Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Sales Seminar columns on sales pipelines. Further resources are at Bill Good’s site.
At least half your new business will come from effective pipeline management.
Consider: It normally takes months, in some cases years, from the point of the initial contact to opening the account. The sales pipeline, from a certain point of view is the average length of time it takes to open a new client relationship.
The sales pipeline is a messy, roiling bunch of critters. They’re hot. They’re cold. They greet you on the street but sometimes won’t take your call. To impose some order on this mess, I have divided it into “tracks” and “zones.”
A prospect “track” is a group of prospects who can be treated similarly. You must have tracks if you are doing any kind of serious prospecting. Otherwise, you have to treat all prospects uniquely and figure out what to do in each separate case. There are not enough hours in the day.
A “zone” is one or more tracks united by motion or lack of. At the core of pipeline management is motion. Keep prospects moving; otherwise, the pipeline will fill to overflowing, and prospecting will stop.
Zone 1: Motion
There are four motion tracks in your pipeline. The associated policies are designed to keep them in motion.
Red Cherry: Someone who is interested in your offer, is willing to accept investment literature, and whom you believe to be qualified to act in the near term.
Prospects mostly come into the pipeline as Red Cherries. Your objective is to increase desire and reduce fear to the point they set an appointment. This process is called “lead development.” When someone sets an appointment, they are removed from the Red Cherry track and dropped into your Hot Prospect bucket.
When someone becomes a cherry, send requested info and schedule a day, or preferably a day and time, to follow up. If follow-up date is more than one week away, send info, sometimes by mail, sometime email. If follow-up date is 2-4 weeks away, send something a couple of times a week. If follow-up date is more than a month, they are not Red Cherries. They belong in Delay (see below).
Hot Prospect: This person has set a first appointment. If the appointment is in the next few days, confirm by email. If it is more than a week away, confirm by email today, and send mail confirmation a week before. Send helpful or interesting information once or twice a week. Call the day before to confirm.
Active: This person has completed the first appointment, is considering doing business with you but has not completed your sales process. Ideally, every telephone contact or meeting should be scheduled in advance. Floaters slip away into Delay or Dark. The Active track is a narrow bridge over a pit of fire. Take their hand and walk them over. If there is any period longer than a week that you do not have anything, send something or call at a time they are not likely to be home and leave a pleasant voice message.
Decision: A prospect goes here if he or she has given you a date by which they will make a decision. When someone is right down to the wire and says, “We want to think about it,” I do not recommend you sail into the old tired salesman’s song, “What was it you wanted to think about?” Instead, say something like, “That makes sense. Suppose we reconvene on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Will you have decided yes or no by then?” And sometimes I will suggest, “I want you to take a couple of days and think this over. Can we reconvene by phone on Tuesday, at 10 a.m.?”
This is a short track. Ideally, decision date is no more than a week out.
Zone 2: Sluggish