A solid strategy, a well-defined target audience, a very good understanding of what matters to that audience, and a compelling message are all key elements to a successful prospecting approach. If you ensure you have each of those elements covered, you will most likely see some good or even great results in terms of pipeline growth. But just growing your pipeline is not enough. You need to build a High-Quality Pipeline if you want high-performance sales results.
Why the emphasis on “high-quality pipeline”? The short answer… just like many things in business, quality over quantity is what matters.
We hear it all the time, “Sales is a numbers game” or “You just need enough opportunities in your pipeline and you will hit your numbers”. In a way that is true but would you rather build and manage a pipeline of 50 opportunities but only win 5 of them or a pipeline of 10 and win 5? What really matters at the end of the day is your win rate and while there are many factors that drive win rate, one constant and necessary element is the quality of the opportunities in the pipeline.
We like to think of leads and opportunities as raw materials. Think about any manufacturing process that starts with raw materials. No matter how good the actual manufacturing process is, if you start with low-quality raw materials, you will end up with a lower quality product than if you started with high-quality materials. The same goes for your sales engine. No matter how efficient and well-built the sales engine is, without high-quality leads and opportunities feeding the process, the outcome will be less than satisfactory.
Picture if you will, a conveyor belt with raw materials speeding by and heading toward the big machine that is your sales engine. Along the way, there need to be several points at which raw materials are filtered out based on quality so that only the best quality leads and opportunities will actually make it to your sales process. If you are able to do that successfully, your sales process will work so much more efficiently, and win rate will naturally improve. Think of it as another example of “Work Smarter not Harder”. If we improve the quality of the leads and opportunities that are filling our pipeline, we can close a higher percentage of those opportunities and do so with less energy, effort, and frustration.
So what are some things we can do to drive the quality of the pipeline?
The first and most important is to realize it takes time and really can’t and shouldn’t be rushed. This is a fundamental piece that all of the other factors depend on.
High-quality leads and opportunities take longer to cultivate and nurture than low quality leads.
So you really have to approach the overall prospecting process knowing that it will take more time to develop a high quality/high win rate pipeline vs. a low quality/low win rate pipeline. Back to our manufacturing analogy, any time that we are spending trying to refine and improve the quality of deals is time we could have been spending on deals with a higher win rate.
Stop pitching and start with building rapport.
It is very common for salespeople to want everyone they pitch to buy into what they are selling. Newsflash, no matter how good your product or solution and no matter how well you have mastered your pitch, there will always be people that are not buying it. Again, a high-quality pipeline is going to take time to develop, don’t try to rush it. When you get on your first introductory call, try to spend all but maybe 5 minutes of the call learning about your potential client on the other end of the call and learning about their challenges and hurdles.
Think of the whole prospecting process as an interview. You are not selling/pitching your prospective client, you are exploring whether or not you can even help them in a substantial way. This is another piece of advice that can seem very counterproductive to many salespeople but that is mostly because they fear losing out on a potential opportunity. This is especially true of those that are newer to sales but I’ve seen it with reps that have more than 20 years of selling experience also. You have to switch your mindset from trying to convince them to buy into what you are selling to a mindset of finding the fit with what you are selling and how it will benefit them directly and materially.
Communicate your approach clearly. What I mean by that is make sure they know what you are up to at every step of the way. Reiterate that you won’t be pushing a hard sell on them but instead, you will just be working with them to see if we can solve some problems together.
Communicate your approach throughout the whole process from initial conversation to final proposal, so you are both on the same page.
Take the time to approach it from the skeptical angle. If you anticipate that they may be getting hung up on a particular part of your value proposition pose it to them in a way that brings that to light for discussion.
Don’t be afraid to talk through the things that could derail your opportunity. Better to uncover those objections and hurdles intentionally and discuss versus figure that out after it is too late and you have lost the opportunity.
Remember, it takes time to build a high-quality pipeline but once you develop the discipline and skills to do so, you will be positioned for success.