Building Your Pipeline in a Challenging Economy
With many companies facing economic headwinds, sales leaders are looking for ways to grow revenues without adding headcount. This reality has resulted in a consistent message from sales leaders: “We need our sales representatives to become much more self-sufficient in building their own pipelines.”
The challenge these organizations are encountering is that in a slowing economy, there are not enough qualified leads for sales representatives to rely on marketing departments and business development representatives to generate new opportunities.
For most sales representatives, the idea of becoming more self-sufficient is daunting since it begins with prospecting. Unfortunately, for many, this brings up the notion of cold calling to reach new prospects.
In this article, we’ll share a proven framework you can use to build a sales pipeline in a challenging economy to keep your team engaged and new opportunities coming in.
Why Is It So Hard to Build a Pipeline in a Challenging Economy?
In a challenging economy, sales reps receive fewer inbound leads from their marketing departments and business development representatives. This means that they need to engage in outbound prospecting to generate a sufficient number of opportunities to achieve their sales goals.
Economic uncertainty can also cause companies to become more cautious about their spending, resulting in a slowdown in decision-making processes. Sales representatives may find it harder to get their prospects to commit to a meeting, which makes it harder to move the prospect through the sales funnel.
Lastly, in a challenging economy, there is increased competition for the same limited number of sales opportunities. It means sales reps need to differentiate themselves by understanding the prospect's specific pain points and presenting a tailored solution that meets their unique needs.
Build a Sales Pipeline in Three Steps
Identifying new opportunities isn’t as simple as making more calls or sending out more emails. While the increased activity may result in some modest increase in meetings, it’s typically met with diminishing returns once sales reps have contacted their best prospects. To combat this issue, here are three steps sales teams can take to generate new opportunities.
1. Target Your ProspectingYou can immediately increase the probability of success by focusing on prospects that are a good fit for your solution. It starts by developing an Ideal Client Profile (ICP) that aligns with where you have had success in the past. To zero in on the best prospects, you should consider companies most likely to benefit from your solutions, the individuals you would like to reach, and why those individuals would be interested in speaking with you.
- Customers: Consider the demographics that define your current customers as a starting point. It can include industry vertical, geographic location, and company size.
- Contacts: Based on your prior experience, who are the people you need to engage with to create interest and sponsorship? Ideally, you can identify multiple stakeholders by mapping the account so that your prospecting can reach a broader audience.
- Interest Level: Once you have identified contacts, it’s important to think through why they would want to engage with you. It could include your ability to speak to industry trends, address specific challenges they are facing, or share the success you have had with similar clients.
Based on these criteria, sales reps can create a focused prospecting list that aligns with their Ideal Client Profile.
2. Multi-Channel Prospecting
Modern prospecting is a multi-faceted process that takes place across numerous channels to capture your prospect’s attention. It includes developing prospecting sequences such as phone calls, voicemails, emails, and social media. By combining and sequencing your outreach attempts, you have a better chance of reaching and engaging your prospects.
Each channel has benefits and limitations, so it’s important to consider the intended purpose. Here are a few examples.
- Phone call: Assume your prospect answers your call. Do you have a short message prepared to create interest and engage the prospect so that they are receptive to setting up a time to meet? If yes, ensure you capitalize on this opportunity to schedule the date/time while you have them on the phone.
- Voicemail: You don’t need to leave a voicemail with each call attempt. If you leave a voicemail, ensure it is clear, concise, and offers some form of value (e.g., share our latest research…). Most importantly, do not expect a return call from your prospect, and continue reaching out using other channels.
- Email: The goal of an email is to get your prospect to Open, Read, and Respond.
- To get them to Open your email, you need a subject line that captures their attention and relates to the content you are sharing (i.e., clear, interesting, and honest).
- Then, to get them to Read your email, customize it to highlight an issue or problem they are encountering. Briefly explain how your solution addresses their problem using bullet points (i.e., the value you can bring).
- Finally, get them to Respond by offering something of value. It could include a proprietary research report, a complimentary offering, or an industry event or conference invitation.
- Conclude your email by posing a question to promote continuance, e.g., “Are you available for a short meeting to learn more about how we help customers…”
- Remember that while you may not get a response to your email, your prospect may still demonstrate interest by accessing some of the information you’ve shared or visiting your website.
- Social Media: For most B2B sellers, LinkedIn is the social media outlet best suited to reach potential prospects. Here are a few simple tips:
- Keep your profile up to date.
- Stay active by sharing professional insights.
- Direct message prospective clients with content that is both interesting and relevant.
3. Execute Your Prospecting Plan
Prospecting plans and activities should be refined based on experience. It’s important to allow enough time to adhere to the established sequences and build checkpoints to assess what works best. It includes both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of your prospecting.
- Quantitative: Consistently track progress, including prospecting methods, prospecting activities, response rates, meetings booked, and opportunities created. This analysis allows you to optimize prospecting activities and sequences to improve results.
- Qualitative: Capture insights and experiences you learn based on the feedback (positive and negative) and the type of resistance you encounter. It will allow you to refine your messaging to better appeal to your target audience and improve response rates.
In a challenging economy, companies face a slowdown in decision-making processes, making it harder to move prospects through the sales funnel. Increased scrutiny over expenses and new initiatives also result in fewer opportunities.
To differentiate themselves, sales reps need to understand the prospect's specific pain points and present a tailored solution that meets their unique needs. This may seem daunting, especially when faced with the idea of cold-calling. However, by following a three-step process, sales teams can generate new opportunities.
First, sales teams need to target their prospecting by creating an Ideal Client Profile (ICP) that aligns with where they have had success in the past. Second, they need to engage in multi-channel prospecting to reach and engage their prospects. Finally, sales reps need to ensure they’re continually learning and adjusting their approach based on feedback.
While challenging economic times necessitate increased prospecting to build pipelines, the skills, and prospecting discipline developed provide ongoing benefits. These include increased confidence and better skills to develop new relationships, drive new opportunities, and close more business.
About Norman Behar
Norman Behar is a Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications, including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.