One of the biggest struggles for agencies and producers is the ability to maintain a healthy pipeline. I can't even begin to tell you how often I hear, "Things go well once we're in front of a prospect, but we're not getting in front of nearly enough of them.”
The primary problem with this challenge is obvious: if you aren't getting in front of prospects, you'll never write the new business you need. The secondary issues are just as critical. When you are struggling with an empty pipeline, it erodes confidence.
- You start to doubt your relevance.
- You squeeze too tightly on the clients/prospects you do have.
- You struggle to find the courage to make the very investments that may be the answer to your empty pipeline.
A healthy pipeline MUST be a top priority
Every agency must make developing and maintaining a healthy pipeline a primary goal. Of course, for the agency to achieve that goal, every producer must be expected to build and maintain a robust pipeline.
So, what exactly does a healthy pipeline look like for you? While there is no one definition of what a robust pipeline looks like, every agency/producer has their one definition of what it looks like for them. It will vary based primarily on their conversion and close ratios, as well as the average size of opportunity they pursue.
A healthy pipeline is one that, if maintained at that level, would ensure the producer/agency hits their sales goal.
I know this is no epiphany. You already recognize you need a healthier pipeline. The question is, what are the activities you need to embrace to make it happen?
Prospecting. Marketing. What’s the difference?
There are two ways to put opportunities in your pipeline – prospecting and marketing. I'm sure there are many nuanced differences between the two, but please accept the simplistic view of your author.
Prospecting activities are things you can do to put opportunities in the pipeline TODAY.
Marketing activities are things that will put prospects in your pipeline TOMORROW (no, not the literal tomorrow, over the long-term).
Prospecting may include cold calling/emailing, requesting referrals/introductions, and, to some degree, networking. At its most basic definition, prospecting activities are when you are engaged in some one-on-one, personal interaction during which you ask for an opportunity to have a sales conversation.
Marketing, on the other hand, may include your website, social media presence, writing opportunities, speaking engagements, email campaigns, webinars/seminars, and some types of networking.
Where prospecting consists of a direct request for a sales conversation, marketing is about creating an interest in the potential prospect to ask you to have that sales conversation (yes, I said that). Or, at the very least, the marketing warms the readers up for when they become a target of your prospecting activity. People who are familiar with your name and your content are much more likely to take your call/email.
It’s like a Magic 8-ball
The key is to know how to allocate your fill-my-pipeline time between prospecting and marketing. Often times, this is a regularly changing target.
Your current pipeline will tell you everything you need to know. It is the closest thing you have to a personal fortune teller. It will show you how much new business you are going to be writing, or not, in the foreseeable future.
And, indirectly, it will tell you exactly how to spend your time. It will tell you what to do to turn bleak predictions more positive; it will tell you what to do to maintain a financially lucrative forecast.
It’s not rocket science, but you do have to pay attention
When your pipeline is dry, you must spend more time in prospecting activities to fill the immediate need.
When your pipeline is healthy, the obvious answer is to spend more time on marketing activities to ensure that you maintain a robust pipeline.
Disciplined time allocation
Whether you need to be focusing on prospecting or marketing, you must find the discipline to block out the appropriate amount of time for your fill-the-pipeline activities. Start by asking yourself how many hours a week you need to commit to prospecting/marketing activities.
- If you work a 50-hour week and you need to spend 75% of your time in overall sales activities (this includes sales presentations and preparation for those presentations in addition to prospecting/marketing), you have 37.5 hours of available sales-related time.
- Deduct the number of hours your scheduled sales presentations are going to require each week. Let's assume, on average, you need 25% of your time for those presentations (including preparation) or 12.5 hours.
- You then have 25 hours to allocate between prospecting and marketing.
- If your pipeline is dry, perhaps you spend 75% of those hours on prospecting and 25% on marketing.
- If your pipeline is already healthy, flip those percentages around.
Just do it
The key is to recognize these are activities you have to do on a weekly, if not daily, basis. As a salesperson, there is no higher priority for you than ensuring the health of your pipeline. And, when something is a priority, you must plan for it, schedule it on the calendar, and execute with discipline.
Make this the year you up your new business game. But that has to start by upping your pipeline game.
Photo by Dean Drobot