How to build the pipeline
Proactively growing the sales pipeline, as well as improving how you convert leads into prospects increases the possibility of success for your team. You have two clear tasks:
- To develop an ever-increasing list of potential customers/ leads.
- To ensure the effective contact and “capture” of these leads to earn the chance to bid for and sell work. A critical success factor is that this is done in a structured, clear and delegated way.
Here you need a strategy. This means:
- A clear plan of how you will find out about all potential customers and all potential projects
- A contact process to get in touch with those clients. You will need to make a decision as to how much of this is delegated to members of your team and how much is run by you.
Finding out about projects
In many sales operations pipeline management is the thing that happens only when everything else is done. A disciplined and effective sales team probably spends at least 20 per cent of its efforts on building the pipeline.
What is our goal here?
Our goal is to have the most accurate, early and complete list of every relevant prospective project. We want to have a system in place to ensure that we are involved as early as possible in the buying process.
Who can do this work? Top-down and bottom-up
A clear decision is required from you as to how you can resource this aspect of your team’s work.
The top-down work will be best coordinated by the sales manager. This means deciding on how you will do the high level research and pipeline intelligence gathering.
Manage your sales force for the bottom-up opportunity intelligence gathering. You will need to print a monthly report to show who has added which potential opportunities into the pipeline.
Ensure a monthly report is generated showing various opportunities and their status. This can be shared across your team ensuring that the top-down opportunities are fairly distributed. The team’s job is to follow a methodological contact plan with sales process discipline. You as a manager can then constantly refine and improve the contact plan.
From the monthly report you can prioritise opportunities using key factors:
- Win Probability: Having explored the opportunity, what is the likelihood that we will actually be able to win it? Prioritise those opportunities where you can win
- Time. What is most urgent? Prioritise those
- Size. Prioritise those that will deliver the most value
- Number of new opportunities added by each salesperson
- Size of opportunity by salesperson
- Measure the ratio of:
- Leads to meetings made
- Leads to bids/sales.
This tells you the individual’s effectiveness at converting opportunities. Where there are low conversion rates you can take management or development steps.
- Have a look at what proportion of your opportunities are from:
- Repeat business
- New business development activities
This will give you some indication of the maturity and quality of your operation. As the proportion of repeat business and referrals increase it shows a high proportion of very happy customers and an established sales team.
Some difficult questions to ask yourself:
- What does it mean if one salesperson does not add opportunities to the system?
- What happens if I don’t discuss this in our weekly/monthly meeting?
- What happens if I bring up pipeline development every week?
- What actions do I need to take in order to set up a project to gather high level data?
- What happens if, over time, I ignore those team members whose data is not completely up to date at the team meeting?
If we don’t manage for this it simply does not happen. The sales team is back to the old ways – focusing on current offers, internal problems, and finding a way to hit target by ducking and diving. You need to fight to make pitching, bidding and sales excellence happen. What you manage, you will get.