I have a passionate belief: the sales pipeline should be one of the few fundamental business tools – an essential instrument on the dashboard of any business owner, executive, sales leader and indeed sales professional. It should provide true insight into where the business is, and where it is going. It should provide clear direction about market dynamics and exactly what is, and isn’t working. It should also provide clarity for short- and long-term investments. Sadly, and all too often, I find that an organization’s sales pipeline falls short of this measure. This need not be the case. I believe that organizations that try to function without a robust and accurate sales pipeline are running far too much on hope, and are spending a totally unnecessary amount of time and energy trying to backfill in other ways. So, here is an article about how to think, perhaps differently, about the sales pipeline in a manner that will deliver the business results that you need in today’s world.
There can be little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated lock down has had a dramatic impact on the buyer-seller relationship. With the inability to make face-to-face sales calls, and customers preoccupied with their own disrupted lives, sale teams have certainly had their work cut out for them. It’s safe to say that the success formula for this new world goes well beyond learning the tips and tricks of how to use Zoom. Although we are seeing an unprecedent demand for training on these collaboration platforms, this only prepares sales teams to meet a small fraction of the challenges they now face.
Like any sales hurdle, Market-Partners Inc. for 25 years has started with the Outside-In approach. That is to start with exploring how customers are buying differently. Using our primary research approaches we have been out talking, or rather listening, to buyers and decision makers across numerous industries about how their buying processes has changed. Our findings reveal that customers, just like us, are juggling many balls as they adjust to working from home, collaborating in different ways, and participating in an endless stream of video calls. So while they are becoming more comfortable with virtual meetings, we also heard, with regularity, five critical things they now want from their sales teams.
1. Do not waste my time.
First and foremost, we heard that the days of hour-long meetings with social chit chat are over. Maybe customers enjoyed taking the time to chat over coffee or lunch but now they want much shorter and more focused calls and messages. One buyer shared that, “even an e-mail is a request for my time,” lamenting the need to wade through information irrelevant to his situation. Customers much prefer concise requests and interactions that bring clear value to the table.
2. Be knowledgeable.
While this would have been good advice pre-pandemic, the expectation that salespeople be knowledgeable about their customers’ business and situation has only risen in importance. Buyers told us that they’re doing their homework and turn to their keyboard more often when looking for information about an offering. They are hoping you do the same.
3. Responsive follow up.
Customers also informed us that they are busier than ever, usually spending their days jumping from virtual meeting to virtual meeting. Without the presence of a face-to-face, they shared that they are more likely to simply move on to the next topic and sometimes fail to remember salient points and actions from a meeting. The salespeople they most respected were those who followed up with summaries and responded to question within hours, not days.
4. Have patience.
Ironically, but understandably, customers stressed that salespeople be patient. Whereas they want fast follow up, they do not respect being badgered. As stated previously, customers are finding an increased number of responsibilities working from home, and not every rep gives them the breathing room they need.
5. Make it easy for me.
Last but not least, customers are looking or salespeople who keep things simple not ones that add to their workload. For example, they want the salesperson to bring the specific details of a proposal to them; not generalities or lists of options. Salespeople should think through their situation and be able to give them a complete answer, response, or proposal, rather than leave them with more work to do.
From our interviews with buyers, we advocate that in today’s virtual world what happens before and after a sales call contributes far more to a deal’s success than ever before. Prior to a sales call the salesperson must make sure they have conducted a deep discovery, planned the call at a level of detail, and gained validation with their customer that they are on target. Thorough preparation also helps keep calls concise, focused, and valuable for the customer. As always, follow up with clients, but make sure your messages respect their time and responsibilities.
In this two-dimensional world, the key to success is shifting our approach away from the hour-long meetings that worked face to face, to shorter, more concentrated bursts of customer interaction. It is time to start thinking Outside-In. If your market is telling you they are looking for sprints, don’t show up trying to run a marathon.
Interested in learning more about selling in the two-dimensional world? Our latest course, Outside-In Selling: Mastering The Virtual Sale, is designed to help you increase your sales effectiveness, productivity, and closing ratio in the online space. View the offering and download the course description here.