10 Tips to Building A Strong B2B Pipeline
You’re running a company. It’s business as usual. Sales teams are active. Yet, sales numbers are stagnant. Why? Sales as a profession has changed so significantly over time which is why the sales strategy must as well. Let me take you back to the basics.
This article aims to extrapolate key practices, learned from years in the industry, in helping you build or improve your successful business-to-business (B2B) sales opportunity pipeline. By no means are we claiming this list to be complete, but these 10 tips will give you a leg up and the guidance you need to set you up for success. By starting with a noble purpose, understanding your Ideal Customer Profile, planning your territory, outlining your sales cycle, and ensuring your CRM is comprehensive; you can then build a specialized sales force, better determine your best route to market and onboard your new team, properly engage your existing one in a way that promises to ensure a successful sales cycle.
1. Have a Noble Purpose.
It all starts with understanding why you are in business to begin with. What is the motivation? What value are you delivering to all your stakeholders? The key to successfully building your B2B pipeline is having a noble purpose. Everyone who works for or with you at the company needs to understand the impact that you are making with your direct customer base and those they “serve” in turn (your customer’s customer. If your purpose is superficial and immediate, then you are not reaching the full potential of a noble purpose. It can’t be about just selling hotel rooms or cars or just beating your competition. This is about building a long-lasting customer experience. Research shows a potential of a 350% higher success rate, if you can truly affect your customer. Ask yourself, how is your value-proposition unique and meaningful to those who buy and are those who sell it “invested” in it? To read more about noble purpose, read our article on “profit or purpose”.
2. Understand Your Ideal Customer Profile.
Next, you need to truly understand your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Who will get the greatest value out of your product or service? Who should you target? Avoid proactively targeting those companies who are not ideal to create a greater likelihood of success and scalability. Start with your customer profile; including their demographics and psychographics. You need to look at titles and roles of buyers. How do you target them? Where do they frequent? What do they read? Where do they work? What social media apps do they subscribe to? What message will connect with them? Ultimately, try to understand their buying motivation and process and make sure your team knows who and how to target them. This piece of the process requires an entire list of contacts, their information, and the angle with which you are going to address them.
There are three activities needed to target your ICPs, starting with driving market awareness. Marketing needs to work to ensure the marketplace knows your brand and what it stands for. Once awareness grows, it can lead to interest. Some of the ICPs now want to interact with your company, either as a result of corporate marketing content, lead generation campaigns or of course, your direct sales outreach (cold-calling, etc.). Ultimately, it now becomes a “Sales” job to turn this interest into a qualified opportunity, the final and most critical stage.
3. Plan Your Territory, Goals and Activity.
Now you have isolated what type of company and contacts to outreach to, according to the ICP. Sales and marketing must work together, as neither is autonomous. For the purpose of this article, however, we will focus exclusively on sales. At this stage, you should plan your sales team’s goals, activity level and territory. Territory may be geographic, industry specific, company size profile, channel specific or a combination of these. Once you have your territory nailed down, you need to determine activity level. How many phone calls, emails or contacts will it take to make quota? Tactically, this piece of the process requires a clean list of the right number of ICP contacts, including their relevant details so that the reps can strike the phones and email immediately. Fortunately, there are several, reliable tools at your disposable to help you build this list, such as Hoovers, LinkedIn Sales Navigator or even things like Crystal Knows. With the right manpower, there are no limitations to building or even buying your contact list.
Let’s get specific about the quantitative part of planning your outreach. For example, if your sales goal is $1 million and an average deal results in $10,000; this indicates at least 100 deals. If we look at the law of averages in sales, this means that at least 300 opportunities are needed to make quota. To reach this goal, you could strategize that you may need approximately 3,000 contacts/leads if you have a 1/10 success rate, now think about how many touch points that takes?
Have your sales team members plan their day, week and month ahead. Be efficient and limit switching between tasks. Allow your team to focus daily on specific tasks. It is better to lump cold-calling together vs. switching between research and cold-calling. By combining similar tasks together, your team increases efficiency. Plan out the number of touch points required by your clients and prospects and plan your week accordingly. Understand which items have a monthly or even quarterly cadence, based on their strategic value or need for spaced-out outreach.
4. Outline Your Ideal Sales Cycle And Follow It.
Knowing what stages a sales opportunity goes through is important for a number of reasons. Each stage represents the next level of progress, closer to having a new customer. Each stage requires certain steps in order to gain trust and approval to move further. Each stage will require specific sales or marketing tools as well. While outlining your ideal sales cycle is very unique to your company, there are several commonalities that we can start with. First, you target your contact. This contact turns into a lead, which requires more contact and qualification to determine that they are ready to proceed through the cycle. At this point, you need to involve a more senior sales person, who will in turn qualify, or disqualify, the lead into a sales opportunity. This sales professional will ensure that the opportunity is committed to proceeding through the sales cycle and close the deal.
Opportunity stages are unique by company and industry, but below are some guidelines that show percentages to anticipate the likelihood of winning a client. Every company will have their own naming and process. Just make sure you have one, follow it, measure it and adjust it, as needed. Remember, you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
10% qualified opportunity (you spoke to the right ICP and they are ready to proceed.)
25% value confirmation (the prospect knows what value they want from you.)
50% proposing (you are collaborating on what the offering may be and understand the steps needed to close)
75% negotiation (a proposal has been submitted according to agreed upon details.)
90% contract submitted (proposal accepted and contract submitted for signature.)
100% close (new client has joined.)
5. Focus on “value confirmation” and “leading the sale.”
You want to make sure that that “noble purpose” shows up throughout the process. Ensure your sales reps clearly describe and agree with the clients on the value they will receive. Be certain that the solution and the language they use is always customized to the needs of the buyer. The client does not need to work with a sales rep if they are interested in just buying a set of product features – they can read that on your website. What they want is to understand how your company is going to make theirs better; what their ROI is and how you are making sure those promises are met down the line. Once the prospect is bought into that tailored value proposition, encourage your team to be-in-charge! Lead the prospect through the stages and towards that final decision to close. B2B prospects will not naturally ask to move forward, they need to be led.
6. Have your CRM aligned to the sales cycle and ensure your reps are using it.
In order to truly adhere to this sales cycle process, you need a CRM, such as salesforce.com, in place to track each step. This is not only important for management oversight, but also to ensure the reps stay organized and on task. There should be no limit to what is included and tracked by your CRM, such as activities, contact information, templates, tools, etc. In the end, the better the process and data quality is, the better your forecasting ability. Your forecast accuracy is one critical measure of the quality of your sales process.
The sales and marketing teams needs to ensure that the right tools are available and used for the right stage. Ideally, these will be included in the CRM. Some examples could be a lead outreach letter for the initial phase, a well-scripted demonstration for the value-confirmation stage, a strong proposal template for the negotiation phase and an explainer video at the qualifying opportunity stage. Essentially, it is paramount that the sales team has a complete sales kit that mirrors the stages and steps of the ideal sales cycle pipeline.
7. Build A Specialized Sales Force.
Many smaller companies may have one isolated job description for a sales professional however, the best sales forces have allowed their team to organize around specific core competencies. Initially, this may happen organically. Each member of your team has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Take these strengths and pair them accordingly. Some team members are better at cold calls or new business development. Other team members may show strengths in account management. As your business scales, you should be able to put different sales roles in place. Some specialties could include: lead qualifying, cold-calling, closing opportunities, subject matter experts, client support teams, channel managers and strategic account managers. Specialization breeds scalability, growth and drives for excellence in each area.
Note: Don’t be afraid to hire good people with little industry experience. You can mix team members with industry experience with those who have strong professional sales skills to cross-train. The ins and outs of an industry can be learned relatively quickly but core sales competencies may take longer to learn.
8. Consider Your Best Route-to-Market.
There are two chief ways to bring your product or service to market – directly and/or indirectly, both of which can net you success. The direct approach is of course, selling your product directly to your customer. For example, if you are in the market for an Apple computer, you can order directly from Apple. The second avenue, the indirect approach, can be a strategic partnership in which another vendor sells your product. To use the same example as above, the customer could purchase an Apple computer from Best Buy. When making your determination, balance your interest around direct client relationships, margins, speed to market, reach and your own ability to scale your sales force. Partners can help you grow quickly, but can also be your downfall. For more on strategic partnerships, read our article on the 10 steps to build strategic partnerships.
9. Recognize That Selling Is Both An Art And A Science.
Most entrepreneurs think selling can’t be taught. They feel that it’s an art. However, the truth is that it’s both an art and a science. Your team members can learn and respect best practices and tips for each of their activities. Your team can learn that it does matter how your email subject line reads. It makes a difference if the length of a demo is too short or too long. It does matter how professional their voice mail sounds. Each sales tactic will have best-practices and each can garner better results if followed. That is a fact. That is science.
Sales leaders are good at measuring quantity, because it’s natural. If it doesn’t work, they may tell their sales reps to increase activity. Well, this often is not the only reason for possible lackluster performance. You must spend equal time assessing quality. Management needs to review email exchanges and listen to the calls of their team members. If experienced leaders catch something that could be improved, then it is their duty to coach their team on how to excel. A great manager can train on best practices and modify the mindset of their team.
There are numerous ways in which your salesperson can gain an advantage in the field; some more obvious than others. Strong business acumen is critical. Your sales team can study corporate report cards, read business news and follow key leaders in social media. Public companies produce annual reports, along with the CEO’s letter to the shareholders - teach your team how to read them! Try to determine what risks does the company face? Has it been making more money, accumulating more customers, or expanding into new markets over time? What is the current operating income? How can you tailor your pitch and solution to their most critical company initiatives? Once you know what their company really cares about, then try to understand what the personal motivations and desires are of the person on the other end of the phone ordesk.
At the end of the day, the best sales rep is a confident sales rep with a winning attitude. This is critical. All sales reps need to truly internalize all resources that are available to them and feel confident that they are running their own business inside of your business. For example, if Tom is a sales rep, he needs to feel confident in running “Tom, Inc.” This will happen when he knows that you stand behind him and believe in him. Get each sales rep to think of themselves as a “business athlete” .
10. Hire Right AND Onboard Correctly.
First, hire for character and culture fit. Second, remember not to be afraid to hire based on sales skills, rather than industry experience, although having prior relevant B2B sales success is critical. Next, make sure that the new hire is organized, intentional and proficient in time management. Fourth, they need to possess the right balance of quality and quantity outreach. Finally, any new team member should be passionate about your company’s noble purpose.
Once your team members are in place, it’s your responsibility to onboard them proficiently and connect them to a mentor. New team members enjoy learning from peers. Have a training plan in place. Ensure they go through it, asses their proficiency and repeat when needed. Include in the hiring process a 30, 60 and 90 day plan and performance review. Along the way, your sales leader must be a coach, which means they need to listen and offer suggestions, be firm, but fair. And last but not least, lead by example.
Just “Be Real!”
A sales reps’ success is based on their ability to develop relationships. Yes, it starts with taking the initiative to reach out but more so, by cultivating a genuine interest, an organic interest in those you are working with. If you refine your reps’ soft skills in relationship building, you’ll see an exponential increase in your return on investment for all those conferences, lunches, and meetings. Anyone who sells must aim to see the world through the eye of those they are selling to, because only then can you demonstrate your noble purpose and build long-lasting client partnerships.
The cliché is true: people do judge a book by its cover. Each member of your team needs to look and sound like they care. They need to have the ability to gain “trusted advisor status.” This means they have earned the right to challenge their clients and teach them new things in a collaborative fashion. Finally, please help your team see and internalize what success looks like – for themselves, for the customer, for the greater environment. Each member of your team needs to buy-into your noble selling cause. Make them feel proud of the work they do. Selling is noble profession and there are always new effective sales skills to learn. Keep it fun, keep it high-energy and keep it real!
Figure below: Overview of 2Swell growth path and methodology