The most valued skillset that your account executives possess is their ability to advance a potential customer through the buying cycle to close.
In order to capitalize on this skillset, many companies separate prospecting from closing, allowing their sales teams to divide and conquer by focusing on what they do best. The prospecting group is often called “sales development reps” (SDRs), and the closers are usually “account executives” or “sales reps.” This specialization helps both groups stay productive and motivated.
But sometimes your sales reps will have to prospect. You know this time has come when you look around the office, and your salespeople are just bored. They aren’t bored because they’re closing all their prospects at an incredible pace. They’re bored because they don’t have anyone to talk with.
Their pipeline has essentially dried up. And yeah, it may not be their job to develop pipeline. But if they don’t, it’s clear that they won’t hit their number. And if you’re a fast-growing company, the last thing you can afford to do is to slow down your growth and momentum.
Your only option here is all hands on deck. And that means your account executives need to start building their own pipeline. They are going to need your help; what are you going to do?
You go after low-hanging fruit.
Here’s the 5-step process to capture your low-hanging pipeline fruit.
Determine Your Sales Pipeline Goals
How much time do your sales reps need to invest in order to develop enough pipeline? There’s no way of knowing the answer to that question unless you first determine what “enough pipeline” is. How much pipeline do they need to develop?
Starting down the prospecting path without knowing your goal will lead to greater inefficiency and risk of failure. Not to mention if there’s no goal to reach, there is no way to win.
If your sales reps invest too much time in pipeline development, they’ll underinvest in engaging and closing the active opportunities that they have in front of them.
If your sales reps invest too little time in pipeline development, they’ll fall short of the amount of business that they need to develop on their own.
In order to determine the quantity of opportunities that your sales reps need, do this:
- First, draw your funnel out on paper or whiteboard, including the conversion rates. How many qualification meetings convert to discovery meetings? How many discovery meetings turn into demos? How many demos convert to paying customers? How much revenue does each customer bring in? This doesn’t need to be fancy.
- Then: work backwards. If your sales reps need to develop enough pipeline to close an additional $50,000 of revenue this year, then you should know exactly how many qualification appointments they need.
Your goal should be to help your sales reps develop the biggest amount of potential deals in the shortest amount of time. Their time is a scarce resource that needs to be managed effectively.
You want to create opportunities that allow for the biggest amount of quality interactions in the shortest amount of time.
One way to help your sales reps engage with a large amount of potential customers in a very short amount of time is at conferences. Where else will you find hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers in one area?
Companies do go horribly wrong with conferences when they don’t conduct the appropriate amount of homework to find the right conference with the right people. Most conference organizers will (of course) tell you that you need to attend their conference (and give them lots of sponsorship money).
A better approach to researching events is to call your existing customers (and potential customers) and ask them what conferences they attend. They’ll not only tell you what they attend, but they’ll tell you which conferences are the best. A pattern will eventually emerge after you’ve talked to five customers. Send your sales reps to the number one conference that your customers recommend.
If you can work far enough ahead, have a booth presence. You don’t need the largest space available; get a space that is appropriate for the size of your company, or a little aspirational.
If this really is a last-minute strategy, you could get a sweet deal for unsold booth space. If you were planning on this conference anyway and suddenly you’re facing a lead shortfall, send more reps, or get better totschkes.
Many conference organizers will give sponsors a list of attendees and their email addresses before the conference for the right price. Pony up for the sponsorship level that gives you contact information for all attendees.
- Reach out to those attendees with some type of offer for attending the event. It could be “come by our booth for a cupcake” or “schedule time to talk with our CEO at our booth about best practices for solving (X) problem.” Give them a reason to look you up, and make sure they know exactly where to find you at the conference.
- Draw people to your booth with great graphics or the smell of baking cookies, or… Whatever it is, it’s best if there is some logical connection to your company.
- Prep your sales reps so they are totally ready to have conversations with those prospects.
- Also, have a marketing or sales development person at the conference to take over conversations if a booth attendee is clearly not qualified. That will free your sales reps up to have great conversations.
If you picked the right conference, your sales reps will find the time investment to be worth it.
Fly to Targeted Accounts
What conferences deliver is a human, personal, one-to-one, face-to-face experience. You can recreate a bit of that with a targeted travel strategy.
One of our customers, Rolepoint, does this very well with their inside account executives. They map out where their targeted accounts are located and then they fly their sales reps to that city to meet with as many of those potential customers as possible.
Not surprisingly, many standoffish potential customers become willing to meet. In fact, many will invite your account executives directly to their office to have an introductory conversation.
To keep this efficient, you’ll have to first map out where your targeted accounts are located, and then run a campaign to promote your visit to those prospects. Try email first, and follow up with personal phone calls.
- Once you have your list of potential customers that you want to meet, shoot them an email that reads:
Follow that email with two more emails following up (and reminding them about) the first email.
- Expect a 20 percent success rate. If you reach out to 30 people, you’ll likely get six meetings.
- Also, share the same time with each prospect (such as 9:30am on Thursday morning) instead of asking each prospect to meet at a different time.
When a prospect responds to say they are willing to meet, let them know if that time doesn’t work any longer, but you can be flexible with their schedule.
This is really my favorite tactic, because it can work very quickly, and it makes everyone happy.
Your customers have peers. And those peers are probably experiencing the same issues that your current customers experience. So when friends in the same industry swap tales of things that went wrong, you want your happy customer to have the pleasure of telling their friend about how things went right with you.
Joanne Black, the owner of No More Cold Calling, says that the sales people she talks to tell her that referral selling has a minimum of a 50 percent conversion rate; many report up to 70 to 90 percent conversion.
According to McKinsey, word of mouth is the primary driver behind 20 to 50% of purchases. And, according to October 2014 research by Implisit, 3.63% of leads generated from customer and employee referrals resulted in a sale, the highest conversion rate of all.
Why? Because friction at each stage in the sales cycle is removed. Your customer and their referral have developed trust in their relationship. That trust gets transferred to you when your customer refers you to their contact.
Referrals go beyond the prospect density ratio. This is deal density!
Sales referrals should be a no-brainer for building pipeline. Just make sure that you have built trust in your relationship with the customer before you ask.
You won’t get high-quality sales referrals if you either rely on pressure tactics to get referrals from your prospects, or if you have someone else ask for referrals who doesn’t have an existing relationship with your customer (such as a sales development rep).
- Empower your account executives to achieve trusted advisor status with their customers. Inside sales executives do this best by sharing content that adds value to the customer’s day-to-day.
- Establish criteria for the type of referrals you want your customers to provide. I include the following: 1) the problem statement, and 2) buyer persona attributes. For example, I may ask for an intro to product marketers in tech who create content for their sales reps, but can’t measure what content gets shared by sales.
- Give your referrer a paragraph blurb to send their prospect. Mine looks like this:
Do you create content for sales to use?
If so, may I intro you to Alex Lopes at Sharebird? His software shows product marketing teams which content will help your sales reps close deals.
We have been really happy with them at <<customer’s company name>>.
For a relatively small investment, they’ll return a larger number of customer referrals than you could generate on your own. And remember, referrals convert to customers at a very high rate and tend to be bigger, better deals.
Build the Relationship Through Content
One of the greatest benefits of meeting people face-to-face is that the interaction accelerates the prospect through the sales funnel.
However, field sales (face-to-face) is at least 10x more expensive than inside sales. For many companies, their deal size doesn’t allow for field sales.
So how do your inside account executives build relationships and trust with their prospects when they can’t interact regularly with them in person? Through content.
Top performing sales reps share relevant and helpful content to strengthen the relationship.
I haven’t met a top performing sales rep that didn’t have their own Evernote or Google Doc filled with content that they share with prospects. Don’t believe me? Ask your top sales reps if they have their own document with weblinks that they share with prospects.
Prospects who receive helpful content feel like your sales reps want them to be successful. That’s a great way to warm up a potential customer. The rep can take them from someone who doesn’t want to engage to someone whose interest has been caught, to someone who is willing to have an in-depth discovery conversation.
If you want to help your inside account executives build pipeline, help them share content.
In order to get the right content into your sales reps’ hands, try the following.
- Make it easy for your sales reps to find content. Many companies organize content in Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox. You probably already know this is not an easy way for your sales reps to find content (or for your content team to organize).
What to do instead? Invest in a sales enablement content portal that helps your reps find the right content to share in Gmail. Just avoid these pitfalls when looking for a portal.
- Measure how that content performs. Inside of your CRM, you’re going to want to track three metrics:
- Which content do your salespeople share?
- Which content gets viewed by prospects?
- Which content helps advance prospects through the sales funnel?
A good sales enablement content portal will track these metrics for you.
Share these metrics with your sales reps; it will help them see precisely what’s working, and you’ll see an uptick in the amount of content that they share in the sales cycle … and very likely in their conversion rates.
- And the final step is to create more of the content that helps your sales reps build pipeline and close deals.
Marketing has a more active, more direct role to play in sales enablement than ever before. By going after the low-hanging fruit in your pipeline, you can prevent a bad quarter and lower the risk of your sales reps not hitting their number.
These steps will help you maximize the volume of potential customers you move into the funnel, while allowing sales to focus on what they do best: turning those prospects into customers.
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