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Chapter 18: The Sales Pipeline
“Tell me about your sales pipeline,” I said to Chuck.
“We’ll have to bring Marie in on that one,” he said. “I don’t watch the details on that.”
“That’s closer to the right answer than you might think,” I responded.
“What do you mean? I figured you’d tell me I should have all of that information ready to hand at all times.”
“Ready to hand doesn’t mean in your head,” I told him. “Especially with an automated pipeline. With those, you have all the information you need ready when you need it, but you don’t have to spend time or sales resources unless it needs direct human intervention.”
“I like the sound of that. Tell me more.”
As a successful business person, you already understand the basic definition of a sales pipeline. As a business person in the 21st century, it’s likely you don’t completely have a handle on what’s possible with a profit-engineered, digital sales pipeline with all the trimmings.
- Qualified Leads
- Consultive Sales
- Set Up Triggers for Additional Sales Opportunities
Let’s take a peek at the best practices and worst rookie mistakes of engineering your 21st-century profit pipeline.
I’m an expert because I watch people succeed day in and day out, and I pay attention to the patterns that emerge. Although each business’s pipeline will be unique, the most successful pipelines share a handful of common traits:
They focus on flow. An excellent sales pipeline has both the motivation and the means to move from one stage to the next baked into all of its content. It’s considered carefully in design, and executed well in practice.
They qualify leads. By searching for the “no,” you can get a lot done, save time, and be more efficient. Are you the decision maker? Typically, the investment for this starts around a gajillion dollars. How do you feel about those numbers? What is your procurement process? Is this a value or cost decision?
They provide accurate and timely responses to questions and inquiries. Most of the time, this is in the form of an email or other automated prompt. Sometimes it’s an alert sent to a live, human sales or customer service rep.
They track individual leads accurately and automatically. This is simple, and exactly what it sounds like. I’m consistently surprised how often it doesn’t happen.
They provide value-added content that speaks to the most common pain points for the customer profiles. These build your credibility and leverage your authority while simultaneously making the lead progressively more invested in a relationship with your brand.
They emphasize consultative sales, especially for the highest-ticket items. This helps alleviate the sense of risk to a buyer’s job or reputation by putting your team in the role of advisor and coach, as opposed to high-pressure sales.
Over time they refine their target market. By tracking the actions and characteristics of various leads, they can help you develop a system for assigning different content and pipes for different types of client. This means less wasted time, higher sales ratios, and more profit.
These factors combine to make your sales pipeline a tool for measuring and improving your sales metrics. It provides topical, timely, and accurate motion in casual leads, until those leads become ready for contact with a live member of your team.
How Not To Screw Yours Up
Some aspects of the Perfect Digital Sales Pipeline (™) are still being developed, but a lot of smart people have made a lot of money using what we’ve figured out so far. Here, then, are the top ten rookie mistakes I’ve made and seen made. Avoid them at all costs.
Incorrect setup. Many excellent systems aren’t leveraged to their full potential because nobody sets them up correctly. Bake time into your onboarding schedule to fully understand the system’s pieces, parts, and potential. Set them up for optimal use by your team.
Overautomation. It can be tempting to automate everything possible in your sales pipeline, but it might not be the best way to close the deal. The personal touch remains important (especially in high-priced B2B products).
Treating all leads equally. I’ve mentioned before, and will mention again, that qualified and unqualified leads must be triaged and handled differently from one another. Make this process part of the design of your pipeline from step one.
Failing to incorporate CRM. Customer relationship management tools are a huge boon to your sales system, but I see too many companies treating them as separate from the sales funnel. Every company (from a solopreneur keeping everything in this “wetware” to a multinational using $100,000/month software) has to manage customers, knowledge, and projects. The more the systems for that management are linked and talk with one another, the better your profit management will function.
Firing and forgetting. Automated systems need watching, analyzing, tweaking, and adjustment. Always watch your numbers and compare them to goals and industry averages. Consistently make changes to the weakest points until your sales pipeline engine is tuned up to the max.
Spending too much time managing. The numbers that modern metrics produce are attractive and infinite in their complexity. It can be easy to “rabbit hole” into things that don’t help much. Avoid diminishing returns by focusing on that 20% that brings you 80% of your returns.
Failing to differentiate customers. Know your target markets and know the difference between your types of customers. Don’t treat client profile A the same way you would client profile B. Their personalities are different. And don’t invest as much money and time on a $5,000 customer than you would on a $100,000 lead.
Not having upsell opportunities. You already know that it’s easier and more profitable to sell to existing clients than to close new leads. Apply it here by adding upsell opportunities to your pipeline, client management, and other things that focus on lifetime value for clients.
The good news here is that you already have a reasonable sense of what makes a sales pipeline work. The bad news is that a lot of the details have changed since you graduated from B-school.
The better news is, once you understand the changes, you’ll be able to apply them again and again to vastly increase your profits.
Nuanced Media is a premier Phoenix marketing agency, and our experts are always willing to answer your questions about how to improve your sales pipeline.