Chronicles of a Sales Leader: Filling the Funnel

It's a new year and there are some common themes that are resonating in the strategic plans for those charting a course to succeed, or at least survive, in what is going to be a challenging selling climate. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In particular, there's a drive toward more immediate results, and more attention is being paid to funnel health than ever before (while this is good, it’s an excellent lesson that this focus is a best practice in good and bad times). There seems to be much more focus on activity to fill the top of the funnel. This is always an important component for any selling organization, but few do this well. In the best of times, the top of the funnel seems to manifest all by itself and in the worst of times the drive to replenish it turns into unfocused activity with disappointing returns.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Our annual research study of best practice selling organizations consistently highlights effective prospecting plans as a key attribute for their success, so here are a few things to think about as you fill the funnel:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>1. Start with a profile, not an activity plan.</b><br clear="none" /> As much as we all know that traditional cold calling is a thing of the past and proven to not have ROI, organizations are still falling into the trap of setting activity quotas to drive urgency. While it's important to have some standards around activity expectations, it's more important that the activity is not allocated into the wrong places. Before you set activity quotas, make sure you've built a strong profile on the most likely suspects. This is best arrived by knowing as much as you can about why your current customers see you as different from the competition, which brings me to my next point…<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>2. Know why your customers buy from you.</b><br clear="none" /> I know I've hit this before in more than one previous column, but it's worthy to repeat how astonishing it is how many sales leaders cannot put a succinct answer to why their customers are buying from them. This is fundamental and critical to developing a successful sales system, but even more critical related to deciding what new clients to pursue. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> I've been in the midst of helping many companies solve major sales and operations breakdowns due to a campaign that attracted poor fit clients. A tough economy will often entice salespeople and the entire organization to see any business as good business. The likely result is pursuing opportunities that will never come to closure. The best result is a successful short term campaign that sets the stage for failure down the road as unsatisfied clients and distracted sales people produce devastating implications. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Narrow down your suspects in ways that best align with the attributes of your best clients. Top sales organizations are nailing this down with process and consistency vs. letting this happen by accident.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>3. Sales and marketing collaboration.</b><br clear="none" /> I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one, as this will be an entire column next month. However, suffice it to say that the top of the funnel absolutely is the critical overlap between sales and marketing. If your sales and marketing strategies are not aligned related to new client acquisition, then you are missing an enormous opportunity. I'll provide more on this topic next month.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>4. Timing is everything.</b><br clear="none" /> As part of understanding the attributes of why your customers buy from you, take a look at when they made the decision to buy initially. What was driving the decision? What was happening inside their organization or within their respective industry? What was happening with the specific buying influences that made the decision? It's important to know the key "triggers" that might exist and these can often be found in the research phase. CEO's are much more specific these days in their strategic initiatives often outlined in quarterly updates and earnings announcements. Take a close look at these details and you may find some nice comparisons to some of the deals you won in the past.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>5. Lose faster.</b><br clear="none" /> More is definitely not always better when it comes to what is in the funnel. A concentrated campaign to pursue new clients will produce a lot more potential time wasters. If you have a current opportunity review process in place, reflect on any deals that have been sitting in your funnel far too long. My guess is that you will find some common attributes to those that we never win but take up our time. Make sure your organization has a system for quickly assessing new opportunities before they zap too many resources. The best selling organizations have a scorecard that allows them to spot the red flags early and move on to greener pastures. When you lose, it's far better to do it fast and quickly move on to those you have a real shot to win.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>As EVP of sales at Miller Heiman, Bill Golder has a reputation for taking on tough assignments and successfully turning around difficult situations. He has extensive sales and operations experience, especially in leading business-to-business sales of professional services and multi-unit operations management. Available for keynote speaking opportunities, Bill can be reached at <a href=""></a> or by telephone at 1-877-678-0397. Additional information about selling in an uncertain economy is available at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. </i>