How Small Businesses Can Build a Robust Sales Pipeline
If you’re a small business, generating a sales pipeline is perhaps the hardest thing you have to do. You know how to do what you do best which is to deliver your products and services. Perhaps you’re also adept at ‘running’ your business operationally with skills gained over the years from your experience in corporate life. However, not everyone is a sales person and the ability to sell comes hard to some.
Selling is not a Dirty Word
In many ways, selling is perceived as an art form and as a professional career in the USA. It isn’t so much the case in the UK. Perhaps, it has connotations of slimy old-style car sales people. The legacy of timeshare and double-glazing sellers won’t go away. And, ambulance-chasing cold calls have once again come to the fore with PPI, accident claims and the like.
So, if you’ve spent your career in a discipline outside of sales, it’s possible that the mere thought of having to go out there and sell makes a shiver run down your spine.
Yet, we all sell every day. We live in a world of people and every interaction is a sales exercise. Mostly, we want people to like us. Therefore, every contact is an opportunity to communicate with others effectively. Whether it’s in a store, on the phone or face to face with a potential client, it’s a people thing. In many respects, it’s a game we play every day.
Buyers are People Too
When I left corporate life 20 years ago, I very much viewed myself as a marketing guy. I did my degree in International Marketing and had spent a lot of my career in a variety of marketing roles. Yet, when I look back, I did run sales teams and even sold direct on the phone and face to face to international buyers.
However, there was one big difference. I had never sold for my own business. In the corporate world, to some extent you’re shielded. That doesn’t mean you’re protected from losing your job if you fail. Quite the contrary. But, you have back up. It’s rarely personal. When you set up and run your own business, you are exposed. It’s absolutely about you and how you come across.
The thing to remember though is that buyers are people. They have their good days and bad. They have their priorities. They have challenges and opportunities. And, on the whole, they want an easy life and to get things right. They are human.
Tap into The Human Element
It was very much when I stopped taking things so personally and realised that, to a large extent, it isn’t personal that I began to increase my success rate. Other things also occurred to me, and helped me, over time including:
- Recognising that It’s partly a numbers game
- If you show interest in the customer, they will show more interest in what you’re selling
- If you focus the conversation more on them, and less on you and your products, the buyer will engage more
- If you focus on solving their challenges, they will pay more attention
- Some will never engage or buy regardless of what I do or how good a service we provide
- Trying to force someone over the line rarely works. You sound desperate and it has an impact on your ability to negotiate effectively
- People buy people and solutions especially when it comes to higher values of sale. If that’s the case, stop over-focus on products and services and increase focus on people
- Benefits sell. Features don’t. So stop ‘telling’ customers what you offer and start working out what’s in it for them
- Be a good actor. Even when things are tough, sound positive. Whilst they may empathise with how you’re feeling, negativity rarely helps your ability to sell.
- Some will. Some won’t. So what. Move on. Ultimately, you can’t win them all.
There are plenty of other things I’ve learned from running my own business. However, in reality, it’s the first bullet point above which I have learned is perhaps the most important.
When I run training courses, I always say two things:
- You can’t hit a target you can’t see, a reference to profiling, targeting and good data and
- If you don’t have enough prospects, you can’t convert enough business
I went on a sales course when I first set up my business. I’ve been on a few over the years. We were asked to present our greatest challenge. My issue was simple. I was struggling to convert prospects to customers. The trainer asked me a couple of questions then, very quickly, informed me that he knew what my problem was. He explained that my problem wasn’t so much about conversion but the volume of prospects from which conversion would come.
Sales Pipeline – The Lightbulb Moment
That piece of advice completely changed my mindset and my business. It was less about the one, two or three prospects that I was agonising about and more about finding new ones that meant I was less reliant on the few.
Easier said than done you might say. However, it shifted my focus to trying to identify all the ways to fill the funnel. Of course, we had some advantage in that our business is telemarketing. So, we did run some campaigns. Equally, I made sure to attend as many relevant networking events as I could. Equally, I started to invest time to create interesting content in terms of blogs and videos. And, I built my network on LinkedIn.
Naturally, the best way to generate fresh enquiries is through testimonials and referrals. So, we started asking for recommendations and encouraged clients to provide testimonials for us that we could use on our website. Latterly, we’ve started using Google Reviews as this helps our SEO.
This is far from an exhaustive way to fill your sales funnel. but, you must find a way to generate relevant leads on a regular basis. Whether you can identify a good email list and broadcast a sequence of enticing emails or PPC can work in your sector, or whether a well-placed blog or white paper is the answer, you need to evaluate what will work for you.
What works for us?
Our business is not your business so what worked for us may not work for you. Equally, we’ve had some failures along the way. However, over 20 years in business, we have found the following to be the things that worked for us.
- Always focusing on the needs of our customers so that, even when sometimes things haven’t worked out, they feel positive about us and recommend us or try us again in the future.
- Persistence on the phone through telemarketing to the right people, staying in touch with periodic calls and emails and always calling back at the time and date I say.
- Producing regular and relevant content for our website and LinkedIn
- Working hard on the above for our website as enquiries now come to us due to the 400+ pieces of content we’ve producers over the past 10 years or so
- Building our network on LinkedIn and posting regularly
- Keeping in touch over long periods of time with relevant contacts – you never know when they will have a need or know someone that does
- Being flexible – customers value and remember flexibility and it helps for their future project needs
- Asking for referrals and testimonials and posting those on our website
There are lots of other routes to market for your company. Test and measure is the best approach but doing nothing simply is not an option when you need to build your sales pipeline.