You’re here because you want to build your sales pipeline. That’s great! You’re also not alone, as 75% of companies say closing more deals is their top sales priority.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say: Building sales pipeline can be EXTREMELY hard!
Well, it turns out it’s a lot easier when you have the fundamentals down first. In fact, fundamentals are what all great companies master before they achieve exponential growth.
As Coach Bill Walton said, “Success begins from the ground up!”
Let’s zoom out to ensure you capture the basics.
Fundamental #1: The (ideal) customer comes first
Without a customer you don’t have a business. Every conversation should start with the customer in mind, especially conversations about sales and marketing.
Here’s what you should do:
Start by determining your ideal customer profile (ICP), which is a description of the company that’s a perfect fit for your solution. If your company is more established, you should have a pretty good idea of your ICP because you’ve already been selling to them. Begin by considering what types of deals close the fastest and the types of companies that are ‘easiest’ to work with. Note that if you are a startup you may have to refine your ICP a few times as the company matures and pivots. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to refine your ICP at least once each year.
To start building a clear ICP, here are a few elements to consider:
- Study your data for patterns exhibited by your ideal prospects—the ones who turn out to buy the most and are the most loyal to your brand. At Televerde we use data points such as profit margins, client performance, sales cycle, conversion rates, and retention rates.
- Look at those accounts to understand which ones are the most profitable to serve effectively. You’ll definitely want more of those.
- There may be some minor discrepancies, but you should be able to utilize your SDRs to build a profile that maps out their key attributes, such as challenges, digital behavior, firmographic data and other traits.
- Also look at competitors selling to your market to see the types of companies they are targeting and determine if those companies may also be a good fit for your org.
Why is a crystal clear ICP so important? Because we’re not just looking to build a sales pipeline for the sake of looking smart for management. You want to bring in opportunities with high propensity to close and close quickly. Then, you can find more of them. Having the wrong types of accounts (such as those with complex regulatory or compliance demands that can strain your resources, for example) in the pipeline can negatively affect your conversion rates and demotivate your sales team.
It pays to also define the personas of key decision makers at the companies in your ICP, by asking who at these target accounts do you need to influence to sell your product or solution? According to Harvard Business Review, the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today.
Fundamental #2: Define your sales stages
At this point (unless you are a startup) you should have a series of steps in your sales process.
Here’s what I mean:
When a prospect wants what you offer, what are the steps they must go through to purchase your product?
If you sell a service, you might have the following stages:
- Closed won/lost
As a marketer, it’s essential that you work closely with your sales team (Yay to sales and marketing alignment) to determine these stages, so everyone has a clear grasp around what happens after a lead enters the pipeline.
Fundamental #3: Establish lead qualification service level agreements (SLAs)
Okay, stick with me here because this is extremely important for companies at any level. Because when marketing and sales choose to work together, Hubspot reports companies see an average of 36% higher customer retention and 38% higher sales win rates, not to mention a whopping 208% increase in revenue from marketing efforts.
Sales hates bogus leads! Bad leads are just a waste of time. And if you’re in sales, how you use your time is critical to your success. As a marketer it can be easy to just throw things over the fence to sales and hope they close it. That’s why at Televerde our Demand Generation team also owns a revenue number to ensure sales and marketing are aligned on the same goals.
A sales and marketing SLA is an agreement between the two teams about what each will deliver to the other. For example, this SLA may include a target for the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) the marketing team will produce each quarter, as well as how many of those leads the sales team will qualify and convert to opportunities. You get the picture.
The takeaway here is that in order to start building a sales pipeline you must first determine what even enters the pipeline. If you skip this, you will have poor conversion rates and angry glares from your account executives as you walk by. Avoid this by having a written SLA agreement. Seems silly at first, but it will provide clarity to both teams later.
Fundamental #4 Map out your metrics
Know your numbers!
In today’s world, data is extremely important when it comes to running a business. If you want a full sales pipeline you need a core set of numbers to ensure it flows smoothly. Just 28% of marketers say they are “very effective” at demonstrating the value of their marketing efforts to their peers. The majority (69%) say that they are only “somewhat effective” at it.
Here are the basic sales pipeline metrics:
- How many qualified leads at the top of the funnel? (Marketing Qualified Leads, MQLs)
- How many of those leads turn into opportunities? (MQL to Opportunity Conversion Rate)
- How many of those are turning into sales? (Closed won deals and Close Rate)
- How long does it take a deal to move through the pipeline? (Days to Close)
- What’s the average sales price? (ASP)
In order to ensure you have a full pipeline, you want to determine what these numbers should be for your business.
The way we typically do that is by working backwards from our goals. Let’s say we want to achieve $50M in revenue for the year. We may have to make some estimates on our conversion rates unless you have that data already, but here’s how it works:
At the most basic levels, these numbers will act as a guidepost for your sales pipeline. With some easy math you can determine how much you should be doing per quarter, month, and even day to hit your goals.
These performance goals help you understand where you are now and what you’ll need to be doing to hit your numbers.
Fundamental #5 Let’s get technical
Alright now we get to talk about technology and how it impacts your sales pipeline.
Up to this point you have the solid fundamentals of how to build a modern sales pipeline. Now we want to be strategic about which technologies we utilize to ensure our sales pipeline operates efficiently but also stays full.
There are a few pieces of core technology you need:
You’ll need a data provider that provides you with prospect lists and cleanses/appends new data to allow you to effectively build your sales pipeline.
You’ll need a CRM to manage leads and opportunities and house all of your sales pipeline data and reporting. This is your source of truth where you can find the data you need to better understand your pipeline.
You’ll need a marketing automation platform (MAP) to ensure your leads move around in the pipeline correctly, but also to help you nurture sales opportunities so nothing falls out of your pipeline. You’ll also use your MAP for lead scoring to help you prioritize which prospects and accounts to connect with.
We recommend having a sales engagement tool like Outreach or InsideSales. These tools empower your outbound sales team to prospect, follow up, and close deals. Sales engagement tools also allow the team to align with marketing around key touchpoints to ensure the journey is as smooth as can be.
This is a very lean martech stack, but you should consider what is truly necessary for your sales pipeline to eliminate unnecessary expense and confusion.
Now that you have the fundamentals down let’s get fancy!
How to do you fill your sales pipeline?
There are a few ways to fill your sales pipeline and by no means will a one-size-fits-all formula. Here are the components we utilize to fill our pipeline and our clients.
Prioritize Your Prospecting
We start filling our pipeline by getting smarter about who we prospect into. We pull down a list of ICP accounts and prospects. Then we utilize a combination of our lead scoring and third-party intent data to prioritize who we should prospect to first.
Launch a coordinated campaign
Next, we launch a multi-channel campaign that is personalized to the prospect by interest topic given to us from our intent provider, filtered by job persona and industry.
We fire up LinkedIn advertising and use matched audiences to get our blog content in front of our ICP to build awareness. Once they engage, we retarget them with advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Display Network with a useful piece of content, resource, or case study as they progress through the funnel.
In the background, our sales development team is placing outbound calls and sending personalized cold emails using Outreach to targeted prospects trying to set a meeting for our account executive team. They leverage timely follow up and social selling techniques to connect at the right time with the right message.
Once leads start flowing, we keep them engaged by using marketing automation to deliver personalized nurture campaigns, with the goal of moving the deal along until it becomes a closed won.
I know this is a simplified approach but in each of these elements there are lots of things happening to drive this revenue engine. We will dissect a best in class demand generation campaign in another blog post. Once you’ve completed the fundamentals you can start to explore additional techniques or strategies to fill your pipeline quickly.