It’s a ‘catch 22’ for many growing businesses - you need more people to be able to land more sales and grow your business. But in order to hire more people, you need more sales!
What often ends up happening is that the hiring is put off until a major project is won. It’s then a mad dash with all hands on deck to get the resources in place to make it work and keep the client happy.
When dealing with all this and being a small team, it can be easy to drop the ball and neglect your sales funnel. Which means you may wake up one day and find that the project is running smoothly, but your wider stream of leads has dried up.
Things can easily go pear-shaped whenever focus is lost from maintaining a sales pipeline. It needs to continually be filled with good leads, which are then moved along and eventually turned into paying customers.
Whatever the reason, for the shift in focus (and there could be many), it’s important to find a solution to the problem. As without sales, there will be no business. It’s as simple as that.
The first step you need to take is to analyze your current activity and processes, to look for any areas that are ripe for improvement.
Time is your biggest obstacle when you’re a small team. So, consider all the elements that are contributing to your pipeline, both directly and indirectly, and find ways to optimize and automate as much as you can.
Here are some pointers to help you:
A sales pipeline MOT
Start by checking the various stages of your pipeline:
- Are you focusing on the right deals?
- Do you get the right type of leads coming through?
- Is your system up to date and regularly maintained?
- How much movement is there in your pipeline (i.e. how well do leads move from one stage of the buyer journey to the next)?
- Do you have enough leads per stage - are there any gaps?
These points will give you a quick indication of how healthy your pipeline really is. If it needs work, then don’t worry. Now we’re going to take a closer look at what might be the reason it’s stalling and importantly, what you can do about it.
Streamline your sales funnel
When it comes to a small team, you probably won’t have much budget to experiment with. But you need to ensure you have a sales funnel that works and produces the right kind of leads, at the level you require.
How you set up your funnel will impact greatly on the size of your pipeline. Just remember, it’s not about generating the largest amount of leads possible. You need to get the highest number of the right kind of leads coming through. These leads are the ones that will be best fit for your company and the most likely to go on and become customers.
There’s no point spending your time generating leads that will never convert.
In ‘How to build a strong online sales funnel for B2B organizations’ we looked at how to set up an efficient sales funnel. The key is starting small and continually building it up and improving over time.
Have a strong lead qualification process
The importance of qualifying leads is sometimes underestimated. Thankfully, when it comes to digital marketing and sales processes, it has become far easier to do.
There are now lots of tools and mechanisms that can help you automatically qualify leads.
For example, you could set up a three-part eBook series.
- Aim the first eBook at a wide net of potential prospects. Anyone who downloads it will at least have some interest in the subject at hand.
- After someone has downloaded it, send them emails that contain links and call to actions, alerting them to the other eBooks.
- Make the other eBooks go far deeper into the subject matter, so anyone who wants to read them will be exhibiting that they have a greater need. That way, if they do download them then it could indicate that a prospect is getting closer to being a sales ready lead
Answer questions through your content
If you find yourself explaining things repeatedly, when you speak to leads for the first time, then that’s flagging up an excellent opportunity for you to automate.
Don’t waste sales reps’ time having them answer questions that should already be answered through your content and website. Think of ways that you could pass on that information more easily.
Consider digitizing it and sending on to potential leads in an email before calling them. If they aren’t willing to look at the information you provide beforehand (and you’ll be able to see if they clicked on the link or not) then you will know it’s unlikely much will come out of the call. Just be aware, if they don’t read it that could also mean the way you’re providing the information is wrong for them and you need to rejig the format or presentation.
A human step
Yet another way to speed up the qualification of leads is to put a human step into the process. It’s sadly not always as easy as watching who downloads what, as taking that as a signal of whether they would be a good fit or not. In these cases, adding a human component can help.
For example, imagine you’re a web development company that only wants to work with a certain type of client. It will be hard to check that a lead meets all the requirements if you’re just using a form on your website.
What you could do instead, is offer them a free website audit with one of your experts.
It needs to be a genuine offer that has real value and you need to give them good advice in this session. Showing off your knowledge and how well you deliver it, therefore what it may be like to work with you, is key to the success of this strategy.
During the session, your expert needs to be fully trained and prepared to ask very targeted questions. These questions need to be a natural part of the conversation.
It is through this discussion that you will find out if they really are a good lead and worth pursuing further. You can then judge what needs to happen next – whether they should be placed back into the marketing queue, or handed over to sales.
In all these cases, use tools and automation to support your efforts. If the number of leads coming in warrants it (say you are typically achieving more than 100 per sales person per month), then think about using lead scoring through a marketing automation tool to narrow down potential leads.
Spot what you are not doing
When did you last refer back to your marketing plan? Check it and see if there’s anything you aren’t doing - or aren’t doing very well - that could help you fill up your pipeline.
Consider trying something new, such as referral marketing, social selling, event marketing, etc. All of these tactics can often be overlooked when teams feel pressured for time, but they can work well. Give them a try.
Improve your time management
A pipeline that doesn’t produce enough leads at each of the various stages, could simply be the victim of poor time management. This is particularly true for smaller teams who can easily get side tracked, with all the other elements involved in running and building a business.
Avoid email overload
Are you getting so many reminders and notifications that you end up just shutting them out and deleting them? That can be a clear sign of email overload. Go back to the drawing board and check your workflow. Do you really need all these notifications coming through?
Reduce them to the absolute minimum but then make sure you act on each one. Instead of having an email notification every time an email comes in, switch them off completely and instead set time aside in your calendar to go through your emails and process them in a batch.
You may, for example, choose to do this once in the morning and once again in the afternoon. Replace all those email notifications with just one entry in your calendar that will remind you to sit down and shut everything else out while you’re working through them.
When processing your emails, keep the ‘two minute rule’ in mind. Only action what you can do right away, if it will take less than two minutes of your time. If it will take longer, then move it across and into a project/time management process, for you to deal with later. That way you can effectively prioritize and focus, rather than lurching from one thing to the next, which will ultimately save you time.
Check out ‘Reaching inbox zero – an impossible dream, or can it be done?’ for more advice.
Improve your sales velocity
Sales velocity is a simple enough idea and it can make a big difference to your bottom line. It is basically focusing on how you can make more, or higher sales, in a shorter span of time. The more efficient your sales process is, the better your sales velocity will be.
Look at the various conversion points along your sales cycle and see how you might optimize them. See where you could do things better, or where there may be opportunities you have missed to streamline.
We cover this issue in more detail in our blog: ‘How to increase your sales velocity’
If you are looking for a quick and easy way to find our what your sales velocity is, grab our Sales Velocity Calculator.
The success of your sales pipeline will depend on the people working on it. The human capital - in other words, your sales team.
A few points to consider here, which can all impact on your potential success:
- Is your product training up to date?
- Is soft skill training regularly done?
- Do you fully practice objection handling?
- Is your incentive structure working?
- Are the tools you provide and rely on for reporting being properly used?
- Is your meeting structure optimized for creating a motivated sales force?
- Is your reporting adequate to know who is outputting what?
Analysis and interpretation
Sometimes an unhealthy pipeline can be a sign that you are focusing in the wrong places. Or it could be you are looking at the numbers in the wrong way.
Think about your KPIs. What do they really tell you and are you measuring and interpreting them correctly?
Maintaining a healthy sales pipeline takes work and commitment. It can also be a tricky business. But never forget it is the engine that is driving your business, so it warrants your full attention and care.
It’s important to keep it working smoothly, so make sure it’s set up properly, oiled regularly and always be looking for ways to improvement it.
Bonus tip for Lead Forensics users - if you’re in a tight spot with your sales pipeline and need to find hot leads quickly:
1. Set up a campaign with a high quality piece of content (some kind of eBook or white paper usually works well)
2. Advertise it on social media with a UTM tracking link
3. Set up an alert in your Lead Forensics portal letting you know every time someone with that link visits your website
4. Pick up the phone and have a casual chat with them (a qualifying call). Simply aim to find out if they are interested to talk to you further
5. Continue to build the relationship and trust
6. Watch your pipeline fill up again!
Sounds good? Then what are you waiting for? Sign up for a trial now and try Lead Forensics for free!