In 2017 I attended Dreamforce in San Francisco with Tiffani Bova, Brent Adamson, Jill Konrath, Mark Hunter and other legends of sales enablement.
While there, I was interviewed by Kevin Micalizzi for the Quotable podcast and here is an excerpt. Click here for the original with a link to the audio interview.
Everywhere I go in the world, I ask sales teams, "What do you think your biggest challenge is?" The frequent answer is...
"Look, I know how to sell. My only problem is I just don't have enough pipeline."
I usually smile back and say, "Well, if you really knew how to sell, you would have enough pipeline.” No one these days can make their number with SDR leads and marketing-qualified leads alone. In my view, the best a B2B sales rep can hope for is that maybe 40%–60% of their number will come from other sources. That means sales reps need to go and build a strong pipeline themselves.
Building a pipeline doesn’t magically happen. It requires diligence and finding the right approach. Here, I’ll share a few key pipeline tactics you might be missing.
Build Your Own Personal Brand
B2B sellers need to embrace social because 75% of buyers will research them before choosing to engage. When they look at you online, do they see a quota-crushing, Porsche-driving ubersalesperson? Or do they see someone of genuine insight, value, and credibility?
Everyone needs a strong personal brand. All sellers should move away from seeing their LinkedIn profile as an online resume and make it a personal-branding micro-site instead. That also means publishing content; you should at least publish a few articles. Even if you aren’t the strongest writer or simply don’t like writing, you can curate other people's content relevant to their interests. You can also proactively deal with common objections by taking an issue and providing a positive counterposition or highlighting your own experiences and viewpoints. Remember, though, you can’t rely on social alone — it’s only part of the mix to reach customers. The phone remains the most important social selling tool available today.
Create the Right Narrative
In my experience, most of the time, not having enough pipeline isn’t really the problem; it's the symptom of much deeper issues. The real problem is people don't have the right narrative, and they're not executing the correct level of activity with the correct combination of strategies.
The way we're wired as human beings is to talk about ourselves. We’ll call someone and say, "This is who I am. This is who I work for. This is what we do, and this is how it all works." The truth is that no one’s interested in that until they first understand why any of that stuff would be important to them. Consider why a conversation should matter to the other person through their lens rather than your own.
Think about what sort of narrative would work at the C-level. There are three things senior leaders truly care about in delivering results and managing risk: numbers, metrics, and percentages. When we call individuals, we should talk about the outcomes that we know matter to them based on their role in the organization. For example, one type of call could sound like this: "Hello, I'm from XYZ company, but the reason I'm calling is we're working with others in your industry, and we're finding with people in your role that they're really concerned about this particular metric. Some of the customers we’re working with have managed to move the needle to X degree. I would love to get together and share some insights with you about what we're seeing the best companies do to actually create that kind of success."
Now, you're providing value for that person in the conversation. You definitely don't want to betray trade secrets from one company to another. But if you can provide insights, they'll want to have the conversation. In doing so, you become the emotional favorite because you were the first to start to educate. Simply put: The right narrative isn’t about you — it’s about them. We need to provide value in the conversation, well in advance of prospects considering how they could derive value from becoming our customer.
Get Back on the Phone
The phone was the first social selling tool, and the human voice is far more likely to gain attention than digital spam or social media noise. Yet too often today, the phone is just abandoned, with sellers treating it like it’s covered in spiders. But the phone alone will not yield the results needed. Nor will email alone or social alone. It's the combination of activities in rapid succession — social, email, phone together — that makes the difference. You need to be on the phone every day, not just one day a week or a few days a month. It might seem scary, but to me, it's empowering if you think, “I need to do 37 phone calls a day if I'm going to break through and build the pipeline I need that guarantees consistent success and allows me to hit my targets.”
The timing and approach are also critical. If you want to contact senior-level executives, you have to try and reach them before they disappear down the rabbit hole of their busy day. You should be on the phone to people at about 7:45 a.m. and then back on the phone again after 4:00 p.m. Calling in the middle part of the day is really low yield. If you get voicemail, leave a punchy, relevant message and then immediately send an email or text message follow-up. That basic combination dramatically increases email response rates.
I’ve had CEOs say to me, “If someone just sends me an email, I tend to ignore it. Even if I intend to reply, it just gets lost. If they just leave me a voicemail, I'll tend to ignore it. But if they call me, leave a voicemail, and send an email or even a text message as well, I feel like at least I owe them a reply.” You dramatically increase the response rate on outreach with a combination of approaches — and, of course, all with the right narrative, too.
Sellers today need to embrace the right mindset where they truly own their own success, committing daily to a balanced set of activities that creates new sales pipeline and also advances live opportunities in their forecast. We need to get back to the ethos of having passionate belief in the positive difference we can make in the lives of potential customers, and where we eat rejection for breakfast. Personally creating fat, healthy pipeline every day is the best way to enjoy a sales career and the only way to thrive.
“Most of the time, not having enough pipeline isn’t really the problem; it's the symptom of much deeper issues.”