“How’s business? How are sales?” These two questions give a quick pulse check on your current sales health. But the bigger question business owners really need to be asked is, “How’s your sales pipeline?”
Why? Because your sales today are the result of the health of your sales pipeline last month. But your sales next month, next quarter or next year will be a reflection of the health of your pipeline today.
So what exactly do we mean by sales pipeline? In your business, your sales pipeline is essentially whatever structure you have in place to attract and qualify leads, and then to nurture them through the buying process to become a customer, and then hopefully a raving fan of your business.
How healthy is your sales pipeline?
So often we forget to talk about the health of our sales pipeline. This is the forgotten part of sales in many companies, in the less-glamourous section along with properly signed contracts and up-to-date invoicing.
If your business was a human body, the sales pipeline is like discussing the liver. When was the last time you talked about your liver? And yet the liver is a filter for our blood, as well as being one of the organs that breaks down old or damaged blood cells. The forgotten liver plays a starring role in all the body’s metabolic processes. Many people don’t think about their liver until there’s problem with it.
Your sales pipeline can be just the same. When sales are humming along, many business owners forget how long it took to get all those customers on board. Especially in high-tech solutions, it can often several months or more to get a customer into a meeting, let alone agreeing to purchase. Not to mention ensuring that the invoice is fully paid.
It takes such an effort to create and sustain a business, that once things really get going, the excitement is so great that it’s easy for business owners to get caught up in the now and forget to keep looking ahead.
Is your business one click away from sales oblivion?
Without realising it, many businesses are potentially just a click or two away from oblivion. Everything might be riding on those couple of large customers, leaving the business exposed if something changes in their customers’ businesses.
Many businesses forget to monitor the health of their sales pipeline. Even if you’re turning over a healthy amount, keep checking your sales pipeline and tracking those customers who are about to purchase, as you never know when you might need to see some rapid action with your sales.
A healthy sales pipeline is your best indicator of what you’ll be doing six months now. Will you be eating caviar or stale bread?
Just like the liver, your sales pipeline can only be neglected and abused for so long before you start to notice some issues.
Businesses with large projects are especially vulnerable to client change and can easily come unstuck if a project finishes earlier than expected. If your business concentrates on a few large customers, that’s okay so long as you’re constantly attracting and qualifying new potential customers, continuing to grow existing customers, approaching new customers and following up with previous customers.
In other words – you’ve got to keep being proactive about your sales and the health of your sales pipeline. What you ideally want, is a couple of customers waiting in the wings, so that if a project finishes early, you’ve got someone else to slot into that space.
Taking positive action on your sales pipeline
There are all kinds of discussions we could have about sales pipelines. Sales and marketing have really changed over the last few years and no discussion about sales pipelines is complete without reference to social selling and digital marketing, and the important part that these often play in helping you to attract new customers.
There are so many apps and CRMs (customer relationship management systems) out there, that some discussions around sales pipelines can disintegrate into a standoff about who’s got the best tech behind them. We’ll be talking about some of the available tools and what you should consider when thinking about tools of the trade in future articles.
After talking with numerous business owners, two things really stand out. Firstly, all the tech in the world won’t save your sales if you don’t take positive action. Secondly, many businesses really are just a couple of clicks away from sales oblivion.
Measure then manage
Measuring the total value of your pipeline and the number and value of sales opportunities at each stage of your sales process is an obvious place to start, but here are ten additional things you can do right now to build a healthy sales pipeline.
1) Check your current customers
Take an objective, honest assessment of your current customer relationships. See where you could improve these, and where they could be vulnerable to change.
2) Check the market
Are there signs of change on the horizon? If so, what can you and your business do to prepare for what lies ahead?
3) Check your offer
The best way to grow sales is to have a fantastic offer, a set of factors about your business and what you do that makes your customers jump through hoops to work with you. If you’ve got such an offer, bottle it and share it with your staff. Make sure everyone is clear on what’s special about your business and how you serve your customers best.
4) Check your data
Are those large customers paying on time? Are you serving them with your best products and services, the ones where you deliver the most value for the highest profit level? Large customers who pay late and provide just enough revenue to help you keep the lights on, are not as secure as you might initially think.
5) Get social
Awareness is the first step of any customer journey. Social media is a low cost way to build awareness and get connected to your tribe. As you grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow up with everyone, so make sure your social selling – before, during and after the sale – is really working for you.
6) Leverage the available technology
AI (Artificial Intelligence), BI (Business Intelligence) and marketing automation tools are no longer only for large companies and huge budgets. What technology is available to you, to analyse your database, your customers or to deploy as part of your digital marketing strategy?
7) Ask for feedback
That’s right – ask your current customers what they really think of you. Where are they happy? Is there anywhere that you’re missing the mark? Most important of all – what are the stories that they’re telling others when they recommend you? These stories are your key to future sales growth.
8) Get a CRM
Yes, your customer relationship management system. If you haven’t got one, we most definitely need to talk. In this age of cloud-based tools, distributed teams and exponential change, not to mention unexpected natural events – businesses need to protect their data and ensure they maintain visibility over their sales and their sales pipeline. As your team grows, you won’t be able to personally check all their work – this is where your CRM will help you to understand what’s really happening in your business.
9) Use your CRM
Perhaps we could have combined points 8 and 9, but they are both so important it’s worth giving them the space. Once you have got a CRM, make sure that everyone who touches your customers from social media through to new business development, account management and customer success is logging their interactions into the CRM. Used well, your CRM is a rich source of data that your business can use to grow strategically. Used poorly or not at all, CRMs are almost a complete waste of time. Get the full value from your customer data by making sure that you have all relevant information at your fingertips.
10) Talk to your team
If you’re concerned about sales, don’t bottle this up. Talk to your team. They’re helping to serve your customers and may have insights that you just don’t have the opportunity to see. What gems of information can they share to help you grow your sales?
Having a healthy sales pipeline is critical to your business as you plan your growth strategy for the year ahead. Just like a liver problem that suddenly becomes apparent, realising that your business could be in a precarious position with your sales can be overwhelming. But better to know that now so you can nurse it back to health, than to find out when it’s too late to turn things around.