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March 04. 2012 4:12AM

ASK THE EXPERT: Building That Pipeline

Between the global economy, the recession, the Internet's effect on buyers' access to information, new selling tools and applications, and the need for an optimized sales process, selling has changed more in the past five years than it has in the past 50 years.

In the context of technology sales, according to Dave Kurlan, best-selling author of Baseline Selling, "most companies haven't changed their approach and still hope that their salespeople, who succeeded prior to the 2008 crash, will somehow get some momentum. But what worked in 2006 doesn't work in 2012 and won't work in the years to come."

If you want to grow revenue, the best option is to invest in your selling machine in building a better pipeline.

Yet many young firms with limited budgets struggle with what their marketing options are and whether those choices are the most leveraged investment in building the pipeline.

For a threshold of understanding, let's be clear on these terms and questions. What is a sales pipeline? What are my marketing options as a young company with limited budget?

In a summary format, a sales pipeline is a process of: Identification of suspects; Inquiry to them; Qualification of them; Presentation of your value proposition to them; and Commitment of the prospect to take the next step in the sales process-as you have defined it.

Continuing this theme, and another way of looking at it: The sales pipeline is a continuous flow of sales suspects that flow into your sales funnel where your sales qualification and selling process is instituted. These sales suspects, however they are identified, are from all marketing sources — inclusive of inbound requests, outbound calling, and referrals.

There are many sophisticated marketing scoring models and marketing automation tools, which add great value, that are available once you have enough activity to warrant the need/cost of utilizing.

Net net, it is the process of moving people of interest (suspects) through your sales process to become a buyer.

So there are many marketing options and many choices as to how you choose to spend your marketing funds. Those options might be direct mail/email, search-engine marketing, interactive/social media, advertising, teleprospecting, analyst relations, media relations, events-networking.

And there are others.

At the risk of sounding "old school," direct mail still works but I use it in very targeted campaigns. Ideally, if funding permits, you would want to engage a mutli-channel approach to gain the merits of each approach and to leverage each other. These modalities can or should be done in concert with each other. As an example, following up with outbound phone callings after an email or direct mail effort increases your lead yield by 25+ percent.

So I will make a distinction about marketing modality choices that can be either passive or aggressive. Most of the marketing modality options go to "create brand or demand," which should drive inbound inquires. So it's a measure of how good your email blast is, as an example — will people click on the link when they see an advertisement? Will the call-to-action statement be inspirational enough to make the prospect call for information or go to the website to fill out an inquiry form?

Those choices are passive. You wait. As those leads go into your sales pipeline, these passive marketing options also create further awareness that can "soften up" the battlefield for the rest of the sales pipeline that can be furthered by outbound calling. By definition, an inside sales function are those folks who are typically calling by phone to qualify the inbound inquiries or find new suspects and qualify them.

Outbound calling or teleprospecting is considered an aggressive choice. My preference is that I want to leverage the awareness and branding campaigns and get on the phone and close sales from people who have shown interest or seek out new prospects, politely creating opportunity discussions.

Active calling creates the opportunity for the business suspect to provide immediate reaction to your inquiry — so you control your outcome by how much skilled labor you apply and the effectiveness of your phone-based articulation of your value proposition.

The options to provide your sales team with targeted, vetted selling opportunities as defined in your lead success criteria are many.
Your choices should provide for a flow of leads through the pipeline.

I look forward to responding to your questions or comments on this topic.

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Bob Good is the founder and CEO of Good Leads, in Salem. Founded in 2002, Good Leads is an outsourced sales and marketing firm that specializes in warranted business introductions for technology centric firms and professional associations inclusive of healthcare IT, medical devices, clean tech and engineering and design companies.

With 30 years experience, Good speaks and consults on sales and marketing models for businesses, and holds graduate degrees from Wayne State University and Southern New Hampshire University and is a long-time board member of the New Hampshire High Technology Council, and serves as New Hampshire's Commercial Counsel to Canada.

He can be reached at Bob@Goodleads.com.


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