Sales Funnel Improvement Tips

How many people in sales really understand the sales funnel, the sales pipeline and the objections that can clog up the process? Success for many companies and start-ups depends on if they can shorten the sales cycle and speed up the sales process. It may come as a surprise to many sales managers that it is not product knowledge or productivity that separates out the good from the average in the race to revenue. The biggest key to unlocking revenue in sales is to understand the buyer’s perception of time.

sales-funnel-graph

The ability to move customers (cost of customer acquisition) through the sales funnel fast enough to bring in revenue can be the difference between success and failure no matter how good a business believes its product to be.

Even the sales and marketing gurus at HubSpot stated “buyer’s lack of urgency is the number one objection we face in the sales process.” So for sales teams to be successful, especially start-ups, they have to create a sense of urgency to move prospects faster through the pipeline.

The reality is that in today’s fast paced business environment, time is a scarce commodity. The seller’s time is scarce (need revenue) and the buyer’s time is scarce (need value now). Unlocking this time scarcity and getting the buyer to focus in on it is the key to a repeatable sales process and the means to a healthy sales pipeline.

The advent of inbound marketing and buyers own journey of discovery has seen seller time scarcity work well as a tactic. This tactic works well as the inbound customer is likely to be in the “consideration” or “Intent to buy” phases of the sales funnel, and moving closer to making a purchase. This is where seller scarcity nudges the buyer down the funnel. There are many types of seller scarcity from the instant discount for decision now; daily offer only, limited number of units available at the price, free express shipping or the free trials offering etc.

Buyer urgency presents a greater challenge. How many times have you heard the phrase “Can you get back to me in a month” While sometimes genuine (if qualified), most won’t remember your name by the time you call back a month later

The key to triggering a sense of urgency during an outbound sales call is to get some information about a business goal that needs attention. A sales person time is scare, if a business goal cannot be identified then move on. A question such as when is the latest you need to solve/resolve/have in place X?, is designed to probe as to find an urgent need within the business that justifies the prospect spending time engaging with a sales person.

From experience and monitoring sales processes, I believe a sense of urgency is best addressed after the goal priority phase of the discovery conversation. Once a goal that the seller offering can fulfil has been identified, then explore why it is prudent for the prospect to address the pain now. All sales people should be versed in communicating the negative consequences of inaction and the positive implications of addressing things now. A 3 step approach is to

Probe for negative consequences

Probe into the negative consequences at overall company level

Probe for positive implications

The sales skill and ability to bring a prospect through this dialogue is really important. The skill is for both the seller and buyer to understand the buyer’s priorities and how the sales person can help now.

Without a sense of urgency in sales, buyer desire loses its value

If I was selling data, I would probe how urgently the buyer needs to increase leads in the sales funnel or how urgently the data team needs to provide information to product managers, sales, marketing and finance. Another tactic is to sell risk reduction (use us as a backup vendor) to protect a business against the current supplier not delivering or if they are stretched. Computer and technology companies (we used this at Dell as a beachhead strategy) to invoke urgency as a way to sell products even if only small amount initially.

As part of sales training or as part of the sales interview all sales people should be able to ask and understand these same three questions:

  1. Why does the prospect need to take action today?
  2. What are the negative implications if they don’t?
  3. What are the positive implications if they do?

Ask any venture capitalist or business leader and they will tell you that faster sales cycles are a competitive advantage. Because faster sales cycles enable companies not just to acquire customer faster but to refine their sales techniques quicker, measure sales people faster, improve sales training and test marketing and lead sources instantly.

But much more important, moving sales faster through the sales funnel means speedier growth, which impacts any fundraising requirements and scaling headcount. For SaaS based start up companies, we know that product-to-market fit is vital, and developing urgency to prospects in the sales processes is equally vital.

Any sales strategy that unlocks time scarcity and motivates the buyer to act now forms the basis of a great sales unit that can stand the test of time.

Social Media Selling for Sales

A growing use of social media within companies by marketing and sales teams is in the area of social selling.  In the sales process connecting with prospects and establishing relationships can be the difference to winning or losing deals, more and more companies are using social media selling to help them accomplish these connections quickly and easily.

Selling and sales methods are evolving; the vast majority of buyers (business or consumers) are socially engaged and informed. The sales team must be too. They need to have the tactics, tools and training to leverage social media for sales success. The innovation of the Internet, cloud based business models, smaller transaction values and the adoption of sales technology tools means the sales profession is in a state of modernisation.

social-media-selling

The Inform versus The Interruption based sales model.

Why bother with social selling? Well still too many sales models are “interruption” based, meaning the sales person or marketing function targets a list of prospects then emails them, phones them, advertises on-line to them, chases them, which is still based on the hard sales concept (even if the actual sales discovery/meetings are collaborate the approach to getting the prospect to engage is interruption based).  Social selling with social media is when the sales team or marketing use social media to engage directly with selected prospects across a range of social networks. The sales team strives to provide value in the sales process by answering prospect questions, posting relevant content and offering insightful information on the company or product until the prospect is ready to engage in the buying process.

So social media is informed based, to intelligently inform a target audience thus allowing the sales teams to enlighten their prospects rather than interrupt them with cold calling or hard sells for meetings. The goal of social media selling is getting buyers into the sales funnel further down, it is about informing and educating prospects then converting them into buyers.

The shift in the way people are buying means sales trainers and sales teams have to shift the way they are selling. The Internet has changed the sales game, time was the only way a potential customer could find out about a product fit was to engage the company or more likely the company interrupted them. Not so any more, now Google, LinkedIn and on-line business forums will allow any buyer to identify the competition, do research on companies and narrow down the potential supplier list which will inform them on their purchase options. Options the supplier company can inform on via social media or let the competition do it. Studies in the sales process have proven time and time again that many buying decisions or lists of preferred vendors are made before a salesperson is even in the conversation, with many companies merely used as a stalking horse.

Sales success in Social Selling.

Before, the sale team signs up for twitter accounts or join hundreds of LinkedIn groups, to be successful in social selling they need to make the following happen.

  1. Sales people must give first, offer content, help and engage their network to become trusted.
  2. Sales people must change their behaviour and interact as buyers expect today.
  3. Sales people need to inform and connect social ties, mainly weak ties.

To assist sales teams with this sales transformation we will start with “social ties”. Almost everyone’s “social networks” is made up of a range of social ties that consist of friends, family, fellow workers, and other acquaintances. Typically this includes a group of very close social ties (family, friends) and a considerably larger number of weak ties (loose acquaintances) that get weaker as a persons social network grows. Across social networks today, the average user has over 800 social ties.

Why is this important to a sales person? Well it has all to do with the concept that weak ties are better than strong ones in social selling.

In social selling building a social network with weak ties offers the best sales opportunities in the longer run, due to different people and interests.

Why Weak Ties Are Better Than Strong Ones.

Well Doctor Mark Granovetter (author of “The Strength of Weak Ties) defined a social tie (and its strength) as, “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the social tie.” And if a sales person only spends time with stronger ties, then they only inform similar people, with similar skills, and similar interests.

Sales people and marketing need to understand that every social network is really a collection of smaller social groups.  The key is to inform the people who are weaker ties within this structure so they can act as a “bridge or broker”, by connecting the sales person to other groups of people as it is weak ties that allow a bridge to occur between two different social groups. A strong tie will usually only connect to similar profiles or interests.

When a sales person spends time informing and engaging weak ties they start connecting with different people, with different profiles, different connections and different interests.  And as a result of this, they create a network effect, opening them up to finding newer and different opportunities for development.

So the More Weak Ties, the More Opportunity.

Thanks to social media and social networks like LinkedIn, the average person has more weak ties than ever before. However the next challenge for the sales person is that is it not as easy to leverage weak ties. They can’t just phone them up and ask for a coffee or meet for lunch to ask them for an introduction to a company or buyer.  Sales people need to have a gradual approach, maybe some gentle nudging with insightful content on an industry, and over time grow the connection into a real business relationship.

This “inform” concept is at the core of social selling, because sales people need to build trusted relationships from the thousands of weak ties they are connected to today in order to influence the social ties they want to be connected to sometime down the line.

Sales people must change their behaviour to Social Selling with a Small Habit.

For social selling to really work, sales people will need to change their behaviour.  As anyone in sales understands, nothing is more important than hitting sales targets for this sales period and the next one will be just as important. But if a business or sales person wants to continue to succeed, they need to start building a social ties network of future opportunities now.

A simple method to do this is for sales people to form the small habit of sharing relevant content to their social network.  Train sales people that in quiet times, maybe as they wait to board a flight, having a coffee or after they check email, share some content prepared by marketing (not sales brochures or self-promotions) or maybe an article they read on LinkedIn, or twitter. Don’t bombard social ties with badly written or irrelevant content. As the sales person builds weak ties connections, they could send it directly to them as long as they know they will find it interesting.  Start small, maybe once per week, and they encourage them to gradually increase that to 2, 3 times per day.  Be thoughtful, be informative but build this habit.

Social selling using the Inform sales model is not a might do, the world and sales channels are shifting, selling power is in the hands of the buyer and buying power is in the hands of the seller, so sales people need to use social selling to attract buyers the same way as buyers are using social media to identify sellers.

Sales Strategy – Marketing Services – Sales Consultant – Social Selling – Inbound Marketing – Lead Generation

I'm always available to have a chat on your business plans and any challenges in lead generation, social selling, marketing or sales.