We love a sales pipeline, especially when it’s full of opportunity. You and I know both that the work of a successful business to business (B2B) sales team—especially in complex sales environments—is effective management of that pipeline. But all too often, it gets jammed.
You know the feeling - you’re gearing up for a sales status meeting and something is familiar. You’ve seen these same leads here before. They’ve been here for months, stagnant. They’re obstructing the pipeline, but you’re not sure what to do about it.
Identify the Jam
The best way to understand what’s blocking your B2B sales pipeline is to categorize leads. You’re probably already doing this to some extent, but Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling, suggests diving up your leads into four categories:
These leads either quickly move through the sales process or are in the process of a sale. Either way, they’re definitely not jamming up your sales pipeline.
These leads are clear nos, your solution just doesn’t fit. It doesn’t mean the lead leaves the pipeline permanently. Maybe the timing is off or they’re currently tangled in a competitor’s contract. Maybe you follow up in six months, or a year pending the situation.
Leads are “advancing” when the customer makes a meaningful, tangible commitment that progresses the buyer journey and the sales cycle. For instance, if the lead’s next steps are to schedule a meeting with their CFO, the lead is advancing. Or if there’s a webinar planned for next week, the lead is advancing. Overall, these are leads that are actively progressing towards a sale.
When the lead agrees to continue the dialogue verbally, but no other actions are being made on either side, the lead is a “continuation.” Here, no one is checking with their CFO on webinar dates, no one is coming back to you with projection numbers, nothing is really happening. You’ve made an agreement that you’ll “talk again,” but no meeting is scheduled. These are the leads you want to hold hope for. Yes, you guessed it, these are the leads that are jamming up your pipeline.
Continuation leads are causing your jams, and major roadblocks for your sales teams, but how do they get there in the first place? Mindset is a key component.
We all want our sales teams to be optimistic, but sometimes it’s detrimental to sales and relationship management. Educate your teams on how best to identify when a lead reaches the continuation stage. Remind them it’s not a failure to drop the lead, it’s just not worth exhausting any further resources. Dropping these leads down allows sales to focus their efforts more clearly on advancing leads, those that will more likely help them meet their sales goals.
What happens when a lead says “let’s keep in touch”? Moving leads from continuous to advancing means coming up with some creative sales enablement tools your team can use effortlessly. Gather data from past sales to see what best moves the needle. If a lead isn’t quite ready to schedule a meeting with their CFO, would they be more likely to yes to a webinar? A demo? At Proteus, we call these “plays,” actions that move leads closer to sales. The more you know about the play - its effectiveness and where it fits on your customer journey - the more confident you can be about moving those leads through to a sale. The plays then become the tools your sales team can grab when they’re faced with leads who just aren’t advancing on their own.
Clearing the Jam
Finally, clear the jam for good by regularly dropping off leads that don’t advance. It takes a shift in mindset and It takes creative solutions and equipping your sales teams with tools for any situation. But jammed up pipelines provide excellent opportunities to shore up sales strategies and better equip your sales teams with meaningful tools.
In the B2B complex sales environment, your lead pipeline is your lifeline in meeting revenue goals. Keep it flowing smoothly by ensuring jams are clear and your sales teams are positioned for success.
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