Proactively grow your business with these guidelines.
The customer story of today is simple. Loyalty ranges from temporary to non-existent. Mining the Internet for products and services has become second nature for customers, who rely on smartphone apps to cut through communication clutter. With an endless array of channels available, engaging customers can be an exercise in futility.
To get beyond the barriers that distance us from customers and avoid always asking the "Whom can I talk to today?" question, what is needed is a "pipeline" mentality. The process is one of customer creation—filling the "pipeline" with potential business while taking care of the new business flowing in. Instead of spending valuable time and resources constantly looking for new business, a more prudent approach is to create a "pipeline" process that proactively grows your business.
Building the pipeline
Here are the elements of implementing a pipeline strategy:
1. View prospects as "customers-in-the-making." Although it contradicts traditional sales strategies, viewing prospects as potential sales distorts the selling process. Although most salespeople are quick to say that they are solution-oriented and want to help customers, their behavior betrays their words.
It’s easy to spot the salesperson with one objective in mind—to make the sale. Everything is aimed at achieving that one goal. Prospects quickly sense the true mission and go on the defensive, either rejecting the salesperson or backing away from making a decision. Thinking of prospects as "customers-in-the-making" is more effective, whether they buy today or a year from now. The goal is to bring them into your orbit in such a way that they will not go elsewhere.
2. Make prospect identification an ongoing commitment. It’s counter-intuitive to put making a sale ahead of creating a customer. The goal of prospecting should be to identify those who fit your company's customer profile and who, when properly cultivated, hold potential to become buyers.
Making prospect identification an ongoing task is difficult for many businesses. The life force of sales is a pipeline that's filled with prospects who have discovered the value of doing business with you, who recognize that there’s value in partnering with you, and who have discovered all this before becoming customers. Most prospect identification efforts produce minimal results, because they lack constant attention. They’re viewed as temporary activity rather than as the lifeblood of the organization—the source of new business for the years ahead.
3. Segment prospects to focus on individual needs. Even after decades of discussion, few companies recognize the value of segmenting their databases and toss everyone in a couple of buckets, failing to drill down for personal preferences, lifestyle nuances, sales and demographic data. Although this is the age of the individual customer, the implications are largely ignored by most businesses. Boiler plate proposals are deadly and emails are often nothing more than thinly-disguised ads. These techniques create negative impressions.
4. Implement prospect cultivation tactics. Customers set their own buying schedules and they're not about to abandon their priorities to fit a salesperson’s needs. They don’t want to be ‘bothered’ with multiple emails or repeated telephone calls. They're not moved by attempts to arrange a meeting or by someone saying, ''I'm reaching out to you to gather information." But when the prospect is ready to buy, those who come to mind have the opportunity to make the sale. Staying in front of prospects regularly with helpful information builds the platform of success.
5. Be the resource for prospects. The most effective way to convince a customer to buy from you is to make yourself invaluable. What you sell may help a customer become more successful, but what you know solves customer problems. There are those who are reluctant to share their knowledge, fearing that prospects will take what they want and never bother to become buyers. While there's always the chance this can happen, it's a risk worth taking in order to demonstrate your competence and expertise.
The best way for prospects to become aligned with a company is for them to discover the depths of your expertise and the extent of your knowledge. This is the value that makes a significant difference.
6. Help customers be more successful. Simply selling the right product or service isn't nearly enough today to build a lasting customer bond. Going beyond the expected is today's challenge. For example, a supplier of bakery mixes and fillings noticed customers were asking for help developing marketing strategies and tactics for retailing their products. High-quality and innovative products were not enough—customers were looking for guidance on how to increase sales. Meeting this need was the first step toward selling more mixes and fillings.
A results-based approach
Because results are what count, it doesn't make sense to waste time chasing possible sales, following up on less-than-serious prospects and preparing dead-end proposals. What's required is a strategy that fills the customer pipeline with prospects that can be nurtured to form a steady flow of new business from those who know and understand company's capabilities. This is the "pipeline" mentality.
By John Graham
John Graham, of GrahamComm, is a marketing and sales strategist/consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eNewsletter titled "No Nonsense Marketing & Sales." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or www.johnrgraham.com.