The selling profession has a long-standing mantra, “fill the pipeline.” This reflects the reality of the length and nuances of the sales cycle. The length of the sales cycle is always longer than the salesperson or entrepreneur expects or wants it to be for reasons such as: delayed buying decisions, not having discussions with the actual decision-maker, an “unsold” buyer, or a myriad of other reasons.
Who hasn’t been sure that a deal was to close very soon only to find out that the deal is not going through after all? A deal is only done when the product/service has been transferred to the client, invoiced, and the payment is securely in your bank account. Hence, ensuring that a large number of qualified prospects are in your pipeline, at various stages of the sales cycle, at all times.
Whether you want to think of it as a numbers game or not…it is. Business-to-business statistics indicate that 1 in 16 qualified prospects will result in obtaining a customer. In a slowed economy, this ratio is probably wider.
Filling your pipeline with qualified prospects is essential to success.
Another nuance of the selling process is the fact that, increasingly, decision-makers are far less likely to respond to your voice mail message or grant an appointment to someone with whom they are unfamiliar. Even those who do know you may not respond to your voice mail message. Always attempt to reach the decision-maker “live” at least twice before leaving a voice mail message. When you must leave a message, be sure it is compelling enough to get a returned call.
So, what is a salesperson or entrepreneur to do? The single most important activity is constantly building your network of business contacts. While this is most often a slower process than you would like, it is the most effective. In the past it was whom you knew that worked. In today’s business world, it’s also who knows of you.
Your communication strategy needs to combine traditional marketing tactics with innovative ideas utilizing appropriate technology to create a positive identity of you, your product/service and company. This strategy must target a list of qualified prospects in your “pipeline.”
Okay, how do you fill your pipeline?
First, you dispel the notion that everyone in your pipeline must be a prospect. They may not be; however, whom they know may be valuable to you.
Second, recognize the most effective marketing is to have someone else recommend you. Your current clients are willing to help you obtain new clients once you demonstrate your competency and earn their trust, but only if you ask. Make it a point to ask your current clients, “How are we doing for you?” or “What can we do to better serve your needs?” Once you have confirmed that they are more than satisfied with your service or product, you are in a position to ask them for a referral. Build up a bank of clients that you can give as references to your prospects. As if there weren’t already enough reasons to take care of and retain your current clients. They are your best source of obtaining new clients…when they are a “raving fan ” of yours.
Third, maintain of list of 25 people who can positively influence your success. This list should contain actual prospects as well as others who can, through their contacts, open doors for you. Acknowledge that in the crowded, competitive marketplace of today, it is virtually impossible for entrepreneurs to “go it alone.” Compatible alliances are becoming a must for survival. Even the “big boys” are merging or partnering for their survival. The best alliance is when each party can maintain their unique identity and be introduced as a potential partner or subcontractor to the client. To avoid a strained or failed alliance, work out a mutually agreeable financial arrangement. Providing the partner with a fixed finder’s fee or percent of billing will avoid the “never-works-out” idea of just sharing leads.
Finally, each week set quantifiable goals to contact a certain number of current clients, dormant clients, prospects, and possible alliances. Typically, contact does not refer to mass mailings. Whatever method of contact you plan to use, be sure you have allowed for timely follow-up.
For example, if you write a one-page letter briefly describing why you think you can fill a prospect’s need and you commit to a follow-up phone call within a week, be sure you make that follow-up contact.
As they say in the real estate business the three most important factors are location, location, location. In marketing and selling it’s follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Your marketing and selling strategy is only effective when you include a dedication to follow-up.
Resolve to proactively build a vast network of business contacts. This single activity will significantly raise you to a higher level of success.
May you achieve the success you earn!