Sales pipelines are a scary thing for many people, especially if you are not a trained sales person. The sales industry is a funny one; many people see it as a deceptive almost dishonest industry, however, nothing can be further from the truth.
Sales is the art of getting to know someone, empathizing with their them, understanding their problems, and providing the individual with a solution that solves their problem.
Gone are the days of the dodgy ‘snake oil’ salesman in a bad suit covered in brill cream, sales is what you need to get your startup kicking goals and achieving a ROI.
Sales is the pointy end of the boat, it is what brings in revenue when almost every other function of your business large or small is to spend money, sales is the only function – including marketing – that is purely there to drive sales revenue and volume.
What's A Sales Pipeline And How Do I Use It To Grow My Startup?
A sales pipeline is as the name suggests, is a pipeline or funnel from which your business can pull sales from. For example, a company may have cold (basically people in a database or phonebook), warm (an inbound call with an inquiry about your product/service) and hot leads (past clients who you know you can call on when you need a sale) in the pipeline, from which the business will turn to in order to drive revenue, meet sales targets and growth the business.
There are several key elements in building a sales pipeline that should be remembered, these will enable you at whatever stage your business is at to build your pipeline and get your business into growth.
Sow the seeds now, harvest the crop later
One of the key things to remember with a pipeline is that most sales don’t happen immediately. Your sales pipeline building should be an ongoing, fluid activity. If you are a business without a sales team, then you should ensure you invest time every week to review, manage and build the sales pipeline.
Your sales pipeline will have customers at different stages of the pipeline process. Some will have proposals pending, some will be Internet inquiries that need an initial meeting, and some will be long term outstanding proposals that are on the back burner.
The key thing to remember with any sales pipeline is that although you may have dollars in the pipeline until they are signed and have paid their deposit, they are not in the bank!
Create systems to support your pipeline and sales
One of the biggest failures of an organization is that although you might have a solid lead – without follow-up and a sales plan leads can slip through the cracks. Like accountants need their systems, salespeople are no different. CRM or customer relationship management is one of the most fundamental business tools for sales teams with online platforms available starting from only $10 per month.
A good CRM system should be able to take a lead or contact detail, convert it into an opportunity, allocate a task or project to be followed up by a salesperson in your company, with notes all kept with every transition, followed by closure and converting into sale – then transferal to the accounting software for invoice generation. All in one go!
Understandably that is a fair mouthful, but systems such as Insightly, SalesForce and Microsoft CRM (higher end) are geared to make your sales process seamless.
Define your sales process & who is responsible for what tasks
Speaking of a seamless sales process, as a business you should understand what your sales process is, to ensure whoever is responsible for specific tasks that nothing is lost. For example, you maybe in marketing, but you need to pass on the leads and generate a task for the sales person on the road through your CRM for them to follow up.
Accountability is key, if you are not hitting your pipeline forecasts, it's not necessarily because you can't sell – it's because you don’t understand the importance of the process or you don’t understand where your customers are in your sales process.
Although a sales process is for another day, to put it simply when any lead is generated inbound or outbound, you team must put it into the CRM system, allocate it to the person responsible for sales with a note or task to follow it up in the next meeting to see where they are at – the key is it is a team effort – even if you are a team of one.
Understand what the numbers mean
While it's ok to look at a bank balance and understand you have money there or you don’t, there is a lot more in the sales pipeline you need to understand when creating them. How much potential does each sale have? How much GP or gross profit from each sale can I expect? How long do I expect it will take to convert this sale?
These are all vital questions, but most importantly, as a manager of a pipeline, you need to clearly be able to articulate what is the overall value of your pipeline and when each part will mature to be a sale.
Follow up on your pipeline
Many times sales fall through not because people don’t have a need for it or want the product, it's because people forget to follow up and nurture their leads.
While there is a fine line between pestering someone to gently reminding potential leads, more often than not if your sales call had been positive and productive, there is little doubt that the lead won't mind taking your call to give you the time to go over the proposal to see where they are at.
Don’t be pushy or assume that potential leads are putting you off, take your time, gauge what stage they are at in your pipeline and then work to either close or re-engage at a later date.
Emails are a good way to manage leads, especially if you have spoken directly with your lead before, as they will come back to you in their time, however phone calls are always the more personal and you can often convert them much more quickly.
After sales service management
One of the most fundamental things that most companies forget is, how easy it is to keep existing clients coming back than going out and finding new ones. Not to mention that it costs around 80% more to get new customers than keeping existing ones as well.
By simply adding a task into your CRM to call back in 1, 3, 6 or even 12 months to touch base, you will start to see how your leads business progress and mature. Car companies such as BMW make a large part of their money not on the sales of their cars, but the after sales of all the extras, services and selling their customers a brand new one in a few years time.
Sales is not a dirty word; it is a function that is as important, if not more so than most other functions in your business. So give it the time it deserves.
Invest in a CRM and train everyone. Individuals that are involved in any way in the sales process from answering the phone, client facing roles, to sending out the invoices must understand how they affect your pipeline and ultimately the success of your business.
You must have a sales process, including who is responsible for each part, before, during and after sales service. Remember, wouldn’t you rather bank that advertising spend by getting a returning loyal customer who refers you to others than spending it on advertising that may or may not bring pipeline fill?
Your pipeline is an asset - although not on an accountant’s ledger - however, if you have a consistently updated and ‘refilling’ pipeline, you will find that business will be good, for longer. Understand your pipeline, understand the numbers and be conservative and your sales pipeline will under promise and over deliver.
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