Your sales pipeline is the process you and your sales staff use to qualify a lead, engage with those leads and ultimately close a sale. You could have the best product or service in the market, but without sales your business will fail. Getting a handle on your sales processes will ensure you have the best opportunity to succeed.
Here are three things you should know to help you prep and grow your sales pipeline.
#1. You need to have a strongly defined process
The idea of creating well-defined sales processes can be difficult for some entrepreneurs as they are more accustomed to being flexible and adaptive. However, it’s important that you and your sales staff focus efforts in the right place. Otherwise, you could spend too much time spinning your wheels and not enough time closing sales.
Not all sales leads are created equal. Some potential customers are more likely to buy what you’re selling than others. With the right process for identifying and qualifying leads, you and your sales staff will be able to easily focus on the right prospects. If you have both a marketing and sales team, it should be clear when a lead that is generated through marketing efforts is ‘hot’ and ready to be passed to your sales team. The goals of marketing and sales need to be closely aligned and they need to work as two parts of the same team to reach their respective goals.
Engaging leads through the pipeline
There should never be any questions about the stage in which a potential customer belongs. Your sales stages should mirror the buying stages of your prospective customers. This means understanding your target customer and how they make decisions.
#2. Your sales pipeline begins before you even engage with a sales lead.
A study conducted by CEB revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier. This is informative for two reasons:
Content is King
The quality of information you share online and having strong customer reviews are both integral to bringing qualified leads into the pipeline. You need to make it easy for potential leads to find you and easy for them to find the information they will find valuable. You also need to have the right mixture of owned content (blogs, whitepapers, etc.), earned content (customer reviews, publicity, etc.) and paid content (advertising).
For many businesses, much of the buying process occurs online, making social selling important to sales success. Social selling is when sales people use social media to interact with sales prospects, which can include sharing content or interacting directly with and answering prospects’ questions. It’s about creating a strong personal brand and getting in front of a prospective client while they are doing their online research. For example, LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator tool helps sales professionals find and manage the right relationships. It recommends leads, provides tools to stay up-to-date on news related to leads and companies and finds mutual connections who can make a warm introduction..
#3. How you manage your sales pipeline is as important as the pipeline itself.
This is where your entrepreneurial flexibility and adaptability can come into play. As a startup, you pipeline must be constantly managed, analyzed and adjusted to increase its effectiveness (and as a result, revenue). Entrepreneurs need to consistently discuss the health of their sales pipeline, learn best practices and explore opportunities for improvement.
You might want to invest in some customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage your pipeline. It will ensure you and your sales team are able to effectively manage prospects, leads and customers. CRM tools manage data that is important for analyzing what elements of your pipeline are working and what requires adjustment. It’s also important for forecasting. For entrepreneurs who are interested in attracting investors, the ability to forecast revenue is essential. The information relating to number of prospects entering your pipeline and the sales conversion rates are vital for creating accurate forecasts. There are lots of affordable CRM options for startups, but you also want to anticipate your needs.
Building a Sales Team
For your sales pipeline to succeed, you need to have the right sales team in place. Sales velocity is a key indicator of startup success. Your sales velocity is the time it takes for a new lead to become a closed deal. To get fast sales growth you want a team that is energetic and hungry. Attracting the right sales staff means creating the right incentives to keep them motivated. Many startups opt for high commissions and lower sales margins in order to scale quickly. You may also have to do a lot of hiring and firing in order to get the right team in place.
Realize that no matter what, sales is a numbers game. You can get everything right, and still not make the sale. That’s why having the right pipeline, the right team and the right management system are all vital to the health of your bottom line.
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