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Andi Gray: Filling the pipeline

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andi gray pipelineWe’re hoping for big growth in sales this year. But it has to be more than a wish and a hope. We know we should do more pipeline management. Any suggestions on how to make this year successful?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Think of buckets of activity, tipping from one stage into the next. Define your pipeline, starting with a universe of opportunities. Build a standard profile for each stage of the pipeline. And then do the numbers and track activity.

Think of buckets of activity tipping from one stage into the next.

So much of running a successful business is about getting more revenue and profits, isn’t it? It’s not too often that we have all the business we need, but when that happens, it’s wonderful! Building up flow is where a strong pipeline comes into play.

Define your pipeline, starting with a universe of opportunities.

Start with the beginning — where you and your prospects first cross paths, or even the stage just before you cross paths. Figure out where you get your leads from by asking clients how they initially found your business.

Do you seek out your prospects, or wait for them to find you? Do enough prospects find their way to your door? A huge part of pipeline planning is figuring out what and how much is needed to hit your goals.

Build a standard profile for each stage of the pipeline.

Draw a map of the paths prospects take, as they go from being unaware of your business, to evaluating an opportunity and deciding whether to hire your firm. Knowing the routes prospects follow will help you work your way back up the pipeline, deciding on quantities and actions that are most appropriate and productive.

At each stage, or decision point, the prospect can turn left or right, can decide to keep looking at doing business with your company, or not. Figure out what causes prospects to continue to engage, or to go away, at each stage. What are prospects thinking about at each decision point?

And then do the numbers and track activity.

Work backwards from one sale and quantify how many prospects are needed at each stage of the sales cycle. For example, assume it takes three proposals to get one sale, two prospects talking in-depth about their needs to get one proposal out the door, four prospect inquiries in order to be assured of an in-depth conversation with one, 10 accounts that you cold-call to get one to meet with you. Multiply your way back up the pipe. Start with one close, 1×3=3 proposals, 3×2=6 active prospects, 6×4=24 prospect inquiries, 24×10=240 suspects needed to get one sale. Multiply each stage by the desired number of sales for the year, and you’ll know how many suspects, inquiries, in-depth prospects and proposals it will take to hit annual sales goals. Track activity at each stage to see if you’re likely to hit the annual goal/stage. Focus on boosting flow into stages that are underrepresented.

Find out what motivates your best customers.

Are the right prospects finding you? Find out what motivated great customers to take action at each stage, based on what they wanted for success in their own businesses. For example, if all great customers were focused on growth, ask future prospects if they think their businesses have more potential to grow. Move on if they say “no.” Focus on prospects who answer “yes” to that question.

Ask your best customers what moved them to progress from one sales stage to the next. If great customers early in their decision process wanted a lot of information about what your company does, prepare a portfolio of information to hand to future prospects. Build a kit of questions to ask and tools to use that will increase the opportunities for great prospects to find their way successfully through your pipeline.

LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? Try “How to Define, Fill and Measure your Sales Pipeline: A comprehensive guide to pipeline management for sales professionals” by Nikolaus Kimla and Milos Krocian.

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc. in Stamford, a business consulting firm that teaches companies how to double revenue and triple profits in repetitive growth cycles. Call or email for a free consultation and diagnostics: 877-238-3535, AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com.

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