How to Build Your Pipeline (Without Feeling Gross)

It’s possible to increase your pipeline without getting heartburn or feeling ghoulishly opportunistic. 

Here’s how:

  1. Skip the assumptions. If you assume there’s no business, there won’t be any. And the truth is, plenty of companies are doing just fine, and might even be growing. A lot of folks are more motivated to get things done. Some businesses have seasonal needs they can’t ignore. Others see the current downturn as an opportunity to reassess, focus on customers, and invest in the business. Still other professionals are eager to capitalize on new opportunities related to current events. Any of these people may need your help.
  2. Focus on service, not sales. Are you that person who offers help when you see an opportunity? That proves you have everything you need to be great at sales. Instead of seeing yourself as a sales person, reimagine yourself as a solution or service provider. Listen and solve problems.
  3. Know how many customers you actually want and need. Sometimes we focus on finding all the customers. Yet, you don’t have unlimited bandwidth or inventory. When you have a revenue target, you also know how many potential customers you need in your pipeline. If you’re there, trust the process. If you’re not, prioritize customer development. 
  4. Schedule a check-in, not a sales call. Being transactional, especially when the economy (heck, our whole world) is in flux, can feel gross. But think about how you’d feel if you could have supported someone, and it didn’t happen because you just didn’t ask. I hate that feeling. So schedule a conversational check-in that can create a path to a sale. Some ideas: I’m sure that thing we talked about recently is the last thing on your mind, let’s talk about what’s going on right now. If there’s something I could support you on right now and I didn’t offer, I’d feel like a jerk. So I wanted to call and ask.I was thinking of you and how the current situation has got to be especially challenging. How can I help you with that.
  5. Create a win-win. If you need to close a deal with the pipeline you have, reach out to customers with creative payment options that generate cash flow for you and tax or budget benefits for them. Instead of looking like you’re desperate, this makes you look strategic and helpful. Corporate clients may have extra budget that they have to use or they lose in the next fiscal year. Savvy business owners who use cash accounting may be looking for opportunities to get a few more qualified business expenses into the year to reduce their taxes. For instance, “I know you’re savvy on budgets / tax stuff, so I wanted to offer you an option. Would it help you to pre-pay now for our Q1 work? If so, I’m happy to help you out.”
  6. Anticipate a yes. We’re trained to think about objections, or reasons that people will say no to us. Some of us are way too good at thinking up objections — or perhaps we’re conditioned to do it — and preemptively negotiate against ourselves. In soccer, they call that an own goal. Instead of focusing on the negative, prepare for the positive. Think of reasons they’d say yes. This change in mindset builds your confidence in the value of what you offer and makes asking for business less awkward.
  7. Know when no is not about you. Most no’s have nothing to do with you, your product or whether you’re good at sales. Some buyers are constrained by corporate procurement policies that require you to compete on price. Some buyers just don’t want to pay one penny more than the cheapest price they can get. And the people who make their no’s personal? It may be because they’re being treated poorly or they have their own issues. So don’t get down. Keep moving forward toward that yes.

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