I’m often surprised when I talk to companies that define their sales activities in terms of ‘prospect’ and ‘client/customer’ with nothing in between. Adding a little structure and definition at each stage can help the sales team to support the buyer and close deals faster.
Here are my 5 tips for improving and managing a steady flow of new business opportunities:
#1. Understand how your prospects buy from you
Rarely does a prospect turn up with a purchase order number asking to complete a sale. If only it was that easy! When I think about any business, I look at the stages that a buyer goes through before they sign on the dotted line. Mapping these buying stages to your selling stages helps you understand their level of interest in your company and/or products AND how you can move the conversation forward successfully at each stage.
#2. Don’t get carried away with the number of stages
Beware of making the buyer journey more complicated than it really is. Creating too many stages will overcomplicate the sales pipeline, making it difficult for you to manage and for your sales team to adopt. Keep it simple and the whole team will benefit from additional clarity and focus, and at the same time you’ll start to see more accuracy in the flow of opportunities through the pipeline.
#3. Keep ‘process’ on your side
Do you shy away from ‘process’ and what it might mean on a personal level? Restrictions, endless form filling, rigid rules to follow? However, in order to achieve results a little bit of process makes things easier and more certain. If you’ve defined your buying stages already, what activities or action can you use to show how and when a prospect moves from stage to stage? What information does your sales team need to gather? What commitments must the buyer make? If you identify these points, and a timeframe for each, they become part of your process. You now have a checklist for monitoring progress in the pipeline, and visibility of how well your pipeline is flowing.
#4. Monitor the flow
Your sales pipeline should deliver a steady stream of prospects into the customer tank, but sometimes things get blocked. There’s no plumber to call, so I would advise looking at the stages and asking some tough questions. I worked with a customer recently whose sales pipeline had dried to a trickle. Instead of a steady flow of leads, there was a build up in one of their sales stages, so leads weren’t turning into to opportunities without an obvious reason why. It turned out the way needs were qualified was incomplete. We did some training with the sales team and ended up adding a new buying stage to help move things along.
#5. Be open to change
Just when you have successfully gotten your pipeline flowing steadily, get ready – it might all change. Buyers may want to take more control of the buying process. The stages may change. Client needs may shift. You’ll need to be flexible and use your sales stages and pipeline management to help you adapt and change.
I’ve spent a lot of time with companies who have had great success with a small number of clients, but who can’t leverage that success to grow further. It all comes down to managing your pipeline, keeping the flow moving, and putting a process in place that gets you repeated success. It doesn‘t have to be complicated, especially when there are some fantastic small business CRM tools that can help you with your sales pipeline management.
Images: ”sales process diagram, converting leads to prospects and then to customer, 3D illustration/ Shutterstock.com“
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