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Never Let Your Pipeline Run Dry

By: Colleen Francis

These days, my clients are concerned about two significant barriers holding them back from hitting their sales targets. You’re likely facing these as well.

The first involves deals that get stuck. The second barrier is a pipeline that’s run dry. The risk of that happening is greater during these uncertain times. In fact, today, I’m looking at a sales pipeline for a client in which opportunity creation is now cut in half compared to just five months ago.

Prior to the global pandemic, companies were reporting 30 – 40% closing rates while managing pipelines 3x bigger than what was needed to close new deals. Today, those numbers have shifted down and up respectively. You now can expect fewer closings—20 – 25%—and you now need to manage a pipeline that’s 5x greater than those closed deals. That means you now must work harder to get the results you need.

It takes strategic planning to ensure your pipeline remains healthy—especially in tough times. Here are eight field-tested ways to make that happen.

1. Look for new markets.

If demand from existing customers for your product or service is declining, look at alternative markets that are thriving and consider ways you can enter one (or more) of them. That’s exactly what two clients of mine did. The first one is in the parts manufacturing business. Their market research uncovered that many companies that build thermal scanners (which have become a hot commodity during these uncertain times) used their unique part in those devices. The second client built a product that supports robotic conveyors. It turned out to be an unexpected hit with Amazon distribution centres. In both cases, these companies retooled their prospecting strategy and sent their sales team to find more of those kinds of buyers in new markets.

2. Review and reactivate dormant accounts.

All companies have a wealth of market research right under their collective noses, but many don’t realize it! You likely have a database of old accounts complete with contact information, sales figures, and organizational charts. Go there and look for new leads. Remember: it’s just the account that’s dormant—not the customer. They are still buying from someone. They just happen to be doing that with one of your competitors. Therefore, create a reactivation campaign to re-establish business relationships and re-open selling opportunities.

3. Consider multiple locations.

Far too often, I see clients who have a good relationship with an existing customer, but they’ve never considered expanding that relationship to include multiple locations or divisions. Sellers develop that blind spot because they believe their attention needs to stay focused squarely on their contact. That’s simply not true. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to sell more to that existing customer, delivering the same great experience that earned you such great rapport with your existing contacts.

4. Always be serving.

To sell is to serve. Reach out to your customers regularly and offer help and support. Be a valuable resource to them in such a way that you’re seen as a community service and as a trusted advisor. Let them know you’re open and ready to serve them and their network. That approach was especially powerful for some of my clients early on during the pandemic lockdown—as it was a time when people had many problems and few solutions. Those who called everyone they knew and offered to help—unlike their competitors—received many referrals for new businesses.

5. Be clear.

In uncertain times, ambiguity is your enemy. Never assume your customer knows you’re open for business and that you have well-established, carefully thought-out social distancing protocols for working together safely during a pandemic. You must spell it all out. Ensure your website is clear on all these points. While much of it may seem obvious, you must instill confidence in your customers and prospects.

6. Be present online.

It’s not enough to just be passive online. Ask questions of others. Be curious. Do more than just agree with what others say. Leverage LinkedIn and its professional groups so you’re noticed and valued by others. Don’t stop there. Be ubiquitous in your use of podcasts, articles, and how-to videos. Offer trade associations webinars and video calls based on your expertise. Each time you do this, you add to a multiplier effect that goes to work for you in earning new audiences.

7. Ask for referrals.

As I often remind clients, the only reason why people don’t realize the prospecting power of referrals is because they don’t bother asking each customer for one. Referrals prove the claims that you make about yourself. However, customers don’t offer referrals unless you ask. You must do the legwork to make this happen. This also applies to building your network of contacts inside your current client accounts. You must ask for introductions to ensure they happen.

8. Network in-person where possible (and safely).

Even in pandemic times, it’s possible to network in-person with others… safely. Doing so is how you build that direct rapport with others and gain a deeper understanding of the unique problems your customers are struggling with. A client of mine in the aerospace industry accomplished this recently by sponsoring a golf outing for their best customer. The entire event was held safely outdoors. They sponsored one of the 18 holes and met 72 new contacts over the course of the day… all while following safety protocols.

As you can see, there’s plenty you can do to prevent your pipeline from running dry. Take these steps every day. With careful planning, you’ll ensure your sales team doesn’t get caught by surprise—the way so many did in early 2020. Instead, you’ll be building a new path to greater success in sales.

Colleen Francis is President of Engage Selling. Check out all of her resources for selling during this challenging time: www.EngageSelling.com/covid.