Always be closing. Whether you’ve worked in sales for a day or a decade, you’re familiar with this mantra. But, experienced sales professionals know that closing a deal isn’t an isolated accomplishment. It’s the culmination of a series of business efforts. It’s the payoff of a relationship that took time to nurture into a sales opportunity. Our point here is this: If you truly want to always be closing, you must constantly have access to a strong sales pipeline filled with potential customers.
Building sales pipeline is an ongoing task for sales professionals– something that needs to be tended to daily in order to achieve sales and organizational success. In today’s blog post, we offer some unique tactics you can use to build an effective sales pipeline and win more business right away!
What is sales pipeline and why is it important?
Before we get into our tips, it’s important to define the phrase “sales pipeline” and explain why it’s so important to an organization’s success. A sales pipeline is a sequential structure that illustrates where prospects are in the buying process. The stages of a sales pipeline differ from company to company, but typically follow this basic timeline:
- Prospecting: You send outbound messages to leads with the hopes of identifying new business opportunities.
- Qualifying: You’ve identified a prospect, but still must determine if they have the authority, need and budget to buy from you.
- Meeting: You discuss your solution with the prospect and explore whether it will be a good fit for their business.
- Offer: You send the prospect a detailed proposal outlining the terms of your offer.
- Closing: You wrap up negotiations, finalize the deal, and sign the contracts.
A concrete sales pipeline creates a systematic approach to selling. Each prospect is assigned to a specific stage, and each stage has its own set of actions aimed at moving the prospect closer to the point of a sale. The sales pipeline structure is directly linked to business growth, as companies who master sales pipeline management see a 28% higher revenue growth than companies with inefficient pipeline management (source).
A full pipeline is always producing revenue. While some prospects are signing contracts, dozens or hundreds more must be nurtured to the point of sales-readiness at exactly the same time. For this reason, pipeline management becomes a complicated game of prioritization, delegation, and multi-tasking.
6 Modern Tips to Build Sales Pipeline
There’s no shortage of tried-and-true tactics sales professionals use to fill their pipeline with new prospects. We won’t retread the same old ground when it comes to finding and engaging your target buyers. But, sticking to the basics only gets you so far in the modern sales landscape.
There are more ways than ever before to introduce new prospects to your sales pipeline, and we’re here to offer some methods you might have previously overlooked. Let’s take a look at a few of these methods.
1. Leverage your social network.
Social selling is far from a new phenomenon. While most sales teams already use social media for prospecting, many have yet to leverage the same platforms to strategically build pipeline. Performing a high volume of basic searches might help you identify plenty of new prospects, but a healthy sales pipeline hinges on quality, not quantity.
Luckily, many social platforms and third-party tools offer robust search capabilities that, if used strategically, can be instrumental in keeping your sales pipeline full. The benefits of using social media to fill your sales pipeline are as follows:
- Perfect targeted searches: For an efficient sales pipeline that consistently produces opportunities, you must identify the right people — the decision-makers — within your target accounts. New advanced search options in platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to search for accounts and people based on job function, seniority level, and other criteria that will point you in the direction of true decision-makers.
- Gather relevant insights: Whether a prospect is sales-ready or not, your first interaction with them is critical if you wish to move them through your sales pipeline. Social media profiles offer a wealth of useful information that can inform your initial conversation, from each person’s social activity to the content they share, to the groups they’re a part of.
- Find mutual connections: Your existing social connections can also assist a “warm” introduction with your target prospects. For example, let’s say you’re searching for contacts at Company X, but you aren’t connected with anyone who works there. But, you discover that a colleague of yours does have several connections within that company, and you then reach out to them to facilitate an introduction.
To put it simply — you’re likely using social media already, but the above tips will help you leverage these platforms to become one of your most effective pipeline builders.
2. Call your best customers.
Existing customers are an excellent and often untapped resource to find future customers. For one, your customers know your products better than anyone outside of your company. And, they likely have friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who work in the same industry and thus may also be a good fit for your products and services.
- 84% of buyers now kick off their buying process with a referral.
- 92% of buyers trust referrals from people they know.
- 83% of customers would be happy to provide a referral after a positive experience. But when they aren’t directly asked for one, only 29% of them end up providing a referral.
Pick up the phone and call some of your best customers. Ask them how they’re doing, how their experience with your products has been, etc. — make the conversation about them, not about helping out with your sales pipeline.
Once you’ve had a meaningful conversation, ask them if they know anyone else who you should reach out to. If you treat your customers well, they’ll be happy to recommend their peers. If you find this approach works for your organization, consider expanding your sales pipeline by having a dedicated team to reach out to existing customers for the sole purpose of generating referrals.
3. Attend an industry event.
Hosting live events is a proven method of finding and engaging new customers. But, holding a live event is an intensive and costly task that your business might not be ready to take on. If that’s the case, it doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of industry events. In fact, attending a live event can be just as advantageous to your sales pipeline.
Research industry events where your target audience will be in attendance. Be sure to plan ahead by obtaining a list of attendees, printing out business cards and other collateral, and practice pitching your products and business. Reach out to attendees beforehand and try to set up a brief meeting on the day of the event.
Once you’re at the event…have fun! Introduce yourself to as many people as possible, participate in group sessions, and start interesting conversations. Your goal may be to build sales pipeline, but sometimes the most effective strategy is to get out there on the ground floor with your target customers. Spontaneous conversations often lead to future business relationships.
4. Invest in your personal brand.
Prospects want to know who they’re buying from — not just the company itself, but the individual salespeople they’ll be in contact with. 77% of B2B buyers only speak to a salesperson once they have performed independent research online (source). As part of this research, prospects may encounter content, interactions, and profiles associated with you, a sales manager or rep. As a result, personal branding can factor heavily into your efforts to build pipeline.
Start by optimizing your social media profiles, including a professional headshot and a bio that details your personal and professional interests. From there, consistently share and distribute content your audience will find valuable and relevant. Interact with customers, prospects, and influencers to boost visibility and become a go-to resource within your industry.
As you gain notoriety, your personal brand will become its own lead generator. You’ll encounter new prospects, and you’ll earn more referrals from customers you’ve built relationships with. Be consistent in your efforts and your personal brand will become a key contributor to your sales pipeline.
5. Enrich your existing contact database.
It goes without saying, a healthy sales pipeline requires an expansive contact database. But, the strength of your sales pipeline isn’t determined by the sheer quantity of contacts in your database. Rather, it hinges on the quality and comprehensiveness of your data. Believe it or not, the best way to increase your sales pipeline is often to improve the data you already have.
Perhaps your database is accurate and up-to-date, but only includes basic demographic and firmographic information. If you fill in the blanks with some additional data types, you’ll gain insights that are critical for building sales pipeline. Here are some examples:
- Technographic data: Technographics are data points related to the tools and technologies a business uses to function. In the B2B space specifically, access to technographic data will help you identify key selling opportunities. Let’s say you lost a prospect to a competitor. With access to technographic data, you’ll be able to track when that contract is up or when they decide to drop your competitor’s product from their tech stack — making them a prime candidate to be reintroduced to your sales pipeline.
- Company hierarchies: Company hierarchies are like family trees, as they illustrate a company’s relationships with other companies in the market. Access to hierarchies allows you to find new prospects based on your current prospect and customer data. For example, you might discover that an account you currently sell to has several subsidiary companies beneath them in their corporate family tree. You’ve suddenly identified new potential customers, and you can leverage your relationship with the parent company to facilitate a successful introduction.
- Intent data: Intent data is a form of behavioral data related to a prospect’s online activity. The purpose of intent data is to predict which accounts are ready to buy, based on their online behavior. When combined with other data types, intent data is a powerful tool for managing your sales pipeline and moving a prospect from one stage to another at precisely the right moment.
6. Revisit lost opportunities.
When you’re in a real slump and can’t seem to hit your pipeline goals, looking for new prospects might not be the answer. Rather, it may be time to take another look at your past leads that didn’t end up becoming customers.
Think about it: Deals fall through for many different reasons. Maybe a company wasn’t ready at the time, or they had a different buying committee than they do now, or perhaps your product has advanced leaps and bounds since they passed on it. The point is, things change. Spend some time digging into your lost opportunities, make a few calls, and you might just fill your pipeline with prospects you thought were lost forever.
There’s no denying it, building sales pipeline can be a thankless and often stressful part of a sales rep’s job. It’s a task that’s never truly complete, the payoff is never guaranteed, and there’s always a lingering fear that one day the pipeline will run dry and you’ll be left scrambling to find someone to sell to.
But here’s the good news: Building sales pipeline is easier than ever before. The methods we discussed today are just a handful of the many techniques you can use to keep your pipeline healthy and filled with future customers. If you’re stuck in a rut, just remember this: Building pipeline in the present means more success in the future.
About the Author: Sam Holzman is a content marketing manager at ZoomInfo, a leading B2B data provider that helps organizations accelerate growth and profitability. He regularly covers topics related to sales, marketing, and recruiting and likes to write about sports and travel in his free time.