Sales prospecting: 4 Ways to take control of your sales pipeline

You all know what the sales pipeline stages are, right? As you market and sell, you are moving people from awareness (“Oh, look, they exist”); to consideration (“Hmm, they might be able to solve my problem”); to discovery (“Let’s talk about how you might be able to solve my problem.”); to engagement (“Let’s work together to solve my problem!”).

sales prospecting

Each stage of the sales pipeline has it’s own challenges. Some businesses seem to think that they should keep what they do a secret (or at least, they’re doing a lousy job telling people about it), so they have problems with awareness. Others might have trouble with how to close a sale. They struggle with how to ask for the business. We’ve talked before about improving your whole sales process, but there is only one point in that process where we are in total control. That’s at the top of the funnel.

Every business — no matter where their weaknesses are in the sales process — will have more customers if they get more prospects.

If more people consider them as a credible solution, then more people will buy from them! This is why cold calling “works”. Cold calling is 100% focused on awareness and consideration. If you ask enough people, someone will have the problem you solve! Some percentage of people have it bad enough that they will consider hiring you (even if you cold call them). If you look at it that way, it’s just a numbers game.

While the numbers are real, they aren’t the only factor that drives the art of prospecting (the only point on the sales pipeline where you are truly in control!). To prospect well, you need to look through the numbers. You need to do more than simply cold call (that’s doing it the hard way); you need to focus on lots of other ways to bring increased awareness of your solutions to your target market. If you need more sales, get more prospects.

Once people consider you, they can decide to buy (or not buy) for a million reasons–they don’t have the money, they don’t like your logo, they think you talk funny–whatever reason they give, it’s their decision. You can’t make that happen. But if you invest your time (and money) into prospecting, you will get more awareness, more prospects, and eventually, more sales.

Here’s 4 steps to building awareness and getting more prospects:

1. Be clear about what the problem is that you solve.

I interview two business owners a week on my podcast and I’m constantly amazed by how few of them can articulate clearly the problem they solve. Many of them also can’t describe their ideal customer! If you are clear about what you do and who you do it for, your prospects will jump when they hear it. You won’t be chasing them — they’ll be chasing you.

2. Target your efforts toward people who have that problem.

Once you clearly define your ideal customer, and describe their situation in a way they will recognize, then you want to get that message in front of as many of those ideal clients as you can. Where are they online? Be there. Where do they gather face-to-face? Be there. Who else knows those people? Meet those people.

The more focused your marketing is, the more effective it will be.

3. Be helpful.

Once you find those ideal customers and they recognize you as a credible solution to their problems, you want to woo them. Be as helpful as you can. If they believe you understand their problem, you don’t have to “sell” to them, just help them out. Offer them resources, ideas, connections, information, whatever they need; that builds your credibility and their trust in you.

4. Be clear about the response you want from them.

Once you’ve done all the work to find your prospects, understand their problems, and be helpful to them, they are going to want to work with you. But how do they respond? Make it easy! When you’re face to face, you need to ask for the order; on your website you need a button that says, So, are you ready to get started? (or something like that) where people can raise their hand and say, “Come sell me something.”

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will…

When people fill out that form, call them back. Call them right back. Don’t delay.

Yes, there’s more to sales than just prospecting. But if you invest your time and energy and focus in prospecting, the rest of the process will be a lot easier.

What about you? How do you go sales prospecting to keep your pipeline full?

Sales pipeline report template

Photo credit: hagwall

Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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