Last month, I started a series on best practices, of which there are at least seven skill sets. I dealt with two last month—Invest Wisely and Prospect Constantly.
This month, let’s continue down our list, beginning with Manage the Sales Pipeline.
I have written several articles in Research on sales pipeline management. I have rounded up those, along with other articles relevant to this series, at www.billgood.com/bestpractices. This series highlights best practices, and my webpage provides deeper treatment of each skill set.
There are nine lead types as well as four “non-leads” that rattle around your sales pipeline. Each requires different processes to move them forward or out of the pipeline.
In this article, I focus on one lead type and the most urgent skill in managing it.
I call this lead type “Active.” I define it as: “Completed the first appointment, is considering doing business but has not completed the sales process.”
An Active lead might be interviewing your competitors, might be talking to a CPA, having conversations with family members, or just waiting for you to produce the proposal or plan. This lead is open to all kinds of influences.
Therefore, the worst mistake you can make is to fail to set the next appointment.
Let’s face it: In sales, especially as you get close to decision-time, fear and desire are fighting for supremacy. Your prospect wants the benefits you have laid out in your meetings and phone calls, but they are afraid.
The best way to keep the fear under control is a chain of next appointments. Here are several ways to do that. At the end of the first appointment, you can say:
“Bob and Betty, you have given me a tremendous amount of information. Obviously, I have a lot of homework to do. There are many moving parts to your situation. I can have my recommendations ready by (check your calendar). Could we reconvene next Wednesday at 3:30?”
There are two very important words here:
Homework tells the client that their problem is so large you are going to have to give it serious thought and probably work nights. Even if you know exactly what needs to be done at the end of the first appointment, the clients believe their problem is huge, which is why they are seeking help.
Reconvene suggests this process, at least for now, is ongoing. I have been using the word myself lately and I have had no one tell me they did not want to reconvene.
Here is another situation to expect from an Active lead. Prospect calls your office: “I need to cancel my appointment for tomorrow. We promised to take care of grandkids tomorrow afternoon blah blah whatever whatever.”
All staff should be trained to reset appointments. “Not a problem. Hang on just a second. Let me pull up Sue’s calendar. She has an open spot Friday at 2:00. Could you and Bob make that work?”
Or again: Prospect sends you an email. “Marge isn’t feeling well and we need to cancel our appointment this afternoon.”
I would immediately send an Outlook meeting request for a couple of days later.
“Bob—I hope Marge is feeling better soon. I’ve grabbed an open spot on my calendar, same time Thursday. If this doesn’t work, just click ‘Decline.’ I’ll ask Jewel in my office to call you and work out a better time.”
If you get a “decline” or no response within 24 hours, this Active lead is in danger of doing “dark.”
Once that chain of appointments is broken, just one of the countless fears and competition can weasel its way into your prospect’s mind, and now that smokin’ lead cools off, drops into pipeline purgatory and goes dark.
Pipeline management may well be the outcome of your lead generation. It is most certainly a “best practice.” Now let’s go to two more best practices: Control Time Allocation and Present Ideas Persuasively.