Filling a sales pipeline shouldn't be left to one person or one group in your agency. While many agencies were built around rugged individualism back in the day, it's hard to be a lone wolf and find that same success in B2B sales today. Now it takes a multipronged effort and a little understanding of some foundational principles.
Roles in filling the pipeline
Let's start with a look at the roles within an insurance agency that play a part in the pipeline filling process.
Producers stir up interest with prospecting activities such as cold calls, networking, asking for introductions, connecting on social media, and reaching out via email.
Those prospects will then look you up. They'll search the name of the individual and the agency, go to the company website, look them up on LinkedIn. All the information they find is a result of marketing activities, which supports prospecting efforts.
If prospects like what they see and experience, we are getting them closer to considering a conversation with a salesperson.
Layers of branding
The next principle to understand is the layers of branding. Brand is like reputation – we all have one. It just depends on what brand gets associated with us: are we intentional about our brand from the inside out or allowing it to develop and show itself randomly?
If someone knows you personally, then that's the brand they associate with you. They know you, who you are, how you think, and have opinions about your trustworthiness.
If they don't know you personally or by reputation, they look at the next layer, the company. If they know the company, they'll associate the company brand with you and its reputation and trustworthiness.
If they don't know the company, then they'll associate the industry brand with you. Which should have you cringing with a "Yikes!" 😬 With one of the worst reputations in business, insurance is not the brand you want to be associated with yourself or your company. So dedicating time and resources to developing a strong personal and company brand is good for business.
People may not consciously go through these phases as they meet you, but they do unconsciously. And they will look you up online. What they find, or don't find, determines their next steps. If they like what they see, they'll be more likely to continue following or take a meeting with you.
If they don't like what they see or don't find quality information, they'll just move on, and YOU'LL NEVER KNOW.
Look at me! Look at me!
Get the attention of your prospects by creating a presence that draws people in so they want to have a meeting with you or your sales team. People want familiarity. They want social proof. They want information, education, and demonstration.
A strong marketing presence will help you achieve this familiarity, but we don't want marketing to require rocket science to get it right. We can accomplish the necessary presence with focus on a handful of key activities centered around your agency purpose, your value proposition, and a firm understanding of your audience and their needs.
- A website written to your audience about their challenges
- A strong presence on LinkedIn with active personal and company profiles
- Educational content addressing your audience's needs and challenges
- Personal presence with your audience through video and speaking
- Consistent communications to your prospects that stimulates their thinking
The interdependence of sales and marketing
Prospecting and marketing are so interdependent in today's sales process that we're not seeing pipeline success with just a single form of activity.
Marketing alone is a very slow road to new prospects. Until you have an extremely established brand with significant presence from content, social, speaking, and publishing, you will not fill the pipeline with marketing activities. Sorry for the bad news, but you can't buy your way to a full pipeline (of quality prospects). It takes two: marketing + prospecting.
Prospecting alone is a tough sell because buyers want proof. They want social proof of what you do and how you think. They want to see social presence – how people interact with you and you with them. They want testimonials and case studies. They want content that explains your thinking.
Buyers are so reliant on this proof that they are out actively looking for it in any form they can find. And they are consuming a lot of content before making a decision. Some reports are saying they're looking for as many as 13 pieces of content. Wow! Do a quick inventory – do you have 13 separate educational items for people to reach/watch? Even if this number was half that, do you have six or seven pieces readily available for them to access independently?
AND – keep in mind – it's not a single person making a decision. HBR is reporting up to nearly seven people participating in complex buying decisions. Again, even if it's half that, we're talking three to four people you need to consider in the buying process and their different interests. Do you have content addressing their differing concerns?
It's a lot to think about, and the sales team likely isn't going to create the needed content on their own. We need a team to make it happen.
Okay, so who does what?
Prospecting responsibilities: stir up interest
Social outreach: Daily activity with interactions - like, comment, share. Reach out to new connections. Go deep and wide, making connections at client and prospect companies.
Phone calling: A great way to get in touch. Many don't like to call, so there's not much competition for this medium, which makes it a great way to build name familiarity.
In-person/virtual: Networking events, business groups, associations. Be present.
Asking for intros: One of the most underutilized prospecting methods and hands-down the most effective way to close new business.
Emails: A solid way to get in touch with prospects, but it may be more effective after you have some level of name familiarity, so you don't fall victim to the delete button. Call, connect on LinkedIn, get an introduction – do all these first, then your email is more likely to get opened because they recognize your name.
Marketing responsibilities: support the interest
Website: Turn it into a resource for prospects with blogs, downloads, videos, links to social media.
Social posts: 1) Manage the LinkedIn company page and regularly post educational content. Buyers are not seeking out self-promotional content when they come to your page. They're looking for help with the challenges they feel day-to-day. 2) Increase followers on the company page to increase the likelihood of crossing paths with prospective clients.
Events: Host or participate in in-person or online events such as seminars, webinars, or roundtable discussions. Have someone on your team lead the session or bring in experts. Either way, you get credit for speaking or hosting and bringing the content to them.
Ads: These are not a necessity at all. If you want to run ads, be sure to target them very clearly to your prospects. Do the work to make the ads as targeted as possible to ensure you're not wasting money on the wrong audience.
Emails: Send marketing emails to prospects with event invitations or ideas and content intended to educate and help them in their roles.
Content: This is what powers it all: blogs, videos, infographics, case studies, whitepapers. Marketing is responsible for creating the content, but both the sales and marketing teams should mutually determine the topics.
Shift to filling the pipeline
When we combine both the sales and marketing teams' activities, we shift the entire perspective from being a single or siloed discipline focus on just marketing or just prospecting to being a multi-disciplinary focus on filling the pipeline.
Filling the pipeline becomes a significantly easier lift if the company and the individual producers work in tandem toward the same goals – convincing target prospects that your agency is the right one to help them and be their advisor.
When everyone plays their role, you develop an omnipresence around your prospects, creating brand awareness, sharing helpful, useful information, and creating the familiarity that is necessary for selling today. The more active you are across all of these essential prospecting and marketing activities, the greater the likelihood of finding sales success.
Regularly stirring up interest with prospecting and putting out quality, engaging content gives you the foundation for developing a strong company and individual brand and earning trust with your audience. Prospecting and marketing need to be daily activities for producers and the company.
Photo by kues1.