The New Rules of Sales Pipeline Management

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Lead generation is about more than just finding new sales prospects – true success in lead generation comes from effectively managing your sales leads and creating a strong pipeline of opportunities. If you want to keep your sales growing, you need to have good sales pipeline management practices in place that keep sorting and focusing on the right sales leads at the right time so you can constantly have new sales opportunities moving through the sales cycle.

Here are a few ideas for how your sales organization can do a better job of sales pipeline management:

• Generate thought leadership to draw prospects in to your pipeline: One of the biggest opportunities for sales organizations is to strike the right balance of outbound and inbound lead generation tactics. In addition to your traditional outbound lead generation, look for opportunities to expand your pool of sales leads with inbound lead generation techniques such as content marketing. The reason that content marketing is well suited for managing a sales pipeline is because it helps to educate and nurture sales leads before you even know that they are sales leads – if prospects are reading articles and viewing informative content from your company on your website and on social media, they are getting better-educated about your solution (and are getting more likely to buy from you) before they even get a phone call from a sales rep. Content marketing gives you an opportunity to publish your company’s own original thought leadership to talk about industry trends, offer informed commentary on the issues that your prospects are facing, and build credibility. Hopefully you will find that content marketing can help speed up your sales cycle by doing some of the work of educating your prospects and making them more ready to have a deeper conversation that will lead to a sale.

• Focus on long-term “lead nurturing” as part of your sales pipeline. Not all of your sales prospects are going to be ready to buy at the same time. Some of them require long-term sales lead nurturing and follow-up to keep educating the prospect and keep building credibility to get them ready to buy. Create a few stages of your sales pipeline that are dedicated to sales lead nurturing in a way that makes sense for your products and sales process. For example, you could have a few standard stages of lead nurturing, such as “Follow-up call to offer an online presentation,” or “Provide industry trends article,” or “Offer a free analysis of the client’s business needs.” Just make sure that your sales lead nurturing goes beyond simply checking in. Each stage of the lead nurturing process should introduce some new piece of information or help the prospect in some new way, whether it’s a free consultation, an informative online presentation, or sharing a piece of thought leadership from the industry that can help the prospect’s business.

• Prioritize and rank your prospects at each stage of the sales pipeline: Too many sales organizations make the mistake of treating all sales leads as if they were the same – but you have to treat different prospects differently. And in order to focus your attention on the highest priority prospects, you need to have a consistent way to identify which sales leads are the highest priorities. For example, you could rank your sales leads based on what you’re hearing from the prospects in terms of time frame (how soon is the prospect looking to make a purchase decision?), trust level (what level of trust does the prospect seem to have in your organization, based on the prospect’s questions and response to your questions?), and notes from previous follow-up conversations. Make sure that your sales people are taking detailed notes during every conversation with a prospect. Determine an objective way to rank and sort your sales leads – how do you know which sales leads are ready to buy? How do you know which sales leads are truly qualified? Each sales organization will have different ways of ranking and sorting sales leads, depending on what you sell, who your customers are and how long your sales cycle is, but your sales team needs to know which questions to ask – and how to take detailed notes – so you have good up-to-date “intelligence” to prioritize and focus on the right sales leads.

Keeping the sales pipeline flowing is one of the ever-present duties of the sales team. But the new rules for sales pipeline management are not just about making calls and overcoming objections. To ensure a successful sales pipeline in today’s marketing environment, you need to prepare to invest in building client relationships, educating the buyer, and making smart use of your internal data to understand which prospects are the “right” ones for your organization.

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