipeline. Even so, many sales professionals look at building and maintaining a pipeline as a “non-sales activity” not critical to their growth. It’s time to think differently about the sales pipeline, using it as a guide to both strategic thinking and actionable steps to sales growth.
To get the most out of your pipeline, you need to focus on three areas: the need, the approach, and the execution.
1. Focus – You simply cannot keep everything in your head. Notebooks with pages of scribble, sticky notes papering your desk, or email reminders aren’t going to give you the complete information necessary to deliver maximum efficiency. The pipeline is a system to manage leads, status, next steps, reminders, and other sales activities for you. As a salesperson, your time is best spent on the best prospects – the ones ripe to take the next step in the sales process. The pipeline will manage that for you.
2. Messaging – At each stage of the sales process, prospects want different things from salespeople (type of information, frequency of contact, communication channels, samples, proposals, etc.). By using a pipeline with defined steps, the vast majority of this thinking is done for you and you can focus on executing each stage of the process.
1. No Selling – That’s right, no selling at all. This is especially importing in the early stages when your prospects aren’t ready to buy. Instead, seek for opportunities to become a trusted advisor – connect, educate, and add value. The more value you build, the more your prospects will seek you out when there is a need.
2. Differentiate – As you communicate and build value along the sales process, take advantage of opportunities to stress differentiation and preference for you and your ideas. In a competitive marketplace, it’s critical to communicate how different you are and how that differentiation will make the prospect better off by working with you as opposed to your competition.
1. Stages – Don’t stop at defining the stages your prospects go through during the sales process, but also define your communication strategy at each stage: what do they get, how often, and in what manner. Defining this up front will make for much more efficient decision making and actions to move the sales process along.
2. Content – Place a priority on providing great content. Be remarkable, educational, and memorable. Show them how working with you will make their jobs easier. People are constantly looking to be taught so seize the opportunity and teach them.
3. Ease – Make it easy for prospects to move forward in the process. Create situations and content (case histories, samples, decoration swatches, etc.) that put the prospect in control of taking the next step. Because you and your pipeline have done the work up front by building value, showing differentiation, and creating preference, prospects will be eager to work with you.
True sales professionals do much more than simply build relationships; they take ownership and actively live in their pipeline – tracking how each opportunity is progressing down the funnel and making the necessary adjustments if an opportunity is at risk of being lost. These are the activities that separate the good from the great.