Four steps for building your sales pipeline.

Sales PipelineFor many businesses, cost reduction has been a key focus over the last year, but with most of the big wins in the bag, growing profit is now dependent on building the top-line.

The performance of the sales force is increasingly a key success factor across many industries, not just in business-to-business, but in retail, hospitality and leisure as well.

How you go about improving sales performance and building a sales pipeline is less a function of the size of the sales team, and more a function of the size of the customer base. A larger base requires more sophisticated systems and support to really capitalise on the potential of the team.

Here are the four generic steps to improving sales team performance and building that sales pipeline:

1. Chunk the process into key stages. 
This is essential for understanding where the sales team is effective, and where development should be focused. Typical stages are likely to be: 

  1. Creating awareness
  2. Generating leads / enquiries
  3. Conversion
  4. Trade-up (transaction value)
  5. Re-order (frequency)

2. Set measures and targets. 
Measure the performance in each stage of the process, benchmark, and establish the potential for improvement. This allows you to trade off e.g. investing in after-care versus A&P, account management versus tele-sales. It also helps you prioritise key initiatives, and incentivise teams around the biggest value drivers. The absolute key to success is finding ways to collect good quality information without creating a paper-chase for the team, that will provide them with added value in their roles. Involving the sales team in developing this is critical.

3. Leverage customer information.
The most valuable resource for the sales team (and often for the whole business) is the customer database. Forget demographic information. The crucial data is contact details and contact / purchase patterns. Here are four ways to leverage more value from customer data: 

  1. Segmentation and the changing customer. By building segments from purchase patterns, not demographics, marketing and sales can see how customers migrate between segments, as well as which are the most and least valuable.
  2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Anyone answering the phone at Pizza Express knows, as soon as you dial, who you are, and what you last ordered. If they can do it, why can’t you?
  3. Direct marketing (DM). Whether based on segment or individual purchase patterns, direct marketing needs to be efficient (aimed at those most likely to respond) and tailored to the customer in a way that engages them, and shows them that you actually care. Without that, its just spam.
  4. Web 2.0. Amazon knows what I like, and whenever I order something, other people like me benefit too (people who bought that, also bought these). In a web 2.0 environment, I’m presented with those things most likely to tempt me, as an individual, to spend. Nothing that I want is ever hard to find. Does this describe your presence?

4. Build a culture of performance AND learning
It goes without saying that building a high performance culture in sales is essential. Using measures and league tables is a great start, but it needs to be supported and continually re-enforced with all the hoopla and razzmatazz you can muster. In addition, creating and using legends and tales from the front line, in every interaction with the team, along with regular recognition and celebration, are the keys to cultural change. 

Beyond this however, the sales team is a key resource for learning, both for improving their performance, but also improving the overall business. Great sales people are close to the customer and can be a great source of innovative ideas. And finally, try getting everyone in the organisation to take a turn making sales calls. It can be a fantastic tool for building a customer-focused business - one where everyone is there to truly support sales.