Recycling your Pipeline
Reading back on an old piece on B2B sales strategy, I was struck that one of the ‘keys to success’ is Don’t Be Afraid to Recycle. The message is: if your sales prospect is not yet ready to engage or timescales change or the faces around have changed or…or... then don’t give up on the opportunity. It may be time to recycle.
I’d like to extend the recycling theme to include 3 scenarios and how to act in each one.
- The prospect situation goes cold on you
Suddenly, timescales aren’t as urgent, budgets have been re-organised, a new director is in place and wants to review the whole programme. Don’t get desperate and upset the apple cart in your frustration.
Step 1. Understand the situation. You may have lost the sale to competition, but it’s unlikely without some warning bells. The prospect organisation may have canned the whole idea permanently, also unlikely. If there was a cost justification in the first place, that’ll still be there. The most likely scenario is that there is a temporary halt in proceedings for some reason. Find out why.
Step 2. Keep in touch. You can make the odd phone call, it doesn’t take much time and keeps you in the loop. For wider intelligence, enlist the help of your marketing colleagues to run a nurture programme. By keeping an eye on what the organisation is up to (new hires, new projects, company results and acquisitions, new C-level appointments) and nurturing influencers, they’ll provide invaluable support for you to be ready to re-engage just at the right time.
Step 3: Re-engage. Wait until there are genuine signs of life before turning up the heat. Timing is key, and with your refreshed knowledge of who the players are now, you can ensure you are right there when (or just before?) they lift the phone to you.
2. Dead prospects only resting
Over a period of time, leads have come and gone, marketing keep coming with new opportunities and the old ones sit comfortably in the historic pipeline cluttering up the place. Every now and again, you’re asked to cull inactive and dead opportunities. But are they all really dead? As humans, we prefer to look to the new, especially when it comes to tired and depleted sales opportunities. But, with fresh eyes and a new approach, I wouldn’t mind betting that your old historic pipeline still has significant life left in it.
Step 1. Make a list. Go back to the beginning of time (well your time) to list all the un-closed off deals. That’ll give you the size of the challenge / opportunity you have.
At IRS we are asked to ‘refresh’ dormant pipelines quite a lot. On one occasion, a salesperson had a 2-year dormant list of 237 prospects. After we had made contact with them, there were still 13 live prospects looking to buy within a 6-month period. There’s always life left in a dead list.
Step 2. Prioritise the list. Could be by timescale, by size, even by alphabet.
Step 3. Get started, just do it. Re-engage with as many as you can handle in your working week. You’ll be surprised at how positive the experience will be. Old contacts will be glad you kept in touch and new people will pop up who need your care and attention.
Step 4. Be ruthless about crossing off no-hopers. There is no purpose in keeping weak prospects on your list, just like there is no point in chasing poorly-qualified leads. After all, selling is in part a numbers game. You might as well put your effort where it shows most return. This might sound contradictory to ‘always life in a dead list’, but as an individual you only have so much time and you can’t afford to waste it.
NOTE: The revival of Dead Prospects is an IDEAL job for your marketing colleagues to undertake on your behalf. If marketing asks you as a salesperson, ‘How can I help you?’, just hand them your dormant list and ask them to get on with it. I bet the return will be better than a new business campaign, and quicker. You’ll also have the satisfaction of capitalising on at least some of the work you put in to developing that dormant list.
3.Weak Buyer Profile
It sounds harsh, but some ‘decision-makers’ just don’t make decisions. Maybe they don’t have the authority (even though they tell you they have), maybe they are naturally indecisive, or afraid of going out on a limb, or…or… The end result from your sales perspective is that your sales campaign stalls, you try every trick to resuscitate it but nothing works and you end up losing heart. And then your prospect goes on to your dormant list (cf).It just may be time for YOU to be decisive and courageous. If your sales proposal is stuck in the inbox of your main contact and shows no signs of moving, what to do? For whatever reason (authority level, fear, doubt etc), your nurtured contact has now become the stumbling block, you might even have become close friends. How should you proceed? Now is the time to take a risk. You clearly need to get around or preferably over this contact to untie the knot, to be able to pitch your solution/product to someone with actionable authority.There are whole training courses on getting past gatekeepers, so I won’t add to that wisdom. I just want to add: take your courage in both hands and just do it. Your solution is good for this company, it needs to be addressed by somebody in authority. Get in touch with your contact’s boss! And when you do, make sure you talk in his/her language. If your first contact was talking bits and bytes, make sure you talk business to the boss.
NOTE: From experience, the risk you fear when climbing over a buying contact is no risk at all. Most times, the boss recognises that he/she needed to be involved anyway, and sometimes even knows the true nature of the subordinate and will hopefully end up signing the Purchase Order with a wry smile. At worst, you’ll fall out with your buyer and your sale will move to another dormant list elsewhere - at one of your competitors.
I once worked in a sales organisation that followed an 11-step sales cycle. The ‘technical’ close was Stage 6. The remaining five stages were Slaying the Dragons, beasts with the fiery tongues that threaten to burn up your handcrafted sales proposal. Two of the beasts were to do with timescale and lack of decision. So, mythical beasts aside, be prepared to face the ‘other reasons’ that stop a sale and put it on the backburner, and you’ll close more.
Paul Stewart, Chairman, IRSMarketing