By Robert Pease, Pipeline Performance Practice Lead, Heinz Marketing

We have recently launched a specific practice area here at Heinz Marketing around Pipeline Performance based on what we see as a way to improve operations and increase revenue through an integrated sales and marketing perspective.  From our point of view, the pipeline is the ultimate focal point for all sales and marketing activities and accountability.

It tells you where your marketing efforts are being successful….or not.

It tells you where your sales efforts are being successful…or not.

To truly understand performance, you must measure it consistently and over time.  But what do you measure? How do you interpret the results and make meaningful changes to improve them?  More to come on that but we believe using this 10 point checklist will get you started on the right path and provide some interesting learning along the way.

1. Understand your target customer

Seems like this should go without saying but you’d be surprised.  This goes beyond standard demographic data points like role, industry, etc. and surfaces things like what they read, where do they spend their time, and what are their priorities.  Knowing these things makes reaching them with a compelling message that works more efficient. 

2. Know what a qualified lead looks like 

A business card is not a lead unless that card was received while actually having a qualifying discussion.  Simply having a name, email address, and phone number is not enough. Establish a defined and agreed to set of qualification criteria between marketing and sales and use those to focus lead and demand generation efforts. Don’t fall into the trap of creating inflated lead numbers that have to be reconciled with reality as they move through the sales pipeline.  Write it down and get agreement between sales and marketing leadership.

3. Emphasize needs and outcomes in messaging 

Stop talking about yourself and start talking about your customer’s problem and the outcome they are seeking.  This should be the rule for everything from top of funnel press activities to bottom of funnel closing efforts. Be an expert on the pain your customer has first and it naturally follows that you know how to address it to get them to where they want to be.

4. Understand your conversion rates 

You may have been told there was no math in marketing but we’re here to tell you there is and it is the only way to get the best performance from your pipeline.  A spreadsheet can be your best friend so get comfortable calculating what percentage of contacts turn into leads and what percentage of leads turn into customers.  This helps with planning, budgeting, and reporting.  Know the numbers and constantly seek to improve them.

5. Always follow up 

Rarely will one email or call do the trick.  Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say never will one email or call convert a B2B customer (if this has happened to you, please share your story in the comments).  Life is about follow up and successful people know this.  Lead nurturing and multi-touch sales development processes are, essentially, just being better a follow up and staying in front of a prospect.  At a minimum, deliver what you promise when a conversation concludes.  Even better? Look at all the meetings on your calendar from Q4 and Q3 of 2015, create a list of who you talked to only once, and follow up with them this month. 

6. Engage in context

On the heels of number 5 above, do not just send a “checking in” email or apply a “spray and pray” approach to prospecting.  Taking the time to consider who you are contacting and what you will say goes a long way.  Reference what you talked about last time, how your product or service fits the needs of their business, or something in the news about their company.  Take the time to do this.  What it costs you in minutes pales in comparison to the quality of interactions it will create.  I actually received back-to-back cold calls from the same person reading the same script recently.  They had clearly lost their place on their call list and didn’t even realize I was the same person on the voice mail they had just called. 

7. Understand how your customer buys

It is easy to figure out how you want to sell but have you taken the time to understand how your customer buys?  Who can say “yes” but, more importantly, who can say “no?”  Be ready for the questions that come up and proactively provide the information that will help move the deal along.

8. Get on the same side of the table

Maybe more figuratively than literally but looking at the situation together and teaming up to solve the problem is a subtle but important way to sell.  Sitting across the table and wanting someone to pay you is somewhat confrontational.  Sitting on the same side of the table and uniting behind the challenge and desired outcome builds shared expectations and understanding.

9. Get a purchase commitment

This is why we sell and all too often the activities in the pipeline outweigh the outcomes.  Understand quickly what it will take to get someone to say “yes”, put those front and center in every discussion and methodically work through them so that when you are done there is no other answer than “yes.”  Don’t be afraid to ask for the business.

10.   Closed/Won is just the end of the beginning

And hopefully the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship.  Keep an eye on what happens after someone buys – are the handoffs to account management or customer care choreographed?  You’ve worked hard to get the customer so work even harder to keep them.  Additional revenue from existing customers should be part of your plan and if you don’t formally or informally have a referral program in place with your customers, you are behind.