I speak with producers all the time who say their biggest challenge is finding enough opportunities on which to work. While I agree the biggest problem is inadequate pipelines, a close second is stagnation in the pipeline. When it comes to growing a book of business, stagnant pipelines are much more of a silent killer, but just as deadly as empty pipelines. Preventing this disease is easy once you can recognize the causes. From my experience, producers expose themselves in the following four ways.
1. Not being purposeful about how to keep the prospect moving
Momentum is much harder to regain than it is to maintain. It isn’t enough to just have prospects in your pipeline, you have to keep those prospects moving. Ideally we move them to the point that they become new clients, but sometimes we have to move them out of the pipeline to make room for prospects than can move more positively. Because of the distractions and the drain on your time and energy they can create, a stagnant prospect in your pipeline is worse than not having them there at all.
Keeping prospects moving through the pipeline starts with clearly defining the steps of your sales process. For example, the process our member agencies use has three clearly defined steps: Executive Briefing, Organizational Assessment and Improvement Plan Delivery.
Next, clearly define the purpose of each meeting (it should probably be to get the prospect to commit to the next step in your process), and start every meeting with its respective purpose statement, including the decision to be made at the end of the meeting.
Producers in our program will say something that sounds like the following, “The purpose of today is to introduce you to the unique way we work and the impact we have found our process has on our clients’ businesses. While I don’t expect us to make a decision about working with one another today, at the end of this meeting, I would like us to decide together if it makes sense to take the next step in the process. Does that sound fair?” The answer is almost always, “Yes, of course that’s fair.” This keeps the prospect moving forward.
2. Not having enough clarity about whom they should be working with
Not every client is a good client. If the prospect doesn’t have the following characteristics, they probably aren’t a good fit. Understand that you won’t be able to know all of this before you first meet, but you should look for these traits as soon as possible.
- Meets your minimum revenue requirements.
- The decision maker and management team are accessible and receptive to building strong, long-term relationships.
- Their business team is willing and able to use the resources, solutions and plan you would be offering.
- Their business will clearly benefit from what you offer.
- They value your approach, ideas, and strategies.
- They are willing to allow you the opportunity to earn the right to be a part of their trusted advisor team.
- They are receptive to providing referrals and introductions.
3. Not keeping the pipeline full
The natural personality of a producer requires them to always stay busy. Unfortunately, when a producer’s pipeline isn’t full, that’s when he/she starts doing stupid things that just result in activity rather than productivity. Not only do they busy themselves with service work, they allow themselves to start working on the wrong prospects. They start rationalizing why they should make exceptions to the list of traits I just listed above and also allow their limited pipeline of prospects to stagnate.
Have producers manage themselves to the following 5-10-20 standard, and you will find them focused on the right activities.
5 – The number of times per week you should be telling the story of your value proposition – how it is unique and how it delivers client value.
10 – The number of sales meetings you have scheduled on your calendar. The ideal you want to work towards is to have those 10 meetings scheduled within the next two weeks.
20 – The number of qualified prospects you have in your pipeline. A prospect being someone who meets your ideal client profile, knows you are working to make them a client and is actively moving through your sales process.
Following these strategies will be a great start, but just know there is always another level.
4. Not understanding that not all pipelines are created equal
If I were to put two copies of the same pipeline in front of you and tell you that one was worth five times as much as the other, you would probably either be confused or tell me I was crazy, or both. What creates the value differential between the pipelines isn’t typically obvious on the report itself: what drives the differential is the source of the prospect in the pipeline. If the first pipeline was filled by cold calling and the second pipeline had been filled from referrals and introductions, the second one would, on average, result in five times the revenue because of the higher close ratios that come with referrals/introductions.
So, while it is important to focus on the first three areas I discuss, don’t just be satisfied when those standards have been met. Monitor the R/I Ratio (percentage of your pipeline generated by referrals/introductions) and work to push it to 100 percent.
I say all the time that selling is a transfer of confidence; you are attempting to give a prospect the confidence that you offer a better solution than their situation provides. Having full, dynamic pipelines is one of the foundational elements of that producer confidence. If you aren’t very purposeful about maintaining healthy pipelines, it will be difficult, at best, to maintain a healthy level of confidence.
Pipelines are a crystal ball into your future success. If you don’t like what you see, you have the power to change the outcome. You just have to ask yourself, “How badly do I want the results?”