It’s business as usual. You’re running your company and your sales teams are active, yet sales numbers remain stagnant. Why? Sales as a profession has changed so significantly over such a short period time, yet sales strategy has lagged behind. Let me take you back to the basics.
This article aims to extrapolate from key practices, learned from years in the industry, in order to help you build or improve a successful business-to-business sales opportunity pipeline. By no means are we claiming this list to be complete, but these 10 tips will give you a leg up and offer the guidance you need to set yourself up for success. By starting with a noble purpose, understanding your Ideal Customer Profile, planning your territory, outlining your sales cycle, and ensuring your CRM is comprehensive, you can build a specialized sales force, better determine your best route to market, onboard your new team, and properly engage your existing one in a way that promises to ensure a successful sales cycle.
- Have a Noble Purpose.
First, you must identify why you are in business to begin with. What is your motivation? What value are you delivering to your stakeholders? The key to successfully building your B2B pipeline is having a noble purpose. Everyone working at the company needs to understand the impact that they are making upon your direct customer base and those that they, in turn, themselves serve – that is, your customer’s customer. If your purpose is superficial and immediate, you will not reach the full potential of a noble purpose. Your purpose can’t just be about selling hotel rooms or cars or just beating your competition. Rather, the focus should be on building a long-lasting customer experience. Research shows the potential of a 350% higher success rate if you truly affect your customer. Ask yourself “how is my value-proposition unique and meaningful to those who buy?” and “are those who sell it invested in it?”
- Understand Your Ideal Customer Profile.
Next, you need to understand and define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Who will receive the most value from your product or service? Who should you target? Avoid proactively targeting those companies which are not ideal, which wouldn’t receive the greatest value from your offerings, in order to create a greater likelihood of success and scalability. Start with your customer profile, including their demographics and noted preferences. Pay attention to the titles and roles of buyers. Think about how you can target them. Where do they go? What do they read? Where do they work? What social media do they use? What message will connect with them? Ultimately, try to understand the motivation behind their buying process and make sure your team knows who they are and how to target them. This piece of the process requires a comprehensive list of contacts, their information, and the angle with which you are going to address them.
Once you have identified your ICPs, there are three steps necessary to move them toward becoming potential customers. The first is expanding marketing awareness. Marketing needs to work to ensure the marketplace knows your brand and what it stands for. Once awareness grows, interest in your brand can begin to develop organically. Some of the ICPs will want to interact with your company, either as a result of corporate marketing content, lead generation campaigns, or your direct sales outreach (cold-calling, etc.). Ultimately, it now becomes a “Sales” job to turn this interest into a qualified opportunity, the final and most critical stage.
- Plan Your Territory, Goals and Activity.
By now, you have isolated what type of company and contacts to direct your outreach toward, according to your built-out Ideal Customer Profile. At this point, sales and marketing must work together, as neither is autonomous. For the purposes of this article, however, we will focus exclusively on sales.
At this stage, you should plan your sales team’s goals, activity level and territory. Territory may be geographic, industry specific, channel specific, defined by a company size profile, or any combination of these sieves. Once you have your territory nailed down, you need to determine activity level. How many phone calls, emails or contacts will it take to make quota? Tactically, this piece of the process requires a clean list of the right number of ICP contacts, including their relevant details, so that the reps can strike the phones and email immediately. Fortunately, there are several reliable tools at your disposable to help you build this list, such as Hoovers, LinkedIn Sales Navigator or even things like Crystal Knows. With the right manpower, there are no limitations to building or even buying your contact list.
Let’s get specific about the quantitative part of planning your outreach. For example, if your sales goal is $1 million and an average deal results in $10,000, this would indicate that you need at least 100 deals. Applying the law of averages to sales, we see that at least 300 opportunities are needed to make quota. In order to reach this hypothetical goal, assuming you have a 1/10 success rate, you may need approximately 3,000 leads. Take a moment to think about how many touch points 3,000 leads require.
Have your sales team members plan their daily, weekly and monthly schedules ahead of time. Be efficient and limit switching between tasks. Allow your team to focus daily on specific tasks. It is better to lump cold-calling together than to switch between research and cold-calling. By tackling similar tasks at the same time, your team’s efficiency will grow. Define the number of touch points required by your clients and prospects and plan your week accordingly. Understand which items have a monthly or even quarterly cadence, based on their strategic value or the need for spaced-out outreach.
- Outline Your Ideal Sales Cycle And Follow It.
Knowing the stages a sales opportunity moves through along the sales journey is important for a variety of reasons. Each stage represents the next level of progress, and the further along an opportunity is in the series of stages, the closer the opportunity is to becoming a new customer. Each stage requires that certain steps be executed in order to gain a lead’s trust and each stage requires approval for an opportunity to move from it to the next stage in the progression. Each stage requires specific sales or marketing tools, as well.
While the process of outlining your ideal sales cycle is unique to your particular company, there are several common points that we can start with. In any sales cycle, you must first target your contact. This contact turns into a lead, which requires more contact and qualification to determine that they are ready to proceed through the cycle. At this point, you need to involve a more senior salesperson, who will in turn either disqualify the lead, or qualify it, turning it into a sales opportunity. This sales professional will ensure that the opportunity is committed to proceeding through the sales cycle and will close the deal.
Opportunity stages are unique to companies and industries, but below are some guidelines that show percentages to anticipate the likelihood of winning a client. Every company will have its own naming convention and its own process. Just make sure you that have one, and follow it, measure it and adjust it, as needed. Remember, you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
- 10% qualified opportunity (you spoke to the right ICP and they are ready to proceed.)
- 25% value confirmation (the prospect knows what value they want from you.)
- 50% proposing (you are collaborating on what the offering may be and understand the steps needed to close)
- 75% negotiation (a proposal has been submitted according to agreed upon details.)
- 90% contract submitted (proposal accepted and contract submitted for signature.)
- 100% close (new client has joined.)
- Focus on “value confirmation” and “leading the sale.”
You want to make sure that your “noble purpose” shows up throughout the process. Ensure that your sales reps clearly describe and agree with the clients on the value they will receive. Be certain that the solution they pitch and language they use are always customized to the needs of the buyer. The client does not need to work with a sales rep if they are only interested in buying a set of product features – they can read that on your website. What they want is to understand how your company is going to make theirs better; what their ROI is and how you are making sure those promises are met down the line. Once the prospect is bought into that tailored value proposition, encourage your team to be in charge! Lead the prospect through the stages and towards that final decision to close. Prospects will not naturally ask to move forward. They need to be led.
- Have your CRM aligned to the sales cycle and ensure your reps are using it.
In order to truly adhere to this sales cycle process, you need a CRM in place to track each step. This is not only important for management oversight, but also to ensure the reps stay organized and on task. There should be no limit to what is included and tracked by your CRM. Include activities, contact information, templates, tools, etc. In the end, the better the process and data quality is, the better your forecasting ability. Your forecast accuracy is one critical measure of the quality of your sales process.
The sales and marketing teams needs to ensure that the right tools are available and used for the right stage. Ideally, these will be included in the CRM. Some examples could be a lead outreach letter for the initial phase, a well-scripted demonstration for the value-confirmation stage, a strong proposal template for the negotiation phase and an explainer video at the qualifying opportunity stage. It is paramount that the sales team have a complete sales kit that mirrors the stages and steps of the ideal sales cycle pipeline.
- Build A Specialized Sales Force.
While many smaller companies have one isolated job description for a sales professional, the best sales forces allow their team to organize around specific core competencies. Initially, this may happen organically. Each member of your team has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Take these strengths and pair them accordingly. Some team members are better at cold calls or new business development. Other team members may show strengths in account management. As your business scales, you should be able to put different sales roles in place. Some specialties include the following: lead qualifying, cold-calling, closing opportunities, subject matter experts, client support teams, channel managers and strategic account managers. Specialization breeds scalability and growth and it drives excellence in each area.
Note: Don’t be afraid to hire good people with little industry experience. You can mix team members with industry experience with those who have strong professional sales skills to cross-train. The ins and outs of an industry can be learned relatively quickly, but core sales competencies may take longer to learn.
- Consider Your Best Route-to-Market.
There are two chief ways to bring your product or service to market – directly and/or indirectly, both of which can net you success. The direct approach is, of course, selling your product directly to your customer. For example, if you are in the market for an Apple computer, you can order directly from Apple. The second avenue, the indirect approach, can be a strategic partnership in which another vendor sells your product. Continuing with the above example, a customer could purchase an Apple computer from Best Buy. When making your determination, balance your interest around direct client relationships, margins, speed to market, reach, and your own ability to scale your sales force. Partners can help you grow quickly but can also be your downfall.
- Build And Cultivate Your Team
First, hire for character and culture fit. Second, remember not to be afraid to hire based on sales skills rather than industry experience, although you should bear in mind that having prior relevant B2B sales success is critical. Next, make sure that the new hire is organized, intentional and proficient in time management. Fourth, they need to possess the right balance of quality and quantity outreach. Finally, any new team member should be passionate about your company’s noble purpose.
Once your team members are in place, it’s your responsibility to onboard them proficiently and connect them with a mentor. New team members enjoy learning from peers. Have a training plan in place. Ensure they go through it, asses their proficiency and repeat when needed. Include in the hiring process a 30, 60 and 90 day plan and performance review. Along the way, your sales leader must be a coach, which means they need to listen and offer suggestions, and be firm, but fair. And, last but not least, lead by example.
Most entrepreneurs think selling can’t be taught. They feel that it’s an art. However, the truth is that it’s both an art and a science. Your team members can learn and respect best practices and tips for each of their activities. Your team can learn that the length of your email subject line matters in how it reads and is reacted to. It makes a difference if the length of a demo is too short or too long. It does matter how professional their voicemail sounds. Each sales tactic will have beYou must spend equal time assessing quality. Management needs to review email exchanges and listen to the calls of their team members. If experienced leaders catch something that could be improved, then it is their duty to coach their team on how to excel. A great manager can train on best practices and modify the mindset of their team.
There are numerous ways in which your salesperson can gain an advantage in the field; some more obvious than others. Strong business acumen is critical. Your sales team can study corporate report cards, read business news and follow key leaders on social media. Public companies produce annual reports, along with the CEO’s letter to the shareholders – teach your team how to read them! Try to determine what risks a potential customer company faces. Has it been making more money, accumulating more customers, or expanding into new markets over time? What is the current operating income? How can you tailor your pitch and solution to their most critical company initiatives? Once you know what their company really cares about, then try to understand what the personal motivations and desires are of the person on the other end of the phone or desk.
At the end of the day, the best sales rep is a confident sales rep with a winning attitude. This is critical. Excellent sales reps need to internalize all resources that are available to them and feel confident that they are running their own business inside of your business. For example, if Tom is a sales rep, he needs to feel confident in running “Tom, Inc.” This will happen when he knows that you stand behind him and believe in him. Get each sales rep to think of themselves as a “business athlete.”
- Be Authentic
A sales reps’ success is based on their ability to develop relationships. Yes, it starts with taking the initiative to reach out, but more so, success is rooted in cultivating a genuine, organic interest in those you are working alongside. If you refine your reps’ soft skills in relationship building, you’ll see an exponential increase in your return on investment for all those conferences, lunches, and meetings. Anyone who sells must aim to see the world through the eye of those they are selling to, because only then can you demonstrate your noble purpose and build long-lasting client partnerships.
The cliché is true: people do judge a book by its cover. Each member of your team needs to look and sound like they care. They need to have the ability to gain “trusted advisor status.” This means they have earned the right to challenge their clients and teach them new things in a collaborative fashion. Finally, please help your team see and internalize what success looks like – for themselves, for the customer, for the greater environment. Each member of your team needs to buy into your noble selling cause. Make them feel proud of the work they do. Selling is noble profession and there are always new effective sales skills to learn. Keep it fun, keep it high-energy and keep it real!
Note: This article is a second edition of a previous article published by our partner 2Swell, Corp.