Powering the Pipeline – Pt.III – Flipping the Conversation

 Powering the Pipeline

Start with the customer’s problem and what you’re solving. Powering the Pipeline is a special multi-part series to help businesses sell better.

Here at PipelineDeals, it’s taken us years to fully understand what this axiom really means and how it can fundamentally alter a sales process. The basic premise is that people buy solutions, not products or services. You have to be able to show how your product or service can truly improve the customer’s business.

 Flip the conversation from your product to focus on the customer's needs
Flip the conversation from your product to focus on the customer’s needs

But you can’t do this effectively until you understand the customer’s problem. This isn’t easy. Customers often don’t have awareness or clarity about their true problems. Plus, their needs change over time, so building your understanding is an ongoing process.

Another factor that trips up many salespeople is the temptation to focus on features and benefits. We fell into this trap for longer than we care to admit. We love talking about the latest and greatest capabilities of our software, but it turns out that this is rarely an effective sales approach. In fact, it focuses the conversation in a counterproductive way.

When you go on and on about the awesomeness of your product or service, the buyer will focus on evaluating you, but is much less likely to see a direct connection to their own needs. This makes it easy for them to just say no. There’s no compelling connection to their business goals and little room for building trust or mutual understanding.

The most effective sales conversations focus on the customer. Your primary goal should be to understand their needs, problems, and desires as comprehensively as possible.

When we made the conscious decision to flip the focus of our sales conversations, we saw an immediate jump in our conversions and retention. We were finally focusing on the person who mattered most: the customer.

We’re still working on identifying the best ways to start these customer-focused conversations, but here are some approaches that you may find helpful:

  • Get Personal. Finding out more about an individual’s interests—and sharing some of your own—helps build rapport and trust, making them more likely to open up about their business challenges and goals. It’s about being a real person having a real conversation and developing a real relationship. (Don’t forget to use PipelineDeals to track these little gems of connection. You can create custom fields to track favorite sports teams, hobbies, or even details about children or spouses.)

  • Act Like a Consultant. Step out of your sales mindset and imagine that you’re an independent consultant being paid to help the customer do better in whatever area of expertise your product or service represents. Ask open-ended questions. One of our favorites is, “Tell me about a day in the life of a salesperson or sales manager at your company?” This type of question gets the conversation going and helps you learn more about their business process.

  • Uncover Both Challenges and Strengths. You definitely want to ask about the problems your customer is trying to solve, but make sure to find out about their strengths, areas of potential, and ambitions as well. This will keep you from wasting time trying to sell ideas or features they don’t need. Plus, your best chance of making a sale is to align your solution convincingly with their most optimistic view of the future.

  • Share Stories. You want to get the prospect talking, but you don’t want the conversation to be a one-sided interrogation. One way to balance it out is to tell relevant stories from your own experience or other customers: “We had another customer in the contracting business who struggled with tracking leads. They found our product really helpful because they could clearly identify and prioritize leads as they entered their pipeline.”

  • Learn to Listen Well. Listening is a skill that takes practice. Give people time to answer your questions, without rushing them, and then paraphrase what they said to make sure you’ve understood. When appropriate, ask clarifying questions like “Tell me more about that.” and “Can you give me an example?”

  • Don’t Force It. Be open to the possibility that your solution might not be the best fit. By understanding the customer’s needs before you make your pitch, you can minimize wasted time—both yours or theirs. Instead of pushing a sale which might lead to disappointing results, you can make helpful alternative suggestions, which could result in retaining a useful contact.

What do you think of these approaches? What has worked for you?

 JP Werlin, CEO and Co-founder of PipelineDeals

JP Werlin is the Co-Founder of @PipelineDeals. He is a seasoned entrepreneur who enjoys building and leading teams of great people. JP is passionate about creating lasting brands that provide value and create mutually beneficial relationships between people. You can follow him on Twitter via @jpwerlin.

Powering the Pipeline Pt.II – Love Your Leads

 JP Werlin- Co-founder and CEO of PipelineDeals

With an efficient, dynamic process for qualifying leads, your team can put maximum effort into the best opportunities. Powering the Pipeline is a special multi-part series to help businesses sell better.

Like everybody else, we have limited time and a limited sales budget here at PipelineDeals. But at any given time, we have approximately 1,000 accounts in trial and several thousand leads that aren’t in trial. We get leads from organic and paid search engine marketing (SEM), affiliates, lead marketing, and LinkedIn. We’re also very fortunate to receive word-of-mouth leads from our existing customers.

We’d be lost without a clear process for evaluating and prioritizing our leads. As we’ve mentioned before, developing a process is cheap compared to hiring more people. A good lead qualification process will save you a ton of time by helping your salespeople prioritize their days and making sure they’re delivering the right products to the right customers at the right time.

Every sales team will have different criteria for qualifying leads, but the basic goal is to establish a picture of the person you’re selling to as quickly as possibly. You may have dozens of things that you want to know about your customer, but what are the most important?

For us, these are the most important things to know:

  • Fish Size. Is this a whale or a minnow? Minnows are great and we love working with them, but larger fish help us scale faster. We estimate the size and revenue potential of every lead as a minnow, trout, salmon, tuna, or whale.

  • Distance to Shore. When does this prospect need to make a decision? Are they just starting the buy process and shopping around? Or are they under pressure to make a decision this week?

  • Phone Number. Providing this information both enables and indicates interest in a serious selling conversation.

  • Decision Maker. Is the lead a buyer or a browser? Do they have purchasing authority?

  • Trial. We love getting people into our free trial program, and it shows an openness and willingness to try out the product.

In terms of prioritizing which new leads to contact first, size has the greatest weight for us. It just makes sense to jump on the biggest opportunities. We’ll often do some quick research, such as looking up a company on LinkedIn, to validate the reported sizing before we reach out.

However, our customer-centric culture means that we try our best to spend some time on every single lead, and we frequently change a lead status as we gather new information. You never really know which leads are going to surprise you, once you take the time to talk with the customer. A minnow can turn out to be a whale when you pull back and get a more complete picture about how the lead fits into their broader organization.

How do you qualify your leads? We’d love to see your brilliant tips in the comments.

 JP Werlin

JP Werlin is the Co-Founder of @PipelineDeals. He is a seasoned entrepreneur who enjoys building and leading teams of great people. JP is passionate about creating lasting brands that provide value and create mutually beneficial relationships between people. You can follow him on Twitter via @jpwerlin.

Powering the Pipeline – A series by our Co-Founder, JP Werlin

 JP Werlin is the CEO and C0-founder of PipelineDeals

The path to success in business is paved with sales. Every business will ultimately rise or fall based on how well they sell. Powering the Pipeline is a special multi-part series to help businesses sell better. 

At PipelineDeals, we’ve been in a unique position to connect with over 11,000 businesses as they search for a way to be better at selling. While not all these companies continue to use PipelineDeals, we’ve talked to many of them about how they sell. We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve road tested most of it in our own sales efforts.

Now we’re rounding up the most important things we’ve learned in a series of posts to help you power up your sales process in 2014. These posts will address fundamental concepts like communicating your value proposition and nurturing leads, but it won’t just be Sales 101. We’ll be rolling in all the best insights we’ve gleaned over the years and illustrating our ideas with never-before-seen aggregate data from our customers.

For this first post, we thought we’d kick things off with three essentials, all of which will be addressed in more detail in future posts.

1. Any Process is Better than No Process

To succeed in sales, you need a process. Process is “actions to achieve”—a series of actions you can follow to achieve your goals.

Process is boring. It’s very easy to procrastinate about developing your sales process. You can do “ad hoc” or “case by case” selling from now until the end of time. But your results will be all over the place, and you’ll never really know what worked and what didn’t. Process lays a foundation for your efforts, which enables more consistent results and makes continuous improvement possible.

So our advice is to start with a process, any process, and stick to it. The biggest hurdle to reaping the benefits of a sales process is simply getting started and having the gumption to stay the course.

Make peace with the fact that you won’t start out with the best process. You can make it “perfect” later. Start simple. Or start with something that’s already worked for others. We started out with a process laid out by Predictable Revenue author Aaron Ross. If you’re not sure what will work for you, we recommend giving some of his ideas a go. But just start somewhere, stay true to it for a quarter, and see if you’re better off. We’re willing to bet you will be.

2. Sell Ideas

Most of us, including our customers, spend the majority of our working hours mired in details. We’re constantly digging our way through the next thing on the to-do list, the next email we need to respond to, the next deadline, the next mini-crisis that needs our attention. It’s hard to step back, look at the big picture, and think clearly.

That’s why details are of minimal use in sales. At some point in the sales process, especially if your customer has specific questions, you’ll spend some time in feature-and-benefit land. But before you can get there, you have to bring the customer up for air and make them want to know more. How do you do that? By selling them on an idea. An idea that’s big enough to make their business, and maybe even their life, significantly better.

3. Start With Your Customer

The ideas that you sell can only come from a deep understanding of your customers. Here at PipelineDeals, we saw a big boost in our conversions when we made the conscious decision to reframe our sales mentality from “product first” to “customer first.” We look forward to telling you all about this shift in a later post.

But first up, in our next Powering the Pipeline post, we’ll dive into lead qualification: Why is it so critical, and how can you get it done as efficiently as possible?

About the Author

 JP Werlin is a seasoned marketer and expert in CRMs

JP Werlin is the Co-Founder of PipelineDeals. He is a seasoned entrepreneur who enjoys building and leading teams of great people. JP is passionate about creating lasting brands that provide value and create mutually beneficial relationships between people. You can follow him on Twitter via @jpwerlin.

 Try out the PipelineDeals CRM for free

SaaS, Not SaaS

SaaS typically refers to Software as a Service. Here at PipelineDeals, we don’t aspire to be just another SaaS company.

Continue reading