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.

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If you can’t answer these three questions, you won’t increase revenue

In the words of Peter Drucker, patron saint of business leaders everywhere, “there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” Many professionals in private practice, such as designers, health care providers, architects, etc., rely on the quality of their work to sustain the growth of their business. At some point, repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals become insufficient to supply revenue required to grow (or sustain) a business. Larger companies often face the same challenge, but this post is directed more towards small businesses run by professional service providers.


Whether you have just set up your own professional service business, or are looking for more “tech savvy” ways to grow revenue, invest time in understanding the answers to the three questions below and you will see the payback very quickly.

  1. Who are my contacts, leads, and customers? Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has evolved several generations since the Rolodex. A web-based CRM database gives you secure, fast, permanent access to the contact details and history of interactions with everyone who’s paid you, and everyone who hasn’t – yet. Ideally, your CRM system will be integrated with marketing and content management tools (see below) to work more efficiently.
  2. Is my most engaging content reaching my most valuable customers? Brand reputation is maintained by the quality of the products and services their companies provide. But at any given moment, a very small percentage of the customers who are aware of a brand is actually purchasing from the company. The rest are either recent buyers (potential repeat customers at risk of buyer’s remorse) and future buyers looking to learn more about a company’s capabilities and form an emotional connection (because all commitments, financial and otherwise, are made with the head and the heart). To establish and maintain this connection, a firm first needs to generate great content, and then ensure it reaches key audiences through the channels they use most. This requires content management across multiple channels: web, email, blog, social media, and advertising. A structured approach can prevent spinning wheels and slipping down rabbit holes: here’s a very pragmatic checklist for creating a blog from Build.
    • Which tools? Squarespace and Jetstrap are powerful and intuitive website building tools, WordPress is a leading blog management site that can easily add more functionality, Verticalresponse makes managing email marketing with analytics very straightforward, and a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are table stakes for any business these days.
  3. Which lead channels are producing the most profitable sales? Don’t forget, you’re doing all this to make more money…so the last step is to check that all your contacts are reading all your content and actually buying more of your stuff. To do this, make sure the tools you choose provide the data–or even better, a button to click that gives you the answer–about which lead channels are producing the most profitable revenue streams. Should you increase your advertising budget, block out more time for in-person events, encourage more personal referrals, or nurture more repeat business?
    • Which tools? The CRM tools referenced in #1 above will all provide a sales funnel and lead analysis package. Of course this can be done with good old fashioned spreadsheets, too: feel free to contact me if you need help getting started.

Are you selling the what or the why?

Whether or not your job title reflects it, you are a salesman. We sell to our customers, to our managers, to our family and friends. We are constantly selling what we believe, asking others to buy it and come along to where we want to go. My three year old is my toughest customer, especially when it comes to selling her the idea of washing her hair before bed!

Simon Sinek always starts with why.

Ideas resonate strongest with me when I hear them confirmed in unexpected places. Recently I watched a classic Ted Talk by Simon Sinek about how leaders inspire action. The same day I heard part of a sales training webinar featuring Tim Wackel about improving conversion rate on leads. The main message is that people are much more interested in “why” you are talking than “what” you are talking about.

Sinek uses Apple and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to illustrate his concept of the “Golden Circle:” three concentric circles containing why, how, and what.

Tim Wackel’s “value proposition 101” states the issue, action, and outcome.

He proposes that “why” appeals to the center of our minds, the part without language that controls emotion and relationships. Wackel calls it “value proposition 101:” state the customer’s issue, the action you propose, and the outcome they can expect.

In both cases, when we make an appeal to the belief, aspiration, or concern in the hearts of other people, we capture their attention and signal alignment. If we build on that alignment with an action or solution that fits their rational needs, we are much more likely to get to “yes.” Just as importantly, if the initial statement of “why” does not resonate, both parties move on without wasting time over fruitless discussions about “what.”

So the next time you are selling an idea, at work or at home, start with your statement of “why.” You’ll find the approach to be much more enjoyable for everyone involved in the conversation–I know that bathtime at my house certainly is.