Your Sales Pipeline is Probably Broken

4 08 2009

Everybody is familiar with the sales pipeline, but unless you have taken a good look at yours in the last year or so, it probably is not working the way you thought it was.  First, the steps in the process may vary for your product or service, so take a look to see that the steps I have listed in the example sales funnel are accurate for your specific business.  For example, does your sales process have a demo / prototype / product evaluation stage?  Probably.

Now, stand back a step and look again.  Social Media and User Generated Media have changed the way IT managers and executives navigate the early steps of the pipeline prior to the Purchase stage.

What’s different about IT Purchasing Behavior?

  • Your customers do not take a linear path through the sales funnel anymore.  They tend to circle back and fact-check against multiple sources.
  • Customers are also getting their information about your product or service from new and different sources (See earlier blog postings on this site).
  • Their search for information about your brand typically starts with a Google/Yahoo!/Bing search for information.
  • The good news is that they do trust vendor Web sites.  But, vendor Web sites are far from the only source of trusted information.
  • They also trust User Generated Media (like blogs, forums, discussion groups) and peer referrals.  The question for you is: Which specific sites are they looking at?
  • Also, note that I have added a new step at the end of the funnel: The sales process is not complete until you have turned your customer into and active advocate for your product and brand.  See a great book on this subject:  The Ultimate Question

How To Re-Look at Your Sales Pipeline

  • How would your target customers know your company exists or has a product in the space they are interested in?
  • Where do your target customers get their information?  What are their trusted sources of information for business and technical information?  Does your company participate in these social mediums?  Do you have customers who are active advocates for your brand?
  • Do your company have different discussion tracks for the business facts and the technical facts?  Most likely your customers have recommenders and decision-makers who are interested in each discussion.
  • Do you have multiple sales channels?  Most likely you have multiple channels, so you need to take a look at how each works.  Where and how does your channel get qualified leads?
  • If you have indirect sales channels, are you providing them with compelling information on why to sell your product and not the competition?  If not, you may be driving business straight to your competitors without knowing it.

As we have discussed in earlier blogs, one of the most important things you can know about your customers is what Social Media they look at when they are looking to research a product or service decision.

Starting from there, you can build your new sales pipeline.

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