Solving the #1 Problem in Business: More Sales Pipeline

May 14, 2018

man solving a problem on a whiteboard

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Tony Hughes, sales leadership speaker, consultant, and author of COMBO Prospecting.

Professional selling has never been more exciting, and finding ways to reach potential clients has never been easier. So why are the rates of failure in selling today higher than ever? Commoditization, increased (and often surprising) competition, cheap offshoring, disruptive technologies, and the dismantling of trade barriers are all hurting business. Seller must find a way to go to the next level in creating value and loyalty with customers.

This is not easy when we live during a time of empowered, yet distracted, buyers who have been deadened to all the outreach being blasted at them by sales and marketing machines. These sellers are typically inwardly focused on gaining approval of their business case, then securing  funding, rallying support and achieve consensus for change, then marshalling a team to procure and implement. Buyers are facing a world of pain just like sellers.

Amidst all this, sales and marketing teams must find a way to break through and provide the sales success that enables everyone to thrive.

We are all connected but disengaged

Everywhere I go, I see silent sales floors and drone armies of passive millennials checking their smartphones hundreds of times per day as they blast Spotify in their ears like social selling whirling dervishes. And to what end?

There’s never been a more connected yet disengaged ethos in the history of mankind. Older salespeople struggle as if punch-drunk as they try to embrace the right technologies and automation to drive higher levels of effective activity to save their careers. Many resist customer relationship management (CRM) systems and sales automation tools when they should embrace both. Few hone the right value narrative and build a strong personal brand that oozes credibility, insight, and value.

The old guard often enjoys the support of inside salespeople and loves to use that weekly meeting to school the marketing team on how to build a better value message or marketing program. But truth be told, the most successful senior executives, right up to the CEO herself, will take time out of every day to make targeted outreach calls to critical clients.

Executives are caught between mentorship and micromanaging

I’ve seen CEOs (especially of start-ups) take this too far, micromanaging, acting as frontline seller and client services head, putting together the slides, flying and doing the pitches, and taking over every facet of the organization under the guise of mentorship.

Effective delegation is still critical, but that does not mean as a leader of a business, team, or consultancy that you shouldn’t be building out your own targeted lists of prospects. Every CXO should be mining their network of extended contacts to understand where “six degrees of connection” exists. Wildly, your growth from zero to $10 million and $10 million to $100 million is already living within your social network. If you are a CEO reading this, now’s the time to get serious about your use of  LinkedIn!

Social is the X-factor, rather than a distraction

Every CEO should personally embrace LinkedIn, not just have their executive assistant (EA) do it on their behalf. Personal brand on social is table stakes for most startup leaders, but in the Global 2000, it’s a competitive advantage. Look at the very best leaders like  Howard Schultz of Starbucks who allows a direct channel from every employee.

Employee advocacy is the most powerful PR engine ever invented. Getting the whole organization buzzing about your solution creates what I call a “bee swarm,” causing ‘surround sound’ for your target. But you can also think about the “thunderclap” technique: one announcement shared by thousands in your company across all social media. The engagement levels are earth-shattering, and your message can go viral.

Technology has made us forget how to sell

One of the problems with selling today is that the rise of the silent sales floor is killing business. To save careers and rescue sales results you need to create the right focus, mindset, and culture within the enterprise. Sales is an ancient craft, and it is the engine of every economy.

When it comes to personal growth, economic growth, and interpersonal development, quality selling is essential. It’s about face-to-face, human-to-human interaction. It’s about confronting your fears and raising the priorities of C-level executives. It is still the people in power who buy, even if they demand consensus before approving the commitment.

Sellers must become experts at delivering outcomes, managing risks, building the business case, navigating politics, building consensus, aligning products and services, and implementing technology and solutions. But sellers don’t get to do any of that unless they can first break through to their customers by harnessing the powers of persuasion and understanding of human psychology. Using these tools intelligently allows sellers to extend their reach and maximize their effectiveness and efficiency.

We’ve all witnessed those top operatives who seem to have a sixth sense and can read people like a book. How do you think they developed those faculties? By clicking the mouse endlessly like cats watching tennis? No, they built that Gladwellian thin slice in the trenches. They grew by boxing their opponents against the ropes. They learned to live by the sword and die by the ramifications of a single gesture. They developed an unbreakable belief in what they were doing and then had the courage to risk failure, embrace the difficult, and learn by doing. With a whisper, they mastered the art of engineering value and consensus and then closing the deal - all with a genuine desire to help their customer.

It’s your turn to step into the ring

You must explore the mindset involved in new business development. Yes, you are helping customers find a better future, but you are also being the hunter, taking the kill back to the cave, and nailing the pelt on the wall.

In addition to boxing, selling can be compared to professional sports such as baseball or cricket: In baseball, if you hit 3 pitches out of 10, you look like a genius; in cricket, you wait for the one ball in an over that you can hit to the fence.

In new business sales, you must be ready to be rejected dozens of times in a row. You can’t take your ego into the office; you need to leave your personal baggage at the door and focus.

Successful selling will include a lot of rejection, and you can’t let this deter you. Expect it and know that you are going to push yourself harder than ever before to break through. Imagine how many times Muhammad Ali got punched before he became the world champion.

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