Wednesday April 15, 2015
If you only tackle one spring cleaning goal this year, make your sales process your top priority. Nothing is more important to your business’s growth than having a smooth, scalable process for engaging with prospects and moving them toward conversion. That process is your sales pipeline.
Having a smooth, organized sales pipeline projects an air of professionalism. It also prevents leads from falling through the cracks, and helps you predict revenues and profits. But most importantly, a good sales process can be scaled up as your business grows.
The sales process is one of the areas we at AllProWebTools see many small business owners struggling with. Helping these business owners create a clear process and providing them with a system to make it easy is one of the highest impact things we do. It takes a small business owner’s sales strategy from random, disorganized, and unfocused to a clear, effective process – and the result is usually steady, sustainable growth.
Here are the steps involved in creating a basic sales pipeline.
1. Digitize leads immediately
It’s crucial to get your leads digitized as soon as possible. Preferably, you can enter them right into a CRM, where you can then start sorting them into your pipeline.
Continue to add more information as you get it – predicted order size, confidence in making a sale, the name of their spouse. The more you have at your fingertips, the easier it will be to build a relationship.
2. Establish stages for your pipeline
A sales pipeline is all about measuring your progress with a lead, and understanding how long they’ll take to convert. To measure progress, you need to create measuring criteria. Think of these as “buckets” that your leads fall into.
You might have as few as three: Leads, Prospects, Customers. Or you might have many more (though for a small business, having more than 5 can be difficult to manage). A set that works well is: Gathered Leads, Qualified Leads, Assessing Needs, Proposal, Closing.
Start by sorting all your current leads and prospects into buckets, and then continue with all new leads.
3. Qualify and Prioritize Leads
Unfortunately, you only have limited time – and your time is valuable. You simply can’t devote the same amount of energy to every new lead.
That’s why lead qualification is so important. It helps you quickly eliminate leads that are unlikely to ever convert.
You want a good balance of leads in your pipeline: some that will take longer to sell, some that will take shorter, and a variety of projected order sizes. Resist the urge to chase each new lead with all your energy – it’s not a sustainable pattern, and could cause you to miss some slower, high-value leads.
4. Make a Follow-Up Plan
Have a clear strategy for following up with leads. Schedule follow-up calls – set reminders so you don’t have to try to keep everyone top of mind, which is a huge productivity drain. Try to batch your follow ups, so you can do several in a row. This will help you get into a state of flow, where you’ll be more productive and more successful.
Also, create email campaigns that target leads based on their status. Focus on adding value in these campaigns. Ask yourself, “What content will be most valuable to this prospect at this time?” Schedule these emails to go out at strategic times in the sales process, and track the results so you can hone your strategy.
5. Identify Gaps in the Flow
Ideally, you want your leads to progress from stage to stage in a predictable manner. It makes it much easier to project your close dates, revenues, and profits when things are consistent.
Over time, build up statistics around your conversion from one stage in the process to the next. Find out how many of your qualified leads statistically will ask for a quote or proposal, for example. It can be hard for a small business to gather enough data, but being diligent and patient will reap big rewards in the future.
Once you have a good sense of your flow, look for gaps. Where do you lose the most leads, and what can you do about it? For example, if a low percentage of your gathered leads end up being qualified, you might want to reconsider your lead sources. Is your messaging targeted enough? Are you putting your content and ads in the right places? Are you attending the right kinds of events?
6. Use Your Pipeline to Make Predictions
This is one of the big goals of your sales pipeline – the ability to make accurate projections. The calculations you made in the previous step will help you here.
For example, if you can consistently convert 20% of your “Gathered Leads” into “Qualified Leads,” and 30% of those will ask for a quote or proposal, and 40% of those convert, then you can project your total sales based on just your number of gathered leads. In this case, for every 100 leads you gather, 2 or 3 will convert into customers.
Figuring out which of those leads will become customers – and therefore, where you should devote your time and resources – is the part of the process that is definitely more art than science. Over time, you’ll develop a feel for the characteristics that lead to a sale. Then you can start categorizing your leads by your confidence in making a sale.
If you have an idea of how much revenue those leads will generate, you can start to project your monthly revenues and profits. You’ll also start to learn how long it takes to make a sale, so you can predict closing dates. This will help you to smooth out your business’s cash flow.
7. Keep Your Pipeline Clean
Your pipeline is only useful if it provides clarity and organization to your sales process. Having a pipeline that’s overstuffed with dead end leads is a common problem for small business owners, but getting rid of those leads leaves you room to focus on the ones your confident about converting.
You can still set yourself callback reminders to keep these contacts in your network – things could change in the future, or they might be able to refer you to better qualified leads. But keep your sales pipeline for sales.
I won’t lie to you – it’s not easy to set up a really organized sales pipeline. But you can do it, and you’ll find that the time invested pays off in convenience, clarity, and profits.
How do you organize your sales process? Let us know in the comments!