I love the sales pipeline. It might sound weird to express affection toward a concept I can’t even touch physically, but I really do love it. And so should you, even if you’re not in sales. No matter whether you are a salesman, small business owner or charity fundraising expert, working with a deal pipeline makes your life so much easier. It brings out the best in people, and perhaps even more importantly, it makes things so much simpler to measure, manage and improve upon.
I’ve written about the basics of sales pipeline management here before. In a nutshell, here’s the best summary of working with your sales pipeline that I’ve heard:
- The more deals you’re able to drive through your pipeline,
- the bigger they are,
- the better the percentage of them you are able to close, and
- the less time it takes to get a customer,
… the bigger your revenue is, and your profit.
And it gets much more interesting when you ask yourself: How can I improve these sales pipeline metrics? I know at least 13 ways for that, and I’ll share these “secrets” in this two-part blog post.
Add more deals into your pipeline
When the sales pipeline is full of hot leads, there are a couple of big proposals to write and meetings to attend, people tend to stop prospecting. I used to prospect in “waves” – I did it when pipeline was completely empty, and stopped when it was full. Which is a bad habit because results are so much better if you do it constantly.
So, how does one go from filling the pipeline when needed to constantly topping it up?
1. Create a list of new opportunities, every week. I remember that once our team set a goal to discover 10 new business opportunities per two-person team for every Monday morning meeting, we started to close more deals within two months (this depends on a length of a sales cycle, of course).
2. Maintain this new standard for prospecting. Every new habit is painful to maintain until it becomes automatic. I’ve noticed that as soon as I “lifted the foot off the gas pedal,” weeks would begin without this list, and the pipeline started to drain (which you don’t notice immediately). Once you’ve set a specific goal (10 prospecting ideas a week, or one a day), make it clear that it’s a new standard, and lead the way.
3. Use multiple ways to create these lists. Besides the obvious cold-calling to purchased lists or following up on inbound leads, here are some other ways that have worked for me:
- Ask referrals from your existing customers, and people who did not want to buy from you.
- Contact people who you have unsuccessfully tried to sell to before and/or people that you haven’t talked to in six months – because circumstances change.
- Keep track of job changes of your existing contacts, this could be a good basis to start a short conversation.
- Be systematic about randomness – as you browse through news, drive to work, or to meetings, take notice of company signs, and give them a call.
Add larger deals into your pipeline
In my consulting career I often felt there was no way to increase an average sale, because our prices were already the highest in the market, and I already had a hard time selling it.
This was my weaker self trying to take over. The stronger self always knew that if I focused on the value of our service instead of its price, then it was possible to sell it both for a higher price as well as sell more of it to the same customer.
4. Focus on companies with bigger needs (and bigger budgets). I’m sure you’ve noticed the same – the bigger the potential of a particular customer, the less they want to talk to you. They have more people knocking on their door. However, if you want to close bigger deals, you need to approach bigger prospects.
5. Find out why, when and how bigger companies buy, and execute your own proactive plan. Each client and client type is different and it’s nearly impossible to guess how they work. So I used to invite key employees to lunch regularly to get to know how their business works and chatting in general. I found out that it was extremely useful to find out who can say “yes” to bigger purchases in their company, and who can only say “no.”
6. Envision closing bigger deals. Usually people close deals that they perceive to be “normal” or “average.” But I’ve experienced that if a much larger deal starts to feel “normal” to me, it will be “normal” for other people I meet, too. So start from selling yourself the idea that you sell larger deals. You can also come up with logical add-ons and bundle multiple products or services into bigger offering. McDonald’s makes millions by asking “Would you like fries with that?” What can you ask in your business?
I hope these tips help getting more out of your deal pipeline. If there’s anything I missed, please let me know in comments. Also, check out Part 2 of Sales Pipeline Tips.
Photo courtesy: Ulrik
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