Grow your business faster with fewer “slow nos” in your sales pipeline

Sales conversations obviously boil down to a yes or a no answer from each prospect. But whether you get to that ultimate answer slowly or quickly makes a big difference to your revenue growth, margin, and sales team productivity.

yes no maybe 1000Sales people are a unique species (see Philip Delves Broughton’s The Art of the Sale), often blessed with inextinguishable optimism. In many situations, this can lead to slow moving or low probability opportunities hanging around in the pipeline for too long, consuming time and attention along the way. Sales and marketing teams should not be afraid of getting to “no” quickly — that’s why lead nurturing programs, such as the one designed by Marketo, or Hubspot, or OpenView, exist.

Here are two improvements to your sales and marketing systems that can prevent “slow nos” from getting into your opportunity pipeline in the first place:

Better lead qualification: How rigorously does your team score leads before they are treated as opportunities? How consistently are the definitions understood and applied across your teams? Generally, the more complex an organization–splitting sales and marketing organizations by region or product, for example–the greater the risk that “slow nos” are getting introduced into the pipeline. There are a number of different acronyms to define lead qualification criteria: BANT, CHAMP, FAINT, ANUM…besides awkwardness, all of these share elements of purchasing authority, pain or need, and urgency. Viewed through the eyes of the buyer, these components are obvious prerequisites to a purchase decision. The reason for applying rigor to lead qualification with these criteria is to filter out optimism with objectivity.

A better content marketing system: to allow prospects to direct themselves through the path to purchase. Typically buyers follow a progression through four phases: awareness, engagement, research, purchase. More and more commonly today, both B2C and B2B buyers take initiative to move themselves through the path to purchase phases, doing their own comparative research, checking their own references, and assessing value on their own. The role of the sales team shifts to enablement and advocacy (one style on the more aggressive end of the spectrum is The Challenger). Again, seen through the eyes of the modern buyer using Amazon, Yelp, or Glassdoor, this is obvious. Your organization can modernize its content marketing system by applying the best practices defined by OpenView or CEM. Success here will be measured by increased yield on outbound sales and higher inbound activity. Please note that getting a content marketing system right is really hard, and takes lots of hard work by a coordinated team of people. MarketingSherpa has tons of great case studies and other resources, including this B2B software example.

No matter what your business sells, and no matter who your customers are, you can grow revenue and margin faster by keeping the “slow nos” out of your pipeline with the best practices above. Have a success story to share? Struggling to put these theories into practice? Leave a comment and start the conversation!

original artwork by Juliette Hale.

Jury Lesson #1: Know Your Customer’s Buying Process

Justice is blind. And apparently not very modest

Jury Lesson #1 is: know your customer’s buying process, not just what content matters to them. We, the jury, were the customers of the two lawyers (maybe they were attorneys…sorry I don’t know the difference) arguing a civil case regarding personal injury damages. The plaintiff’s lawyer spent his opening statement, and the rest of the first day’s testimony, detailing the amount of pain and suffering this poor old lady endured after she fell off the sidewalk one sunny July day at an estate sale. Sure, there was some uncertainty about the exact cause of the fall, but there was no disputing how miserable her life was afterwards and how she deserved compensation. It was very moving content, communicated in a persuasive style.

The defendant’s lawyer (representing the property management company), stated in a firm yet heartfelt manner that sometimes terrible accidents happen to good people. She reminded us that our role as jurors was not to assess the magnitude of her suffering without first deciding whether the evidence established both negligence and cause. Her evidence trivialized both the magnitude of the defect in a suspect sidewalk seam, and the likelihood that a 200lb elderly woman could have flown 14 feet from tripping on that seam to landing on the asphalt.

When the judge handed us the verdict sheet to fill in and instructed us on the relevant laws, our decision making process was clear: step 1, negligence (requires five points in the affirmative); step 2, cause; step 3, damages. In deliberations, we all felt terribly for the woman and her family. We also never got a “yes” past step 1b and the case was decided before our pizza got cold.

So to bring that lesson back to the world I normally play in–marriage, parenting, and business leadership–I am paying much more attention to the process by which  my customers (and wife and kids and colleagues) make their decisions, in addition to the content. What sort of vendor certification do they need to cut a purchase order? How many other parents do we need to meet from the new pre-school for my wife to feel comfortable? Which pajamas do I want my 3 year old to wear (because once she knows, she will choose a different set)?

I hope you find success by making the same shift in emphasis, especially by lifting the burden and asking the customer about his or her buying process directly. Whether you are in or out of the courtroom, a lot is riding on that decision.

What tips do you have about understanding your customer’s buying process? What crazy jury stories do you have? Looking forward to your comments!

photo: shutterstock