I had a conversation with a friend the other day that bothered me on so many levels. Okay, I can be easily bothered occasionally, but this one was a doozy.
It’s something that a lot of us have done. I know I have. But hearing about it from somebody else made every bell in my brain ring at full volume.
He gave a potential prospect some free work in order to close the deal… work that he would normally charge for. Work that typically goes towards his commission and quota.
And it didn’t even work. He never heard from them again.
Introductory offers, free audits, valuable lead magnets; that’s one thing. Many companies offer them with the knowledge and expectation that some people will take the freebies and run. Those aren’t the clients they want anyway.
But to give away your time and effort that is the main focus of your job completely free? Needless to say, I had many questions.
The first one being, why on earth did he do it?
He said that he’d already spent a ton of time on the customer and that he thought this one final push would move them to a close. Basically, he felt like he earned it.
Then I asked him if he thought his time could have been better spent talking to other leads in his pipeline. And here’s where the real problem hit me.
“I didn’t really have anyone else to talk to, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Wrong! That is a huge deal!
A lot of salespeople would agree that filling your pipeline can be the hardest part of the job. I’m pretty sure it says so in the dictionary under ‘prospecting.’ But a deep pipeline is sometimes the only difference between a decent salesperson and a sales rockstar.
It can also be the easiest thing to fix if you put some behaviors in place.
But first, let’s talk about why a full pipeline is a lifesaver.
First, prospects can smell a hungry salesperson from a mile away. If you desperately need a yes, chances are they can tell. At that point, you’ve already lost your footing. And they know they might be able to get some free stuff or information from you without committing to a yes.
Let’s pretend you’re in a free throw contest for an amount of money that you desperately need. It would keep a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back. But you only get one shot to sink it. That would be an absolute TON of pressure! That much pressure can lead to bad decisions or big mistakes.
But what if you had 15 attempts? Or 30?
Just from a statistical standpoint, you’re pretty likely to make at least one. The more tries you have, the more you’ll sink.
That’s what your pipeline is. It’s the number of tries you have to close a sale.
When you have that many shots, you can feel more confident about closing some deals. It is what will allow you to not be tied to the outcome of any one conversation. And it’s what your sales manager will be looking at to make sure that you are on track to hit your quota.
I didn’t understand this for a long time. I thought I was okay with 5 or 6 opportunities in my CRM. My business partner took one look and told me that I needed more in my pipeline. At the time, I didn’t think it was important. But as I continued to prospect for potential clients, I noticed that I was more comfortable in every conversation. The more prospects in my pipeline, the less stress I had, and the less I was attached to hearing the word yes.
But, and this is a pretty big but, DO NOT keep a bunch of junk in your pipeline to convince yourself that it’s full. You’ll know they aren’t qualified leads, and it won’t give you any more security than an empty one would. Any leads that you know won’t be a good fit or have been hanging around for too long without making any decisions need to go.
The sunk cost bias was another thing about his experience that bothered me. Because he was so desperate to close the deal, he didn’t set any expectations or next steps with this client.
I have talked about the importance of setting expectations in other posts, but the short version is that you have to value your time as a salesperson because no one else will.
And when you don’t have any other prospects to call up, every minute of your time with one becomes more and more precious. Before you know it, you’re just giving away everything you’ve got so they’ll say yes.
You’ve heard how you shouldn’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. You’re supposed to pick up bread, eggs, and milk, but you’re grumbling stomach forces you to buy Cheetos and cupcakes. (Might be why my girlfriend doesn’t send me to the store very often.)
This is the same kind of situation.
You need that sale so badly that you’re not thinking straight. Everything becomes about the short term gratification of cheesy fingers and a full belly, not the long term effects of the 3000 calories you just inhaled.
My friend and I talked at length about how to avoid situations like this in the future and some ways to increase his pipeline so that he doesn’t have to be so attached to each potential yes.
And these are things anybody can do in their business.
- Call past clients to look for potential upsell opportunities and ask for referrals.
- Reach out to your network to look for potential crossover clients or new opportunities.
- Look through your LinkedIn connections for referral partners. (I’ve got a great guide to help with that. Shoot me a message and I’ll send it your way!)
- If possible, work with marketers to define your target and find new leads.
- And when all else fails, open the proverbial phone book and start dialing.
There are a lot of good ways to overcome a shallow pipeline, and it will do nothing but improve your success rate if you do.
Being a salesperson or entrepreneur is hard enough. And yes, I know, prospecting is the worst. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) But with the right mindset and good prospecting practices, that deep pipeline will make your life a whole lot easier.