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Traditionally, the world of business-to-business sales development was all about pounding the streets to find your next lead.
Slick front-end sales representatives would launch the sales cycle by venturing into the field and going from office to office, eagerly hosting presentations in front of the people they hoped would become their next clients.
But the world is changing. In a digital environment where new online communication tools can replicate or even beat the door-to-door techniques of old, inside sales is becoming more and more common.
With cost pressures on sales managers mounting, it makes sense to shell out less on field costs like travel, accommodation, and in-person presentations and to instead move towards a centralized team who can work together to achieve sales goals.
After all, sending representatives out into the field is a repeated daily outlay – but it only takes one investment to set up a top-notch video conferencing system that can be used time and time again!
The rise of inside sales means that the format of a successful sales pipeline is changing. In this blog post, we will look at how the shift to the inside will impact your sales development process and how you can optimize your pipeline for best results.
Do you need new customers? Yes!
Whether you’re a small business just starting out and attempting to accelerate the process of growth or a larger company looking to scale even further, your business needs new customers.
Many people who work in fields other than sales think that all you need to do to fulfill your constant need for new customers is to design some funky adverts, put them on the Internet and in newspapers, and watch the new clients and buyers roll in.
Of course, as a seasoned sales pro, you know that’s not true. When you drill it down to the bare bones, the only criterion for a business’ ultimate success or failure is whether or not it gets enough customers through the door in the long term to cover costs and make a profit.
While product development might be vital for ensuring high-quality standards, and other internal teams like HR and finance may be essential for the company’s functioning, sales is in many ways the most integral part of your firm’s communal quest for enough well-paying clients and customers. Without it, the hard work demonstrated by the other sections of the company would go to waste, and the benefits of the product might never be realized.
And even once you’ve got over the initial hurdle of profitability, the pesky problem of the need for new customers doesn’t go away.
Whether the plan is for your business to be sold on, listed on a stock market or anything else, your team’s exit plans can’t be achieved until you’ve successfully broken into enough market segments to become financially viable in the long term.
In short, each time you diversify and launch a new product or service you’re going to find yourself dealing with the need to find new customers. That’s why your business needs a top-notch sales development team.
Investing in the front end of your sales process will reap rewards for years to come because it will mean you can simply activate tried-and-tested processes every time you expand.
So we know that your sales team needs to find new customers in order to ensure your company’s long-term survival and growth. The question now is how to find them.
It’s wise to take a look at the balance of responsibilities in your sales team and assess whether you are maximizing its potential. Are you still in the same mode your company was in twenty years ago?
Traditionally, inside sales reps tended to be younger, more inexperienced members of staff who were hoping to climb the ladder. They would work on lead generation in the office while more senior staff members would head out into the field.
But now, that’s all changing. It’s believed that inside sales reps have now outnumbered the amount of field sales reps across many industries, so if you still have an inside-light team then it’s wise to look into restructuring.
There is, of course, still a time and a place for traditional field sales. Perhaps your product is a complex device or an object which requires a physical demonstration of its technical abilities to be fully appreciated.
And for those who operate in client-facing service industries, it’s almost always necessary to ensure that the “personal click” between the provider and the client takes place in order for a working relationship to develop.
But when your offer relies on your product or service rather than your people, finding new customers does not always require the traditional round of door-knocking that previous generations of sales reps had to carry out. Now’s the time to get on board with the technological revolution and set up an effective, easily replicated inside sales pipeline which can churn out hot leads and conversions time and time again.
Setting up a repeatable sales pipeline
When it comes to modern sales development, a repeatable process for successful sales can sometimes feel like a pipe dream rather than a pipeline!
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and the rise of inside sales can actually make it easier for you.
These days, the technologically savvy early adopters of digital networks are the ones mostly occupying the ever-growing sales development segment of your team.
In a moment, we’ll take a look at some of the most common methods your inside sales team can use to build up a repeatable pipeline that provides – as authors Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler would call it – “predictable revenue”.
But first of all, a word of caution. When it comes to sales development, there is no magic key that will unlock a world of lucrative leads. What works for one sales development team might not work for another due to a wide variety of factors, and to work out which solution works best for you, you need to harness the power of analysis and data.
As you try new techniques for setting up a reliable inside sales pipeline, ensure you record every result and build up what you might have heard described as a “balanced prospecting methodology” – a way of comparing the techniques you use to find out which work best for you.
As we’re about to see, you have options when it comes to pipeline construction – but you don’t have the time to try every single one in detail! Before you scale up your outreach efforts, it’s vital you use your inside sales team’s time resources wisely and monitor which methods are working best.
Don’t just rely on instinct here. Calculate a percentage of successful approaches for every technique based on how many warm leads come out of each, then scale upwards from there. The numbers don’t lie, so let yourself be driven by the data.
With that in mind, here are some practical methods for building that killer pipeline that you can simply feed with warm leads again and again.
The obvious place to begin is LinkedIn: as the world’s most famous professional social networking site, it boasts over 500 million users and is your first port of call when you need to start building your pipeline.
LinkedIn is free to join and use, but you could consider investing in LinkedIn Premium. The advantage of Premium is that it means you can access the InMail system, which is essentially a way to send cold messages to users who may be interested in your product or service.
InMail is full of advantages, and unlike many adverts across the Internet, people do actually respond to them. There’s no risk of them going to spam folders like sales emails can, and because LinkedIn collects lots of data about its users you can take advantage of some excellent targeting options.
However, it can be somewhat difficult to create repeatability with the InMail system. That’s because approaches sent through the system are 100% cold, and while that might in the short run bring you a purchase or a client here and there, it’s not without risk. If the lead goes cold and you want to contact the lead again in the future – which you certainly should be doing! – you may have to pay again to keep your access to the InMail system.
Building an organic LinkedIn network provides you with a long-term asset with which you can repeat your successes again and again. Although it’s harder work for your inside sales team, there’s really no substitute for building a network of LinkedIn contacts to whom you provide value on a regular basis.
If you have 2,000 people in your LinkedIn network, for example, that’s 2,000 people you could provide interesting and useful content to on a regular basis, building up their trust. Over time, these people will remember that you gave them something they needed – and when the time comes for them to use your product or service, you will be at the forefront of their minds.
LinkedIn is just one of the ways your inside sales team can develop reliable, repeatable leads. While it might not have the same technical pizzazz as flashier new methods of communication, many companies are still using the old tactic of making cold phone calls to companies. The advantage here is you can easily find out who in the organization is the relevant person to speak to – and the target can’t ignore your question!
Whatever method you go for, remember to optimize it for repeatability. Implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) system is a good way to do this: once your customer’s details are loaded in you can easily automate many of the later aspects of the outbound sales process, such as re-activation techniques like reminder emails.
Many companies who have done this report that they were able to slash the amount of the sales team’s time spent on prospecting, allowing staff to focus on the sections that often require more of a human touch – like closing the deal.
Finally, no matter how sophisticated your selling system is, there’s no way it will hide badly designed services. This means that your product, too, should itself be optimized for repeatability – as well as the pipeline you use to sell it.
Say, for example, that you offer social media content writing services to small businesses. You should consider designing your pricing structure so that it incentivizes repeat business further down the line by offering discounts on retainers and bulk orders, as this means you don’t have to create bespoke pitches and services time after time – and can simply reactivate old accounts whenever you need to satisfy your customer.
When combined with a killer sales pipeline, a model that encourages repeat business can work wonders for keeping your time costs down and reducing the obligation on you to close a deal on the same products over and over.
Why strong sales depend on a strong pipeline
We’ve explored how to make your sales pipeline repeatable, reliable and well developed. But in order to remain committed and focused on your inside sales development, it’s also important to understand why it must be that way.
The first reason is simple. As they progress through the various stages of your sales process, targets need different types of care and attention in order to get them towards the crucial point of deal closure.
But without efficiently organizing the points in your process, you don’t have a way of getting it clear in your team members’ heads. In short, you don’t have a way of knowing who needs what when.
Say your product is niche and unknown to most people in your target industry. In order to even begin to warm up leads, you’re going to have to invest a lot of time and energy in explaining what your product is, how it works and how it will benefit the end user. In this instance, a slightly heavier focus on the early stages of the pipeline might be needed.
Now, say your product is commonly used in the industry, but your version has one or two additional strong features. Because all your targets will be familiar with how it works, your sales development team won’t have to spend nearly as much time focusing on explaining basic technical information.
For this reason, you’ll need to work out what different kinds of skill sets your staff need. The key here is to know what sort of persuasion your sales development team should be employing and when they need to be employing it. But without a pipeline, you’ll be scrambling in the dark. Not only will your teams not know what to do, they won’t know when to do it.
The second reason you need a strong pipeline is more subtle: you are going to be outmaneuvered by your competition if you don’t have one.
With the need to travel from place to place getting less and less important, your sales team can use their new-found spare time to carry out extensive desk research in order to provide detailed pitch personalization.
Targets will be impressed if you can use your pitch to them to answer the sorts of key questions they too are thinking about during their strategy and planning meetings. What business challenges are they facing? What big initiatives or launches do they have coming up, and how can your product or service fit around them?
These days, the information you need is available easily. The Internet has acted as a great leveler, providing all companies with what they need to know – but only the best sales teams are using it to their advantage.
Gone are the days when the only successful sales development teams were the ones who had the most organized field operations and visited the most client offices on fact-finding missions. Technological advancement means this stage isn’t necessary for those teams who want to be prepared.
For that reason, there’s no excuse for not having a sales pipeline which is padded out with relevant information, constantly kept under review and being updated to provide relevance and repeatable value over time.
The march towards a world where inside sales rule the roost is unstoppable, and it’s time to give your sales development team the tools they need to get ahead in a changing environment.
Whether it’s training in how to extract pinpointed and relevant information from online tools like LinkedIn and marshall it to generate warm leads, or developing a data-driven balanced prospecting system to save time, finding a way to surge ahead of the competition and keep your pipeline full is imperative.
MarketJoy is a lead generation, market research and business development company dedicated to helping firms connect with their target market. We’re experts in carrying out market research and building prospect list data and can generate qualified leads for your business.
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