There’s a basic conflict every B2B organisation needs to address to maintain a healthy sales pipeline – the demands of nurturing prospective customers and achieving quarterly sales targets.
On the face of it, it makes complete sense for sales people to be responsible for their own pipeline. After all, they invested time in finding and qualifying each lead (although I have known some who refused to discard even the longest of shots, saying “don’t qualify yourself out of a job” but I digress…).
But consider what happens when the pressure mounts to make that quarter’s numbers. Suddenly, all of the time, energy and attention is focused on those opportunities with the highest probability of closure in the available time. And because you’ve hedged the quotas, hired a good sales force, they’re mostly successful and the revenue numbers look fine.
However, now it’s the first day of the new quarter and your sales person takes a look the pipeline again. All those deals that had a lower probability of being closed or which were at an early stage of the process. Deals that have been starved of attention. Situations that have changed due to shifts in the client’s organisation. Relationships that have been usurped by your competition who had the time and space to nurture them while focus was on closing. The realisation dawns that it’s going to be a long, hard climb to make this quarter’s numbers – and that slog repeats quarter after quarter.
Large organisations might be able to tolerate this kind of feast and famine existence, because it evens out across a large sales force; enough people are in the feast part of the cycle at any given time to make the numbers. For a smaller organisation – and for the individual – it’s a problem. The hard truth is that relying on individual sales people to find and close deals doesn’t scale and won’t deliver the predictable revenue many fast-growth businesses require to maintain investment in product development and serving demand.
The smart answer is to have a capability, sized to the business, dedicated to building and maintaining a quality pipeline. Sales development reps (SDRs), inside sales and demand generation agencies, all dedicated to outbound prospecting, have emerged to serve this need. There are some excellent practitioners who can provide you with an engine that finds leads, qualifies interest and nurtures (up to a point) contacts. The secret to making these capabilities really deliver is have them campaign with sales in mind. Focus on the target’s likelihood to act, not how well they fit the profile of an ideal customer. Use Challenger-style approaches to tell the customer something they don’t already know. Most importantly, be diligent about nurturing with purpose by which I mean adding insight to your customer’s problem and how they build consensus for change – creating the context for your solution to be successful.
Pipeline is the oxygen of every B2B business. Don’t leave yourself without any.