How to Build a Sales Pipeline

I was asked this question recently and thought I would try to answer in this post.  As simple and easy as it sounds, some intricacies need to be worked out before you ever begin.  My last article, “Cold Calling is Dead-Or Is It?” addresses an old method of simply picking up the phone and dialing.  Not much in that thought process! Nor, much success!

The trick (or secret) is to use your time wisely to build as big a sales pipeline in the shortest amount of time.  After all, the clock is ticking and the sooner you get a score on the board, the easier it is to garner some breathing room.  So where do you start if you have what is considered a fairly greenfield territory? Or your company’s presence has been minor?

You start with a collaborative meeting with your sales manager and the lead generation support (I talk more about this further down) Work with marketing to get awareness and interest in your area.  If you do not have any marketing effort at your disposal, your job is going to be a bit tough.  At the very least, you will have a sales manager, and between the both of you, you need to understand your target market, and how best to segment that market.

Building your pipeline is a bit like asking someone how to paint a picture.  You are going to get several different answers and many methods. I have seen this question asked in an interview.  It is unfair to ask someone without first establishing the premise for the question because it can have many different answers and none of them wrong.  Usually the person asking is looking for the same answer that is in their head so answering it differently does not make it wrong, just different.  Unfortunately, some interviewers do not see it that way.  That is why I think you need to understand from a collaborative view, what management is thinking and form your strategy and tactics from there.  There is not really a wrong or right answer because it can go both ways depending on the end objective.

You have to ask yourself two questions: Am I looking for numbers or am I looking for qualified numbers?  Let’s assume the latter. Qualified leads are the life-source of every company.  Why?  These leads have had a positive response from a potential customer.  If handled correctly, they turn into sales.  Lead nurturing is an absolute necessity to keep this potential opportunity from dying on the vine or your competition to swoop in and steal this right from under your nose.
Earlier I spoke of lead generation. Regardless of the size of a company, lead generation and nurturing is a requirement; period.  Your field sales force needs to be closing sales, not seeking qualified leads.  This role is one of the most overlooked, yet one of the most vital position for supporting a field-based sales force.  When you ramp-up your sales force, place serious importance on how this team is going to be getting their leads.  Do you know why companies always have a ramp up time?  Partly because of the training, but mostly because of the time to get there territory in order.

I realize there are other methods, but these really just lend themselves to the efforts of a dedicated lead generation machine.  Personal leads, contacts, and luck all are good, but a coordinated marketing and lead generation plan should be an integral part of sales.

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Happy Selling!

Ed Warner

Leads, Sales Advice, Sales Basics

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