We all know the danger of an empty pipeline, but there is something worse: a full pipeline that’s stagnant. You look at a full but stagnant pipeline, and it’s easy to be fooled. You see potential revenue and fall into a false sense of security. However, if prospects don’t move forward, that potential revenue never becomes a reality.
Here are some simple tools and techniques to help ensure those valuable prospects become even more valuable clients.
Define the target
To keep the opportunity moving in an efficient manner, you and the prospect both have to know and agree on the destination from the very beginning of your conversations. This may sound like a pushy idea at first, but it is the most respectful conversation you can have with the buyer.
You both know you are trying to figure out if you should work together. By defining what the criteria are for making that decision, you ensure you don’t waste one another’s time.
Establish what the criteria are to earn the business. Then, be honest with yourself. Are the criteria reasonable, and are you capable of hitting them? If not, move on to your next opportunity.
However, if they are well-defined, reasonable, and you’re capable of hitting them, you now have a target to aim for systematically, and it will be obvious to both you and the prospect when it’s been hit.
Way too many brokers are opposed to the idea of following a sales process. This is why you also hear those same brokers claim that it takes two – three years to develop a new client relationship.
Besides, in today’s online and complex selling environment, a process is much more for the benefit of the buyer. If you want to take them somewhere predictably, you must have a defined process that defines the destination and systematically moves them there in smaller, easier to take steps.
Send an agenda prior to the meeting. This is one of the easiest things you can do to keep prospects moving forward. On top of that, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to stand out from the competition. By emailing a simple agenda that outlines the three – five key items to be discussed, you project professionalism, let the buyer know you’re coming prepared, give them a chance to be prepared, and outline a discussion that builds on the forward motion of the sales process.
Every meeting you have with a prospect must have a specific and defined purpose. Part of that purpose is to decide if you move forward to the next step. By taking time to agree on the purpose of the meeting at the very beginning, you create a trigger at the end of the discussion to keep moving forward.
Every sales process must include some discovery conversation. Here’s what an up-front contract would sound like for that conversation.
“I don’t expect we’re going to know at the end of this meeting whether or not we should be doing business together, but we will have a much better idea. Today is simply about us both digging into your overall HR/benefits program, looking at all the key elements, and determining if there are areas in which you need to get better results. If we find that to be the case, the only decision we’ll make today is whether or not it makes sense for my team and me to outline the plan of improvement we would put in place if we eventually do decide to work together. Seem fair?”
You may be able to remember every detail of the meeting, but the prospect starts forgetting the details as soon as you walk out the door or click the “End meeting” button. I’ve read statistics that as much as 50% - 80% of your message is forgotten by the next day.
Send a very simple follow up email highlighting the key items discussed and specifically emphasize the issues that caused them to agree to keep moving forward in the discussion.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but give the prospect some work to do. It may be as simple as an article to read or a self-assessment, but it will help make them an active participant in the process. When they become invested in the process, they are much more likely to move forward with you.
The litmus test
You may be reading through these ideas and seeing the value they offer. But you may also be telling yourself you don’t need them because you have your own special way of keeping prospects moving forward. That could be, but look at each opportunity in your pipeline and see if you can answer the following questions.
- What is the agreed-upon purpose of the next conversation you will have with this prospect?
- When will that conversation take place?
- Can the prospect answer these same questions?
If you aren’t confident in the answers to these questions, you aren’t as in control of your pipeline as you need to be.
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