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“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
By Benjamin Franklin
From scribbles on a piece of paper to advanced algorithms for business information modeling, organizations of all sizes and types have some form of sales strategy. You certainly wouldn’t last long in business without one.
However, it’s far less likely, that all organizations constantly update and enhance the systems they use for sales “development”, including the ways they measure and manage lead generation and progress. Yet this is vital for increasing profit or even underpinning your business viability.
There is a misguided view that business growth is entirely based on investing in the sharp end of the stick – marketing and sales outreach. How much money do companies spend on wide sweeping advertising campaigns, high functioning websites, social media projects and the like?
Inbound marketing and demand generation opportunities are now numerous and can successfully create a high volume of leads, all of which then require follow up. This can involve substantial investment in teams to deal with each specialized element of marketing and sales processes.
Yet much of the focus should actually be on the often-neglected – yet powerful – element of sales development. This is the function that develops hot and warm business leads and helps you to guide them to fruition.
Sales development strategies have previously sometimes been referred to as business development. They are the part of the sales process that focuses entirely on gathering genuine leads – qualified appointments and demonstrations. Modern technology, particularly data analytics, has transferred sales development strategies. They now offer unmissable opportunity to focus resources more effectively on closing deals.
If you are an ambitious and forward-looking organization, your sales development strategy should be a pivotal part of your sales pipeline. Anything less means becoming uncompetitive.
Some of the fastest growing companies in the world are setting the pace. They are creating large sales development functionality, that is exponentially tied to staff training and deployment.
Having a sales strategy is not the same as having an effective sales strategy
If you treat all of your potential customers the same, you could be seriously undervaluing your ability to meet your revenue targets, let alone increase profit to underpin your business growth.
Even the different variants in “warm” leads are numerous, depending on your organization. In its simplest form, this range goes from customers likely to generate an insignificant amount of profit, to those who are the “golden goose” with the potential to deliver a series of valuable contributions to your revenue streams.
Customers also vary considerably in where they are up to in their “decision to buy”; from not vaguely interested in minutes away from a positive transaction.
Treating customers as one homogenous mass makes poor commercial sense. One of the best ways to differentiate and control the value of their potential is by creating a detailed sales pipeline.
Let’s start by reminding ourselves how a sales pipeline works, in relation to the sales development function.
In a perfect world, you would promote your products and services, and your customers would respond. Transactions would happen effortlessly and your profits would grow.
How many companies are in that position?
It is more likely that there is a gap – if not a gaping chasm – between your marketing and sales outreach, and your actual transaction levels.
For example, you invest in a sales campaign using social media and give yourself a pat on the back for high volumes of new traffic to your website. You should really save the celebrations until you see how many of these “potential customers” were genuine. How many leads generated by this activity converted into actual transactions? How does the revenue you gained, measure against the amount you paid for that campaign?
This is where Sales Development Strategies play their role. Managed correctly, they provide your outward-facing sales team with a constant flow of qualified leads. The bedrock of effective sales is being put in touch with fertile opportunities to sell your products and services.
The expression “quality matters more than quantity” is very relevant here. Having a huge list of potential customers to contact on a vast data list is not what a true Sales Development Strategy entails. What you need, is lead prospecting methodology and techniques that translate into actual, physical sales. That means prospect lists that are “qualified”. Potential customers who genuinely offer the potential for a successful transaction.
What’s your sales pipeline?
To be sure that all elements of your sales processes are working well, and to identify any issues, organizations need to create a visual representation – a sales pipeline. This is a snapshot of where your sales leads start and finish.
An effective pipeline starts with creating customer profiles and formulating target prospect lists.
Do you know who your customers are, and who they should be? It may be those seasonal variations or changing order books require a constant re-evaluation of who your ideal customer is. Do you know who the decision makers are and have you got sufficient numbers of them engaged in your sales processes? Are they being effectively supported by a positive transaction? What is the average size of sale you need, to build profitable growth? Where is that most likely to come from?
Or, is your particular challenge persuading customers to buy more from you? Or buy more often? You may need to structure your sales development strategy to focus on building better retention techniques by contacting previous customers.
Your sales pipeline should also be molded to create better management of your personnel. Is your sales team focused, effective and productive? If you don’t really know what your front-facing sales professionals are doing on a day to day basis, then you need to question how well your sales pipeline is functioning as a tool for effective resource management.
Having a healthy sales pipeline means the assurance of knowing that there is a strong flow of potential transactions, now and in the future, to keep your organization viable. Every organization needs to formulate and configures its own unique sales pipeline. It is dependent on the nature of its business and the volume and value of customers needed to maintain a strong profit margin.
The basic principles of a sales pipeline remain the same though: having sufficient qualified leads entering the pipeline to be assured of success, and the systems in place to analyze progress against clear targets.
If the leads at the start of the pipeline are unqualified and based on volume rather than quality, you could be trying to knit fog.
On the other hand, a strong sales pipeline with qualified leads provides your sales team with a map. In an instant, they can see how many sales leads are waiting for attention, their current status, and what needs to be done next to move them forwards. It can help in setting targets and assigning quotas. Turn around on leads can become swift and decisive.
A sales pipeline can also help to monitor and measure the effectiveness of individuals and the various sales systems used by the organization. Who, and what is working best?
Having the ability to monitor how many potential customers you have – and what level of decision making they have reached – can also provide predictive analysis opportunities. For example, are you on target for a particularly good month in one particular product or service? Does that require an increase in inventory and upscaled production? Or, is there a shortfall in qualified leads that could result in a positive transaction? Is it going to be a tough month for sales, and therefore cashflow?
How can you know what needs to be done to improve the health of your sales going forward, and where to invest in resources, without this intuitive data? The ultimate aim of any sales pipeline is to find the route to profitable growth. Only by controlling the flow of lead generation and the whole sales process, can you be sure of well-orchestrated business transactions and a strong revenue stream?
Sales Organization Structure depends on pipeline
The first step towards a constantly evolving and improving sales development strategy is to understand the sales pipeline in relation to your own specific business needs. Who is going in at one end, and how are you going to get them through to the finishing line.
According to a study by the Sales Management Association, 44% of executives acknowledge that their company is ineffectual when it comes to managing their sales pipeline. Even though it is a key component in organizing the way your sales processes work, and has an impact on everything from inventory to profit.
Structuring your sales organization around your pipeline can mean drilling down on where you are falling short of your full sales potential.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is if your team spends vast amounts of time on administration and lead generation. Is this investment of time out of proportion to the number of qualified leads and actual sales you benefit from? If your sales team is tied up in researching names and addresses, reminding themselves of key facts, logging contact in a laborious fashion, going over old ground or duplicating efforts, clearly it makes poor business sense.
You need your sales organization to be focused on the most productive and potentially profitable parts of the pipeline.
As a company, are you losing valuable sales data at any point in your processes, or experiencing the negative effect of long sales cycles that choke cash flow?
Perhaps you have a great data prospect list, yet you still aren’t reaching your sales targets as a company? Your pipeline would be the ideal way to see the flow of your potential deals and any sticking points. Are qualified leads running out of steam due to a lack of effort or poor timing at some point? Are sales being lost due to a break down in communication or lack of clarity?
Having this level of insight and ability to forensically examine sales processes, is potent. Your sales team can be armed with leads that provide them with the best chance of a successful customer engagement. And analytical data that helps them chart progress and keep leads hot. These are the tools that they need to “do what they do best”.
Committing to sales development
Without the insights provided by a clear sales pipeline and corresponding analytical data, you could waste a great deal of time and money focusing on the wrong element of your customers’ journey. You could also suffer commercially, due to disjointed and ineffectual marketing and sales campaigns.
For example, say for instance sales start to fall off, so you throw resources towards driving traffic to your website. This would be a fruitless exercise if the problem is not your initial pool of leads. Having a robust sales development function, to generated qualified leads, could save a great deal of wasted effort of “scattergun” lead generation.
According to CSO insights survey, 53.3% of organizations say that inability to generate qualified leads is one the biggest barrier to their sales effectiveness. So, how can you support your sales pipeline, and make sure that you generate enough qualified leads to flow smoothly to completed transactions? How can you have an end to end sales process, that turns your ideal customer, into an existing and loyal customer?
It starts with having specialist help in using the right channels to gather qualified leads – and that can be everything from keyword prospecting, to phone calls, emails and desktop research.
This may be especially a challenge to achieve in-house if you have limited staff and time to focus on each stage of the sales pipeline. Or you have complex and multi-faceted product offering.
You certainly can’t focus on everything at once. Your business goals can be overarching, but you need to be able to drill down on priorities and shift focus to adapt to current needs. The stage of your sales pipeline that needs the most attention, can change swiftly too. And it gets even more complicated if you have multiple products and services, and different types of sales leads to juggling.
You also need to be sure that your team is reaping maximum sales value, from the least possible work. In other words, lean and agile sales processes.
The key to all of this can be getting external help with the sales development element of your pipeline. Which can also mean taking full advantage of the way technology is used for effective lead generation.
Making a commitment to sales development requires confidence that you have the systems and support in place to create genuinely appropriate and qualified sales leads. This largely arises from having expertise and experience in the latest sales development techniques. For example, sales leads that have been gathered using keyword prospecting. This is one of the sure fire ways to cut through to targets who have an authentic need or interest in your product or service.
With the right sales development strategy in place – and fully supported – you can also make sure that leads to true value, are the ones receiving the most attention. You will know how many potential customers you have and which of them is most “ready to buy”. However, with the right sales development system in place, you will even have data on which is likely to prove the most profitable.
A commitment to an effective sales development strategy also entails having the tools to manage the progress of leads in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity, overlap or lost opportunities.
For this, you need advanced project analytics. This is particularly true if you have a complex organization and therefore a complicated sales pipeline.
Having multiple income streams, a wide variance in customer types and therefore a myriad of qualified leads to monitor and measure, can’t be achieved with traditional spreadsheets or outdated software.
Your intuitive lead management platform needs to cover end-to-end sales prospecting – giving you drilled down insights on leads going into your pipeline and the corresponding transactions and profit margins.
You may be surprised to know how few business executives view lead generation and sales processes in this “joined up” way. They have no accurate way of gathering or analyzing data, to show the correlation between what they spend on sales activities and the actual results that it achieves.
Yet profitable growth as an organization is firmly based on a good Return on Investment (ROI) for all expenses and costs, including sales spend. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a pleasing array of “cold leads” or even a full order book, but you still crash and burn due to cash flow problems.
Avoiding this fate – and underpinning structured and sustained growth as an organization – comes from having a careful sales development strategy.
Contact us today to make a commitment to a sales development strategy that puts your sales pipeline on track for profitable business growth.
We don’t just build lists, we arm you with the potential customers most likely to place business with you, now and in the future as well.
One of the most important benefits of taking the Marketjoy route to profitable growth is the amount of time and money you will save. It gives you streamlined and focused prospecting, qualified leads, and the analytical tools to measure value at every stage.