Do You Have a Sales Pipeline or a Pipedream in Your Organization?

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This is a Guest Blog Post from Sales and Sales Management guru Chris Tully.

In recent blogs I’ve been writing a lot about the evolving market because it’s especially important in these conditions to have robust processes that lend confidence and set you up for success. When designed and operated properly, your Sales Pipeline is another key tool to serve in this purpose; a proxy to identify what’s going well and what’s not going well with your business. Your organization’s ability to scale is largely dependent on your ability to reliably forecast revenue, which really boils down to the quality and volume of data within your Pipeline. Setting up, leveraging, and monitoring this resource properly enables you to see performance against key metrics and accurately show where your business is headed.

However, there are stumbling blocks that many Owners and Sales Leaders face when they look to formalize their Sales Pipeline methodology. The primary misunderstanding I see is the belief that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system on its own will provide the on-target visibility desired. This, coupled with too many bells and whistles, makes it easy to lose sight of the primary role of a CRM, to support a well-thought-out Sales Strategy in the simplest method possible. Getting caught up in the technology can lead to a misstep where companies invest in a system without completing the fundamental steps of defining the underlying strategy and associated processes first. 

When designed correctly, process discipline will be reflected in Pipeline performance, but only if the right technology is being utilized and if the salespeople are engaging with the system properly. So, take a moment and ask yourself if you’re operating a solid Pipeline that gives you confidence, or a “PipeDREAM” that frustrates you because of missed forecast projections.

Pipeline-Integrioty-Data-Points

 

Over the years, when it comes to the Sales Pipeline, the key question I commonly hear Owners ask about is, “what’s the accuracy of the data and how do we know if we can rely on it?”   The interplay between people, process, technology, and continual inspection is the secret recipe that creates Pipeline data integrity (valuable, actionable data).    Let’s take a closer look at these main components that feed Pipeline data integrity, “the 4-legged stool” that should support every business.      

1. PEOPLE – Training to foster understanding, adoption, and accountability. Even the best process, procedure and technology will fail without user adoption. The starting point is investing in well-rounded training to help the Salespeople understand how the infrastructure will help them achieve their individual goals; the technology or CRM being just one component. From there, creating advocacy within the team after having the right level of executive sponsorship from the start is the way to achieve essential adoption. This is especially important to motivate potentially stubborn Salespeople who tend to be resistant to change.   Once you are assured that your Salespeople understand how to engage with your Pipeline methodology and see value in it, then it is practical to expect compliance. This will open the door to your Pipeline becoming a powerful diagnostic tool that will allow you to pinpoint underperformance problems that need correction.     

2. PROCESS – Solidifying  repeatable and scalable process/procedure. As leaders, we need to equip our sales teams with tools to guide their success. It is not reasonable to expect Sales Pipeline data integrity until we provide a proven Sales Process and guiding data procedures. When designed properly, these approaches will fuel confidence in new Salespeople and tenured veterans alike. This will naturally occur as they experience or see their colleagues experience that investing in the model generates predictable results.   To learn more about developing a robust Sales Process, read my previous blog:“How’s Your Sales Process Confidence Measuring Up to the Results It’s Generating?”   Guiding data procedures will address data quality around things like sales activity, customer information collection, opportunities that feed into the Sales Pipeline, etc. All these moving pieces work together to provide the Salespeople and Sales Leaders a powerful view into real-time performance indicators that can be leveraged to optimize results. This level of visibility will also prevent the undesirable but common problem in CRM systems of “garbage in, garbage out.”     

3. TECHNOLOGY – It’s not about more, it’s about simplicity. Your technology should make everyone’s lives simpler and more efficient. If you’re an Owner or Sales Leader, ask yourself, “do I have a simple and easy-to-understand dashboard at my fingertips that allows me visibility to see where my business is going?” The most important thing to note is that the best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is the one that gets used, helps your Salespeople succeed, and assists your leadership team in monitoring progress.   I come across companies that are still using Excel spreadsheets and notepads, and those that have fully integrated and advanced CRMs. In all cases, the first step is to define Sales Strategy and Metric Objectives so the technology can be aligned to the business requirements. Done properly, the technology isn’t the driver, it’s merely a vehicle to deliver on the business strategy. I often recommend scaling technology back to optimize adoption, a key contributor to data integrity. To get and keep users engaged, you will want to have the lightest possible technology structure that can deliver on key metrics.     

Tech-Tips

CRM Adoption Calls for LESS Bells & Whistles
1. Choose a technology that allows your Salespeople to see their productivity improve with its use so that you can avoid resistance to adoption.    2. Align technology to your requirements to create a user-friendly experience, as well as insightful data (clarity on your key measurements/metrics).   3. Make sure that you have only the technology that you need and nothing more.     4. INSPECTION – Tweaking and tuning to optimize data integrity. The fourth leg of the stool, Inspection, is the glue that makes Pipeline performance possible through the application of experienced Sales Leadership. It’s critical that the Owner or Sales Leader holding this seat monitors strategy execution and data integrity through routine Pipeline inspections. This, followed by targeted coaching with salespeople on an individual level, will fine tune sales skills and data entry compliance.  

As more data is available in your CRM system, your organization will benefit from the ability to consider history and trends; identify what’s working and what’s not. This will allow more runway to repair performance breakdowns before Sales Goal achievement becomes hindered. When Training, Process/Procedure, and Technology are all effectively designed and implemented, problem areas become easily identified through the Sales Pipeline. Diving in to inspect problem areas within a solid sales infrastructure will enable the Sales Leader to quickly diagnose root cause problems and apply the appropriate solution. Sales Performance will not be sustainable without ongoing Sales Leadership attention that embodies the full breadth of skills and activities needed to generate high-performance results.


To assess the strength of your current Sales Leadership approach, review my prior blog:“Sales Leadership Impact on Your Business”

In closing, let’s recap – you want your Salespeople only working on prospects with the highest probability of closure. Your properly designed Sales Pipeline will serve as a diagnostic tool to identify sales performance problems if it’s built as the “4-legged stool” I outlined. Just remember, even the best process and system won’t be sustainable without ongoing, effective Sales Leadership.  

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA ANSWER 70% of CRM projects fail. *   The management of customers and potential customers is critical. However, a key component of a productive Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is having a set strategy that the technology delivers upon.   I can help you avoid this misstep that results in a large CRM deployment failure rate. Schedule a time to chat.  *Source: Linkedin.com

About the Author  I am a part of a sub-group of Sales Xceleration Advisors dedicated to pooling our knowledge and expertise to generate insights, tips, and tools to help business leaders exponentially grow their revenue. We are seasoned  Executive Sales Leaders that have guided B2B businesses ranging from start-up to Fortune 500. I welcome any special requests you may have for future writing topics.

Chris Tully

Chris is the President of Sales Growth Advisors LLC, a sales consulting firm focused on increasing revenue growth and improving profitability.   He can be reached at chris@salesgrowthadvisor.com.

Chris Tully_Sales Growth Advisors

Marketing with Impact: Four Goldmine Strategies

Marketing with Impact: Four Goldmine Strategies

This is a Guest blog post by Deborah Fell, one of the top marketing experts I know.

Of all the ways to make money, panning for gold is probably among the most difficult. But what if I were to give you all the panning equipment and a map indicating exactly where the gilded stash is buried? A little easier now, right?

Today, I’m here to deliver the precious metals – a goldmine of marketing strategies that, if followed, may not result in gilded nuggets, but instead more customers, more revenue, and a golden future.

First, let’s recognize the obvious – your B2B customer is also looking to uncover some gold. But in their search for a product or service that’s going to fill a very specific need, they won’t be spending a lot of time on the phone or pounding the pavement.

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According to a recent Forrester study, 92 percent of B2B buyers start with online research in the buying process and spend the largest single chunk of their time (27 percent according to a recent Gartner study) in this activity. As a result, these buyers are nearly 60 percent through their decision before they ever speak with a company’s sales representative. According to FocusVision, B2B buyers consume 13 pieces of content on average primarily from the vendor’s website, internet searches and social media. These buyers likely know as much or more about your company and the competition as you do!

The attached graphic illustrates just how circuitous the route is for today’s customer, from idea to purchase, and the paths they are likely to travel:

https://aliceheiman.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Gartner.png

With virtually all buyers starting their research online, you would be wise to start there, too; however, how you start, and what you do, matters. Otherwise, those valuable buyer eyeballs will shift to another firm that is more adept at creating a connection.

At the outset, I promised you a goldmine – though your results may vary, here are four keys I’ve employed successfully with my B2B clients to help them define their online marketing strategies, and to make them count:

  1. Discover your target customer and his/her buying process:

Have you spent time getting to know your customer segment – I mean, really understanding what makes them tick? What’s the core problem driving the search for solution, and how do they look for solutions and develop requirements? If your discovery only asks about their need for your product, that won’t work because the gold is much further below the surface. With a firm understanding of not only needs and challenges, but the related pain, fear and uncertainty, you can develop an effective strategic and targeted approach to support their research and buying process, and demonstrate that you are the one that “gets” them. Without this, marketing is a shot in the dark at best, and your message will be undifferentiated.

If you also have insight into your target customer’s buying process, broader context of their problem and depth of concern, you can create effective, relevant messaging in the right channels and move the needle in your direction.

Remember this parable: Homeowners are not searching for a hammer when they go to the hardware store — they are looking for something to help secure the nail that hangs the picture and takes the room from an uncomfortable place to a thing of beauty. If you’re selling hammers, it’s your job to understand the problem from the customer’s perspective, and then demonstrate to them throughout their buying journey that you have the superior solution to solve it. Same is true with B2B customers.

  1. Create and execute a clear value proposition.

It’s tempting for people to overlook or overthink this step, thinking there’s no need to re-look or getting lost in the word-smithing. At this stage, we should be focusing on the essentials of the value proposition and putting it into words – answering these questions:

  • What problems do you solve?
  • Who do you solve them for?
  • How do you uniquely solve them?
  • What are the functional and emotional benefits?
  • Why should prospects choose you over any other solution?

Easy, right? But knowing this, and articulating it, are two distinct tasks. Assuming you have the right offering at the right price and are accessible in the right channels, converting this value proposition into brand positioning and messaging will be key to differentiation in your market.

Every aspect of the business, including channel decisions (where to distribute/sell), product/service lines (what to sell) and pricing (what do distributors or consumers pay) are part of the equation. For example, where a company distributes says a lot about the brand. If you distribute in discount channels, you may get some traction fast to start up or to make up for a tough quarter; however, you will become the discount brand. So, communicating what kind of company you are on each of these dimensions is an essential ingredient.

Again, be thorough in your message development and thoughtful in how and where you place it. Often, marketing agencies or consultants will facilitate a workshop to conduct a word exercise and call it a value proposition. That’s not enough. Your value is what your customers perceive it to be, so think through your offering, and what messaging needs to be where.

“Your value is what your customers perceive it to be”

  1. Create a go-to-market plan.

This is where you will create the roadmap to nurture the right type of customer for your revenue-sourcing aspirations. To do this right, and I will insist again, ad hoc marketing has simply got to go. Random tactics will not convey the right message. Messaging in the wrong channel will miss the mark. And the right channel with the wrong message means you are wasting time and money and demonstrating to prospects that you are not the right choice.

This is where digital will take an outsized role: It is critical to have not just an online presence, but an effective online presence. Check this out: As of 2020, there were 1.3 billion websites in the world (with 200 million active websites in the U.S. alone) and 6 billion indexed web pages. That’s information overload, and it comes when B2B buyers’ time is more scarce and more precious. Effective implementation will ensure you’re not wasting it.

“Information is a commodity; time is the scarcity”

  1. Measure and track.

Opinion-based marketing results are out, and disciplined approaches to data and analysis are in. To that end, it’s critical to set specific goals and ROI targets. The days of asking your family and friends what they think of your website are long over! The best solution is to have insights based on real data, and goals that this data can support. Setting targets in this manner creates energy that will motivate the team to focus on accomplishments and success. Ideally, you and your team will have a daily sense of how marketing is tracking, and the insights needed to make timely adjustments to the plan. It’s important to stop what’s not working, keep doing what works or shows promise, and start new initiatives that will amplify the desired impact.

The good news is that this type of analysis need not be expensive. With a minimal investment, any company can measure and optimize its online results daily. Even if you outsource this to an agency, you still need to designate an internal resource to monitor, share, and understand the data. Marketing should report progress in your weekly or bi-weekly leadership team meetings, and the team should be collaborating with sales along the way. Showing a lot of leads but no progress in closing sales is not success. Marketing needs to stay close to the sales team (and vice versa) and elicit insight from them about the quality of leads and the state of the marketplace.

Clearly, there’s gold in “them there” hills. You just need to know your target customer segment and what moves them; how your product and service solves their pain better than anyone else; communicate this market superiority; and track and measure the results.

You have the plan and the map – go get the gold!

Or better yet, watch the webinar recording here: “THE Playbook for Explosive Growth: 4 Goldmine Strategies to Increase Marketing Leverage & Capitalize on Market Recovery”

Deborah Fell

Deborah Fell

Deborah Fell is Area Manager Partner & CMO for Chief Outsiders. She is an expert at helping mid-market to large enterprise companies identify and capitalize on marketing strategies to increase revenue and profitability. Chief Outsiders provides fractional CMOs without the expense of a full-time resource to CEOs who want to accelerate revenue and profits through improved marketing strategies, implementation and leverage.

How’s Your Sales Process Confidence Measuring Up to the Results It’s Generating?

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This is a Guest blog post from Sales and Sales Management expert Chris Tully.

We’re just about halfway through the year and are coming out of an eventful prior 18 months. Finally, we’re seeing enough consistency in the market to take swift and effective action to move forward with a good amount of confidence… something many of us have been lacking for a while. When thinking about how to finish strong in 2021 and the best way to prepare for break-out growth in 2022, ask yourself: “what do I have to do to make sure that where I’m going now brings short-term results and positions us to make a huge difference long-term?”    In my role, I find that sifting through all the parts and pieces of the Sales Organization can be overwhelming for Owners and Sales Leaders, leaving some not knowing how to make heads or tails out of it all. While several areas of your Sales Function may need to be retooled or realigned to match the evolving economy, I’ve found that it’s crucial to begin evaluating the potential for adjustment at the heart: The Sales Process, or as I like to say, “the nucleus that feeds the whole.”

Given the considerable changes these past many months, whatever current Sales Process you had established previously is likely not reflective of new demand. This is due to drastic shifts in the evolving economy, such as how buyers buy and assemble themselves, communication method adjustments, changes in customers’ organization structures, impact to market trends, etc. Beyond these external changes, quite possibly your business has also gone through internal strategic changes relating to your target buyer and customer base. Have you taken time to think about the impact of all these shifts?   

Time and time again, I’ve witnessed it necessary to have a successful or proven process to drive sales success, similarly to process-driven models in other departments. I like to say that hypothetically, this means if you drop a new member into your Sales Team and have them follow the roadmap you laid out, they are able to deliver the same consistent results as other team members. You can dial in this type of repeatable measure of success when you take the time to “look under the covers,” so to say, by evaluating and fine tuning your Sales Process.

However, before you take action on retooling your Sales Process, first let’s work through a couple of self-administered strength tests to determine if you’re working upon a solid foundation. I’ve noted two vital components to consider when determining the effectiveness or completeness of your current Sales Process.

STRENGTH TEST 1 Does your current Sales Process account for the best practice elements outlined in my building block model, and have your salespeople been properly trained on how to navigate the roadmap you’ve given them?

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Maybe you think that your process is successful and doesn’t need to be rebuilt. That’s great! But, I encourage you to verify this assumption given that the majority of 2,000+ Owners and Sales Leaders revealed that their Sales Process didn’t include the clarity necessary to drive desired results.   

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA   What percentage of small to mid-sized businesses don’t know what needs to occur at each stage of the sales cycle?   a. 54%   b. 61%   c. 73%   d. 86%   Find out the answer at the end of my blog.

I welcome you to leverage me as a sounding board to learn if there is merit in you investing resources to test the strength of your critically important Sales Process.

STRENGTH TEST 2 Do you see strong evidence that your Sales Process is producing desired results? A comprehensive response may take some investigation on your part. Below, I recommend specific research areas to conduct your due diligence in answering the previous question:

  • Is the Sales Process documented with clarity?
  • Is the Owner or Sales Leader engaged with the salespeople often enough to observe the Sales Process in real-world selling situations?
  • Is the Sales Pipeline showing good movement?
  • Are the salespeople performing consistently?
  • Does the Sales Team regularly achieve forecast accuracy?
  • Are closed deals meeting profitability targets?

I’ll discuss tuning your pipeline and leveraging technology to provide better conversion rate visibility in a future blog.   It’s essential to understand that by comparing your Sales Process confidence to the results it’s generating and taking subsequent action now, you’ll be positioning yourself to finish strong in 2021. Even more impactful, you’ll also be setting yourself up for a record-breaking 2022 and beyond!

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA ANSWER 86% of small to mid-sized business owners reported that they don’t know exactly what needs to occur during sale cycle stages. * So, how confident are you that your Sales Process is actually delivering the desired results? I can help. Schedule a time to chat.   *Data compiled from 2,355 Owners and Sales Leaders that took Sales Xceleration Sales Agility Assessment® through December 2021.

About the Author  I am a part of a sub-group of Sales Xceleration Advisors dedicated to pooling our knowledge and expertise to generate insights, tips, and tools to help business leaders exponentially grow their revenue. We are seasoned  Executive Sales Leaders that have guided B2B businesses ranging from start-up to Fortune 500. I welcome any special requests you may have for future writing topics.

Chris Tully

Chris is the President of Sales Growth Advisors LLC, a sales consulting firm focused on increasing revenue growth and improving profitability.   He can be reached at chris@salesgrowthadvisor.com.

Chris Tully_Sales Growth Advisors