How to Create a Sales Pipeline That Delivers: The 3 Missing Fundamentals

No matter what we set out to achieve today, tomorrow, or in the year ahead, there’s always that part of the brain which is trying to sabotage our efforts.

 

That voice in our head that pulls us towards the path of least resistance, saying; “it’s okay to put that off until tomorrow”, “I’ll snooze the alarm another 10 mins”, or “actually, that’s not for me…”. 

Confused man with angel and devil on his shoulders uncertain what choice to make

It’s like we’ve a split personality. One inner voice talks with logic and reason. The other with emotion and often irrational. The angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other.

 

So, what has this to do with creating a sales pipeline? As it turns out; quite a lot.

 

Firstly, this article is not about losing fat, gaining a six-pack, or quitting cigs (although some of the principles may apply). It’s about the 3 often-overlooked and intrinsic fundamentals that – when missing from our routines – lead to poor sales performance.

 

So, what could they be? Let’s find out.


1) Take Ownership. There can be a tendency to blame others or circumstances for poor performance when the pressure is on. Rather than trying to think logically through obstacles or challenges, the emotional or irrational part of our brains can take over, making us behave in ways we wish we hadn’t.

 

For example, we recently worked with a team of sales people who believed that in today’s “digital era”, their marketing team were ultimately responsible for providing them with “qualified” prospects. If the pipe was dry? Not their problem. If the leads
were of poor quality… you get the idea.  And of course, marketing had their own perspective on the situation too!

Teamwork Advisor Advice

The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you’re standing right now. You may be working as part of a small entrepreneurial team trying to gain traction; are a sales leader wanting to get the best out of your people; or a business development rep trying to hit quota. 

Wherever you are – regardless of your available resources – taking ownership means being accountable to those you work with and the customers and prospects you serve. It means not making excuses or blaming others, but rather figuring out together a way to overcome challenges with the resources you have available to get ahead. Doing so will help you to create trust, respect and loyalty among the people you rely on (and who rely on you) when it comes to creating a quality sales pipeline. 


For more on how to take ownership, I also recommend checking out the work of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Their book ‘Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win’ is a must-read.  



2. Develop Competence and Confidence. Stop and think for a moment of someone in your world right now who is absolutely crushing it. Someone who seems to be soaring with ease; in the zone and unstoppable in their field. Who is it? What makes them different from most? Have they superpowers? To some, it may seem this way. To others, it’s put down to luck or a special personality trait.   

Child superhero

The truth is, it’s rarely any of these things. What makes these people different, is that they carry out disciplined habits and routines that are helping them to get where they want to be much faster. Habits small enough to complete each day, which compound to

produce phenomenal results in a relatively short period. And as these people gain more experience (and momentum), they become more competent and confident. Psychologists refer to this as the “competence/ confidence loop”.  

What makes these people different, is that they carry out disciplined habits and routines that are helping them to get where they want to be much faster

The challenge though, is that many people struggle with getting started and staying the course. And this is often what’s missing when it comes to creating a quality sales pipeline. Fear of failure, feelings of self-doubt, and rejection are common reasons that hold so many people back from taking action and making any real progress. 


The good news though, is that there is a way to get started, to overcome our fears, and to get results. It’s an approach I’ve been putting into practice in different areas of my own life; from daily sales prospecting, to weightlifting, and learning German. And it works!


The approach I refer to focuses on ‘Identity based habits’ which comes from an author by the name of James Clear; a gentleman who I’ve been a subscriber (and fan) of for several years. He’s been writing at jamesclear.com about habits and human potential consistently since he started, and has recently published his first book Atomic Habits – an instant New York Times best seller!

One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself – Leonardo da Vinci

What James Clear recommends is that we must establish who we need to become (our identity) for us to stick to the right habits (the process) to help us achieve our goals (the outcome). In the context of creating a sales pipeline, this might look something like the following:

  • Outcomes. What results are you trying to achieve in the months ahead? For example, it could be achieving £X revenue by such a date, increasing the value of that customer contract, or raising a certain amount of finance. The trouble though, is that many people start and finish here when it comes to goal setting in general – and why they struggle to achieve them.

  • Process. To increase the likelihood of achieving our goals (the outcome), James Clear recommends that we set the required systems, habits and processes that will help us get where we want to be. For example, this could be a new daily sales prospecting routine. The key here is to breakdown the activity into small daily habits or – what James calls – “small wins”.

  • Identity. This is the deepest level concerned with what you believe about yourself. For sustained success, James recommends that you: 1. Decide the type of person you want to become, and 2. Prove it to yourself with small wins. For example, the person you might want to become could be the type of person who spends 90 minutes a day of uninterrupted prospecting. The small win could be that you pick up the phone to 3 new ideal customer prospects per day this week. The following week, 4. The week after, 5. In 1 year? Over 50 a day. 
Layers of behaviour change by James Clear

Whatever the approach you’re trying to adopt in your prospecting efforts, it’s important that you prove to yourself (your identity) with small wins first. The smaller the first step, the more likely you are to get started. And over time, you can of course
add to the level (or type) of activity to develop the competence/ confidence – and momentum – that is needed for sustained success.


Pro tip: Log, track and measure your progress.



3. Know Your Customer. In today’s “digital era”, being a specialist in your products and solutions is a given. However, too many suppliers and sales people are still leading with conversations about them, their products and their “unique” capabilities. Whether that’s a direct InMail via LinkedIn, email or a “cold call”, how often have you been contacted where the narrative has no relevance to you?  Sometimes, the lucky few who are given access to the customer’s inner circle, blow it at the first meeting with a pitch all about them. No wonder potential buyers are increasingly sceptical about letting you in too early.

Human vs Robots concept

So, what do customers expect? Well, from the work that we’ve done so far, we can see that they don’t expect you to know everything about them in advance of engaging, BUT they do expect you to know something about their business, or at

least similar companies or organisations you’ve worked with within their industry. What are their priorities, who are their competitors, what trends are driving the need for change? How have you helped others and what were the outcomes?  It’s about them, their situation and the value you can bring to them. Some examples might include to reduce costs, increase revenues, meet targets or reduce risk (or a combination of these) delivered in a desired timeframe. 


Like your customer, you too need to leverage information to regain control of the sale to build a solid pipeline. In Tony J. Hughes’ insightful book ‘Combo Prospecting’ (if you’re in enterprise sales, you need a copy), he recommends a list of digital resources that can be used to help you intelligently monitor what’s happening within your customer’s industry and their organisation. These tools (most of which are free) allow you to “listen” for trigger events that give you legitimate business reasons to engage with your prospective customer. The prerequisite, though? You need to put effort into developing your online personal brand and the starting point is LinkedIn.




BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER 

To create a solid sales pipeline that will deliver for you in 2019, it is essential that you start with what you have control over today. Yourself.


The emotional and irrational part of our brain can often take over when the pressure is on. Thus, we tend to blame others. This is unhelpful because it erodes teamwork and our ability to create a quality sales pipeline. But this can change. To do that, we must lead our sales efforts by taking ownership. This means being responsible and accountable to ourselves and others; those we work with, the customers and prospects we serve, and the people and causes we care about. 

The 3 Missing Sales Fundamentals

Developing competence and confidence, means proving to yourself with “small wins” that you can learn a new skill, gain new knowledge, and can make sales prospecting a success. But first, you must decide who you want to become. Knowing this will give you the necessary desire to get started, and the will to carry through with your habits. 


Knowing Your Customer  is about bringing value to the customer engagement through the way you sell and support them, not from what you sell itself. Being focused on your ideal customer, means being service-led from the very first contact and throughout their buying process – regardless of whether they decide to buy from you or someone else. 


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