As a sales manager or CXO responsible for revenue and customer experience, everywhere you look there are problems to address. I won't give you a list here because it will just increase your blood pressure - you've had enough of victim's excuses within your team or partner channel. But when you've looked at all the squeaky wheels and eliminated the noise, what's the most important problem to solve? Which problem above all others, if solved, would remove tension between sales and marketing, improve morale, create productive staff, drive growth and increase revenue?
Here it is - a pipeline of quality opportunities.
In my 30 years of professional selling, leading teams and running companies, solving this problem makes all other problems become good problems. But when there's a terminal lack of revenue, people think about jumping ship or the blame game spirals out of control. With a healthy pipeline of quality winnable opportunities, the business is happy to invest and more willing to be patient. The leaders can rally the troops and resource a bid, improve the quality of sales team execution, bring sales and marketing together, and drive strategy.
Yet sales people typically lack the marketing experience, knowledge or discipline for consistently creating early engagement [strategic] pipeline ... this is where sales management leadership, and sales and marketing department alignment are critical. Here are some strategies and recommended reading for equipping your team to create quality pipeline.
- Use traditional press and social media to listen for trigger events that could indicate an opportunity that is on the horizon. Has there been a crisis or scandal? Has there been a change in a key role? Has there been a merger or acquisition (M&A)? Has a new competitor entered the market? Are there new regulations coming? (Book recommendation: Shift by Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto).
- Create industry and solution experts who can lead and equip sales people or themselves engage with target verticals on the basis of insights into: world's best practice, trends driving change, emerging technologies or disruptive commercial models. (Book recommendation: The Challenger Sale by Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson).
- Train and equip your senior sales people to become masterful micro-marketers, adept with social media to engage in communities the right way. No clumsy selling and spam on platforms such as LinkedIn; just positive insights, praise and wisdom to build their brand and contribute without a sales message or hook being included at the end of every conversation. (Book Recommendation: The New Rules of Sales and Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott).
- Identify, measure and manage the input activities that create quality pipeline. Managers should invest more time in coaching and supporting these activities than firing-up the blow-torch at the end of the month and quarter when it is already too late... you cannot manage revenue, you can only manage the activities that lead to it. (Book recommendation: Cracking The Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan).
Every sales person needs a balanced pipeline of short-term tactical and long-term strategic opportunities. They need both types so that they can achieve their numbers in the now, while investing in the future by moving up in how they sell. It is vitally important not to allow the urgent to squeeze-out the important. Everyone needs to filter-out the noise and focus on what really matters for tomorrow as a well as today - is there a solid pipeline of quality opportunities on the horizon?
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Jeff Pioquinto, SJ
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