Leaky pipeline? Try a different approach to fix the real problem

Margery Murphy by Margery Murphy on November 14, 2019
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6 minute read

dripping faucet

Most homeowners know there’s more than one way to fix a problem. Some ways are better than others, especially when you ask yourself if you’re treating the real problem or just the symptoms. If you’ve ever lived with a leaky ceiling, you get it. A well-placed bucket saves the carpet during a storm but doesn’t stop the leak next time. The real problem, replacing the roof, is a major undertaking – lots of time and money, and lots of room for unexpected discoveries. But it solves the real problem. And when the carpet stays dry in the next storm, you’ll know the disruption was worth it.

But what if your sales pipeline is leaky? Too many missed opportunities, low-quality leads, grumbling between departments, and no clear picture of what’s really going on in marketing and sales. If you’re smoothing over problems only to see them crop up again, you might be placing a bucket where a new roof is needed. Let’s look at some signs it’s time for a different approach in sales and marketing:

Database/CRM

  • Reps spend more time looking up and verifying contact info than talking with prospects or other mission-critical work.
  • Calling and email campaigns feel like a waste of time, generating little interest. Everything seems like a or poor fit.
  • Reps can’t tell which prospects were contacted when and what was discussed. They’re wasting time asking colleagues to recap phone calls and retrace their steps, but they usually don’t remember anyway.

It might seem your database or CRM just isn’t useful to sales and marketing. But the real problem could be how your data is managed and put to use. When contact information is old or wrong, or call notes are missing or phrased ambiguously, the problem is often poor data management. A related problem is that reps aren’t consistently entering info, verifying details with prospects, or just don’t know how to navigate the system.

Another issue is not using the power of a CRM to organize, tag, and segment the massive lists of contacts most companies amass. In short, don’t blame the CRM, optimize it and use it regularly.

Leads

  • Sales doesn’t get enough leads from marketing.
  • Marketing and sales are at odds, working in silos, discounting or ignoring each other’s input.
  • Leads are not well qualified.

Maybe your leads are lacking, but the real problem might just be miscommunication and misalignment between sales and marketing. Review the journey each new prospect takes in detail, including voice mail, referrals, email opens, site visits, and any other steps in the nurturing process. Pay particular attention to handoffs from marketing to sales and procedures for follow up – these are common areas where people aren’t sure what comes next or who’s responsible.

If you’re missing opportunities because you took too long and the prospect has moved on, or if things tend to go awry in situations outside of the usual sales process, it might be time to document procedures. Write down each step, each if/then scenario so everyone knows the process and can refer back to it. Reach agreement on what a lead is (and is not). Documentation sharpens the picture, aligns teams, and goes a long way toward gaining and keeping customers.

Timing/Scheduling

  • Just when you think all the reps are on board, you notice many questions about procedures and extra time spend getting up to speed on campaigns.
  • Too many prospects say, “if you only called me three weeks ago …” or “we just bought from your competitor …”
  • Those who download your ebooks and open your emails stop engaging with your site and your messages.

Good timing helps you stay top-of-mind with potential clients, but you need to keep them in your mind too. As a rep, if you take good notes on your sales calls (which you do, right?), especially if a prospect asks you to call back in six months, you’d better be equally diligent about following up when the time comes.

Likewise, many sales and marketing reps are sold on the value of tracking who downloads your ebooks and white papers and who opens your marketing emails (and how many times they open them). But it’s pointless if you don’t follow up with them quickly and consistently. And don’t forget to do a little background research before dashing off that follow up email so you nurture and rather than annoy them.

Consistency is related to timing too. The more time you spend on a campaign or project, the more ingrained its nuances become, and you’re less likely to forget the caveats and procedures unique to it. In contrast, if you step away from the campaign you’ll need extra time to refresh your memory, catch up on calls or content, and update your notes. Long B2B sales cycles make it easy to forget how much time has passed since the last call or email.

In terms of your content publishing schedule, your readers come to rely on your blogs or ebooks if they find them helpful, so if you stop publishing or keep an inconsistent schedule on a blog series, you’ll lose their interest and your maybe reputation as a thought leader in that area.

KPIs and Metrics

  • You’re missing your target metrics or quotas.
  • Sales reps feel blindsided by bad news because they can’t easily track their stats over the course of a quarter, month, etc.
  • Marketing feels it can’t prove its value.
  • Your forecasts aren’t matching revenue.

Make sure your KPIs are the right ones, that is they’re meaningful instead of merely interesting. Solid data means your calculations and estimates are more accurate and the decisions based on them will be effective

  • return on investment (ROI)
  • lifetime customer value
  • traffic by channel (blog, social, email, etc.)
  • traffic to lead ratio
  • customer acquisition cost
  • MQL to SQL rate
  • SQL to opportunity rate
  • sales revenue
  • revenue per lead
  • time to close
  • activity reports (appointments scheduled, calls placed)
  • lost sales
  • cost per lead

Setting up dashboards that automatically pull from your CRM and marketing automation software are a great way to review metrics in real time. They allow you to watch performance over time and course correct rather than not panic at the end of the time period.

Don’t just gather data – take the time to analyze and act on it. For example, are you regularly checking for any disconnect between the number of leads from marketing and number of follow up calls placed by sales? What about the time between initial contact with a prospect and follow up?

Website and Inbound Marketing

  • Few people find you online, and those who do never fill out your forms.
  • Download and email open numbers are low or dropping off. When reps follow up with them, they aren’t interested.
  • The sales team has trouble adding value to what most prospects already know.

Review your web-based content critically for poorly written, dull, confusing, or obviously recycled content. These days if you don’t have a current, well-written blog, case studies and testimonials, and product/service examples on your website, you risk leaving prospects wondering what you do and how you do it. You also miss an opportunity to educate potential buyers about your industry in general and your processes in specific. This is especially helpful if you offer an emerging technology or want to break into a new market.

Most of your content should target specific audiences (a.k.a. buyer personas) with whom you want to do business. Identify the roles and segments you’re trying to attract, then use content to connect the dots for them. For example, if you want to reach people who work in purchasing and procurement, don’t just post a blog about the high quality of your product. Write strategically to show why that high quality should matter to people in procurement and what it can do for them. Sales reps can contribute their accumulated knowledge of what the best clients need, then point prospects to these resources online to add value.

A related concept is Search Engine Optimization or SEO, which is a strategic way to craft web content that ranks well in online searches – in other words, it can really help you get noticed. With SEO, once page performance is gathered (e.g. keywords and phrases included, links to quality related content), you make tweaks and adjustments until it is optimized over time. Your competition in the market, the other sites that link to you, and the quality of your content play a big role in your rankings and the time it takes to move up. It’s not an overnight process, but it can have big results.

Finally, think carefully about your use of “gated” content. If people aren’t completing your forms to obtain access to ebooks, whitepapers, and other premium content, what’s the root cause? Is there nothing truly valuable or that resonates enough to fill out the form? The content has to be worth a prospect’s giving up personal information. Or do you have an excess of gated content? If you are unwilling go give away information without asking for contact information in return, you could end up alienating them. It’s not about coercing prospects to share sensitive information, it’s about building a trusting relationship where both parties stand to gain.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the root problem for its symptoms. A leaky pipeline (or any recurrent problems in sales and marketing) is a sure sign it’s time to take a step back and look objectively for what’s going wrong. The fix might be disruptive in the short term, but it’s hard to hold people accountable to a process that’s fuzzy and pointless to demand strict adherence to a process that isn’t working. We can help.

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Topics: Omnibound Marketing

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This blog exists to educate manufacturers, engineers and technical minds on the wonders of inbound marketing, sales enablement and more.

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