You Said It Was Important - Here Are Your Sales Systems On
Better Manage My Pipeline(s)
FROM BULLETPROOF SELLING:
Chapter 4: Pipelines Aren’t Just For Plumbers
The pipe is life. – Jeb Blount
Pipelines are called that because they track the flow of a prospect through the course of their sales cycle. While many salespeople are familiar with the model of a sales funnel that filters prospects from a wide point at the top to the narrow point at the bottom where some convert into customers, the differences between a funnel and a pipeline are critical for a Bulletproof salesperson to understand.
Funnels are designed for putting a large group of potential prospects into, with only a few becoming customers. That works well if you’re not sure if the folks you’re pursuing are qualified buyers. For those salespeople spending time qualifying prospects, funnels are an invitation for prospect attrition, wasted time, and missed sales goals. It’s not entirely the fault of the funnel, however. Sales funnels are built on the premise of hoping enough prospects convert into clients. This comes from the mistaken belief that we only need one funnel, or series of outreach steps, for all prospects, regardless of what we know about the prospect or where that prospect is in their sales cycle. In other words, using a single funnel to jam all our leads into is just yet another way of relying on hope as a sales strategy.
Most funnels leak more prospects than they convert, an unfortunate flaw of a funnel’s design. If a company could convert every prospect that simply interacted with their brand, it wouldn’t require a sales force and should be an e-commerce company.
Where a pipeline differentiates itself from a sales funnel is that pipeline stages can be constructed to handle prospects in dozens of scenarios, each specially built to convert a prospect in that stage of the buying cycle into a customer. And it can all be constructed within your CRM.
Many FOGs will justify their hatred of CRMs and all predefined outreach cadences by declaring that each deal must be handled uniquely because each customer is unique, and that logic is valid. However, I have yet to encounter an industry where prospects didn’t fit into basic categories as they advanced from ‘never having heard about the product or service’ to ‘being interested’ to ‘in active sales conversations’ to ‘client.’ Because of this, it is possible to construct deal stages within a pipeline that are unique to your customers, industry, and product or service. Instead of forcing salespeople to shoehorn leads into a single outreach funnel, using a pipeline turns sales systems from a one-dimensional process (a funnel) into a three-dimensional system (a pipeline). Each deal stage of a pipeline contains an outreach campaign that, in turn, defines specific outreach steps to conduct with each prospect in that stage of their buying cycle.
Leveraging a pipeline with campaign systems is the opposite of using hope as a sales strategy.
Many of our clients, once they learn the value a pipeline has for a sales team, choose to construct pipelines for each area of their business’ operations – marketing, production, distribution, customer service, etc. While we won’t focus on replicating sales pipelines into non-sales functions in this book, know that having an at-a-glance map of the flow of customers through touchpoints in a company’s processes can do wonders for the sanity of any sales manager or CEO.
Map Your Pipeline by Defining Your Prospect’s Journey
Harvey Mackay, another sales trainer who’s been sharing tactics and processes with generations of salespeople, has a story he likes to share about asking an old, grizzled sales veteran when it was OK to quit reaching out to an unresponsive prospect. The grizzled veteran replied, “When they die, or you die.”
At first glance, that story simply encourages salespeople to be persistent. But persistence is not enough in today’s world. Calling a prospect every week for years may not yield a sale – but might generate a restraining order. Additionally, that type of fanatical follow-up may be possible with a few prospects but quickly becomes unwieldy when scaled across dozens or hundreds of prospects. The question is, how do we systemize persistence over a period of time? And how do we scale that across hundreds or thousands of prospects?
Although physicists and plumbers will balk at the analogy I’m about to share, bear with me for a few minutes as it reveals the power a pipeline can have in systemizing the level of persistence Harvey recommends.
Imagine you’re visiting the construction site of a new house and you have a clear view of the plumbing pipes as they’re being installed. You’ll notice at least one inlet into the plumbing – the water source, either from a nearby well or the local utility. Now imagine there are no outlets in this house’s plumbing system. No drains, toilets, sinks, or any way for the water to leave once it enters. In this imaginary house, pipes are built with a futuristic material that can hold an unlimited amount of water and prevent backflow into the inlet, no matter how much water is allowed in.
When the inlet valve is opened, water rushes into the pipes and begins to circulate. Because there’s no outlet and the water can’t leave, it continues to circulate. And keeps circulating.
When you put prospects into a pipeline like the one shown here, you’ve created a closed-circuit system where prospects will be kept ‘circulating’ until date-specific reminders trigger prospects to come back in front of you and your salespeople for action.
This solves the problem many salespeople face with attrition of qualified prospects in their pipelines. With a closed pipeline in place that has set dates to bring every qualified account back into play, we don’t have to hope we remember to contact prospects.
To begin mapping your pipeline, first ask: What are the ‘buckets’ a prospect and/or client could be in at each stage of their buying cycle? I include clients in this model because predictable referral generation should be part of systemized sales campaigns. Referrals can come from prospects, but most organizations’ own clients are an overlooked source of continuous referrals.
Below is a brief explanation of what each of those verticals represent, as well as the next step in each if a vertical’s campaign fails to convert a prospect into a customer:
Not a Fit Right Now: This vertical is for prospects or former clients who have told us they’re not doing business for a set period of time. This could be indicated by a lack of response to outreach attempts or due to contractual obligations, preferred vendor relationships, lack of minimum budget, or a slew of other issues. Prospects flow here from either the Could Not Reach campaign or when we hear ‘no’ or ‘not now’ in a buyer conversation that can’t be overcome. This vertical is one of the two ‘holding tanks’ in the pipeline, meaning that an account could potentially sit here with only passive outreach attempts (monthly newsletters, etc.) until they are ready to enter an active outreach campaign system again.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: At a predetermined date in the future, re-qualify prospects in this stage and get them into the Cold Outreach campaign system or Decision Maker Identified campaign system.
Could Not Reach: This vertical is for prospects who haven’t responded to outreach attempts but are worth additional pursuit before removing them from our pipelines or putting them into a holding tank for a few months before restarting outreach. Like all outreach campaign systems, it is designed to get the prospect into active communication and drive a sales conversation. Prospects flow here from the Cold Outreach or Decision Maker Identified verticals.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If this campaign fails to generate a conversation with a decision maker and move the account into one of the more ‘valuable’ campaign systems, move the account to the Not A Fit Right Now vertical with a firm follow-up date to get it back into play.
Cold Outreach: This is the campaign we use when a prospect has never heard of us or we’ve been out of contact long enough that they likely don’t remember us. Prospects enter this campaign from warm referrals (where we don’t have direct contact to a confirmed decision maker), cold leads, or from the Not A Fit Right Now holding tank.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If this campaign system doesn’t get us the information we need to move the sale forward or at least identify the decision maker, the prospect’s account flows to the Could Not Reach campaign system.
Decision Maker Identified: This is the campaign we use when we have confirmed a decision maker (someone with fiduciary authority to make a decision about the product or service we sell). It is also designed to drive a sales conversation or get the account into Preselect if a buying decision cannot be made at that time due to budgets, purchase periods, etc.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If this campaign fails to generate a conversation with a decision maker or fails to yield us the information we need to get the account into Preselect, it flows to the Could Not Reach campaign. It bypasses the Cold Outreach campaign because the purpose of that initial campaign has already been achieved: we know who the decision maker is.
Preselect: The most valuable campaign; this is where qualified accounts who could not make a buying decision for a variety of reasons are held until they enter their buying window. This is the other ‘holding tank’ in the pipeline because significant time may pass between a conversation with a prospect and when their buying window occurs/their Preselect campaign becomes active. Because we can set dates for future tasks within a CRM, each of the accounts within this vertical can be programmed come back in front of the salesperson managing the account when the prospect is in their buying window. Due to the qualified budget of these accounts and known decision makers, its campaign system often justifies more expensive outreach efforts.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If our outreach attempts are ignored in Preselect, the account flows to Decision Maker Identified for another attempt at the sales conversation or discovering the next buying window, which would then put it back into the holding tank of Preselect with a future date for outreach.
Active Opportunity: This vertical isn’t a campaign as much as it is a series of tasks to complete when engaged in active sales conversations or when waiting for proposals to be executed: sales meeting briefs, sales conversations, and post-meeting debriefs, all systems we’ll explore later. This vertical allows us, at a glance, to see not only what accounts are closest to becoming customers but also potential deal values that we can use in predicting future sales once we know our conversion ratios.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If the account converts to a sale, it is placed in the Won Deal vertical for service delivery and referral generation. If the opportunity is lost, it is placed in the Lost Deal campaign.
Won Deal: This is where active clients in our pipeline live, so the salesperson who closed the deal can keep them top of mind throughout the year. Remember: the best referrals are from satisfied customers.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: If an account stops being a customer or cycles out after service delivery, this account would then flow to Decision Maker Identified for requalification into a sales conversation for additional services or into Preselect for purchasing our product or service in the future.
Lost Deal: This campaign is where Active Opportunities end up when a deal is lost to a competitor or no purchase decision is made. This is perhaps one of the most valuable stages in the pipeline for a Bulletproof salesperson. We advise salespeople with prospects in this vertical to discover why the deal was lost and build that feedback into Lessons Learned, a topic we’ve devoted a whole chapter to.
Next Step for Prospects from This Vertical: From this vertical, a prospect ideally moves into Preselect as we discover what could have been done differently to win the sale next time and determine the next buying timeframe.
If CRMs and pipelines are new to you, don’t concern yourself too much with the technical aspects of pipeline verticals and CRM setup. The how of their setup is something every CRM technical support team can walk you through once you’re a customer of their platform. The most important thing to take away from the concept of pipeline verticals is that unless we can see where our prospects are across buying stages, it’s impossible to know whether we have forward or backward movement in our pipeline or whether our campaigns systems are successfully moving prospects towards becoming customers.
The most valuable attribute of defining buying stages and assigning a multi-step campaign system to each of those verticals is we don’t have to think about what happens next with any prospect, regardless of where they are in their buying journey; the system handles the trigger for the next type of outreach on the cadence we define ahead of time.
Why is engineering a prospect’s sales journey this valuable – and this necessary – to create a Bulletproof selling system?
Your sales calls won’t result in an exchange of gunfire, but your sales situations will still be stressful, challenging, and can blow up before they even begin. It makes sense to free you and your sales team up from trying to manage next steps across hundreds or thousands of prospects so they can focus on what counts: being present with the next prospect they reach out to.
As you brainstorm what your pipeline and its verticals might look like in your industry, ask yourself these questions:
1. What are the ‘stages’ my prospects could be in on their way to becoming a customer?
2. For each stage, what do I need to know about or from the prospect at that point in the sales cycle to move the account forward in the future if they can’t buy today?
3. If the campaign system doesn’t work or the prospect is unresponsive, what stage of the pipeline would be the next logical fit for the prospect?
Before we begin systemizing our prospecting by constructing campaign systems for each deal stage of our pipelines, we’ll need to understand what we’ll be communicating to our prospects to drive meetings and buying decisions. That begins with systemizing our messaging, its mediums, and its cadence to ensure our salespeople are using best practices in prospecting and communicating the value of your product or service within each of your campaign systems.
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