I recently wrote about how, in the corporate space and for those doing sales, achieving yearend targets could be a (major) breakthrough or a (massive) breakdown. With all things being equal — support on resources given, unique value proposition conveyed and other externally required factors — it becomes up to the salesman himself to go for the close, and close it as quickly as possible. This can only happen, though, if his sales practice is supported by a strong pipeline, driven by efforts and activities he does to identify opportunities along the way.
Opportunity identification these days is very much different now compared to how it was before the pandemic. Less than a year ago, when everyone was rushing like mad to go to work and meetings and beat the morning traffic, one could sniff opportunities by engaging in face-to-face conversations, the context of which depends on the perspective of the person you are meeting with, and how you can frame the conversation in the process. A couple of minutes later, you could be going home with a new project to propose on, and how you could then call out that opportunity based on the current sales stage.
However, times are different now and the environment we operate in has quickly shifted to digital, so our efforts should be, more or less, focused within the digital space, as well. How do we then frame our conversations when we are not in a café anymore and limited to a 30- or 45-minute Zoom call with a potential client? It will somehow be like the elevator pitch, except that this is not in the physical plane anymore.
Here are some ideas to help you build a strong pipeline, whether you’re an account manager covering a particular industry or a new employee wanting to learn how to create more leads as part of your lead generation efforts:
– Understand your proposition and the market you are serving. This is the most basic of it all: to understand what you are offering and the market you are catering to is essentially your unique value proposition deconstructed. There is no escaping this and there is no short cut in doing so. Read your company’s literature, understand the goings-on and follow all accounts online to ensure you remain abreast of your organization. Comprehension is key; without this, it will be challenging later on to sustain your conversations with your target audience.
– Market deep dive. Knowing the market you serve is just the tip of the iceberg. Get deeper into it and understand the industry it belongs to, its drivers and the trends that are coming up. This way, you can take your conversations off based on these starting points, and your prospective clients would be pleased to know that you do understand their business. Join their industry groups, scrub online for more literature and see how your offering can address some gaps in their business. LinkedIn is always a good place to start as a central portal for all what you will be doing as part of your lead-generation activities. You may find a useful article that could benefit your client; go ahead and share it. In fact, could make for your starting point when you do request for an online meeting.
– Identify your target audience. Coverage is key. It is one thing maintaining a relationship with the head of IT, for example, and one should always ensure that all stakeholders in the organization you are selling to is duly covered, bottom up and top down. By coverage, I mean the touchpoint that you, as a seller, is able to carry a conversation and lead a discussion with the different business unit heads of an organization, where your offering would make an impact. Procurement also remains an initial gate you need to go to when you are making your initial touchpoint in the organization. I always remember the film “Jerry Maguire” in this case. In one scene where the great Dicky Fox is being remembered, there was a quote shared that goes something like this: “The key to this business is personal relationships.” In selling, this cannot be further emphasized. Very important.
– Create your context and conversation. Expanding on the previous item, the adage “Different strokes for different folks” holds true in this case. It is not correct to discuss, for example, the technical capabilities of your offering to a CFO for obvious reasons. Rather, you may want to spin it to a cost efficiency-related and ancillary benefit that can be had in the process, which could then be of interest to him. This is where the meat of your offering can be discussed in detail, and from here you will be able to seek out the key executives who can champion your cause.
A strong pipeline is a key must-have if you intend to meet your targets, whether this year or next. It is important to focus your time, effort and activities in producing this to ensure that you can spend the rest closing.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, sustainability education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.