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July 2014

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JULY 2014 26 THE JOURNAL The Business Benefits of a Pipeline Mentality BY JOHN GRAHAM SALES MARKETING Today, the customer story is simple. Loyalty ranges from non-existent to temporary. Min- ing the Internet is second nature, relying on smartphone apps to cut through the clutter. With an endless array of channels available, engaging customers can be an exercise in futil- ity. Surprisingly, the current situation hasn't changed much, particularly for those in sales, who have always asked, "Whom can I talk to today?" The search for prospective customers is just as illusive as it has always been. In spite of all the changes, the prospect problem remains the same. A different approach: a pipeline view To get beyond the barriers that keep us from engaging customers and avoid always asking the "Whom can I talk to today?" question, what's needed is "a pipeline mentality". The process is one of 'customer creation', of filling the pipeline with potential business while taking care of the new that flows from the pipe. Instead of spending valuable time and using lim- ited resources on constantly looking for new business, a more prudent approach is to create a 'pipeline mentality' process that produces business. Building the pipeline Here are the elements of implementing a pipeline strategy: 1. View prospects as 'customersin-the- making'. Although it contradicts traditional sales strategies, looking at prospects as 'a po- tential sale' distorts the selling process. Al- though most salespeople are quick to say that they are solution-oriented and want to help customers, their behavior betrays their words. It's easy to spot the salesperson with one ob- jective in mind: to make the sale. Everything is aimed at achieving that one goal. Prospects quickly sense the true mission and go on the de- fensive, either rejecting the salesperson or backing away from making a decision. To think of prospects as customers-in-the- making is more effective, whether they buy today or a year from now. The goal is to bring them into your orbit in such a way that they will not go elsewhere. This is what allows selling to focus intensely on the customer. 2. Make prospect identification an ongoing com- mitment. It's actually counter-intuitive to put making a sale ahead of creating a customer. The goal of prospecting should be to identify those who fit a company's customer profile and who, when properly cultivated, hold a poten- tial for becoming buyers. The most difficult task for most businesses is making prospect identification an ongoing task. The life force of sales is a pipeline that's filled with prospects that have discovered the value of doing business with you, who recognize that there's value in partnering with you, and who have discovered all this before becoming cus- tomers. Most prospect identification efforts produce minimal results because they lack constant at- tention. They're viewed as temporary 'activity' rather than as the lifeblood of the organization, the source of new business for the years ahead. 3. Segment prospects to focus on individ- ual needs. Even after decades of discussion, few companies recognize the value of segment- ing their databases and toss everyone in a cou- ple of buckets, failing to drill down for personal preferences, lifestyle nuances, sales and demo- graphic data. Although this is the 'age of the individual customer', the implications are largely ignored by most businesses. 'Boiler plate' proposals are deadly, and emails are often nothing more than not-so-thinly-disguised ads. All of which cre- ates a negative impression. 4. Implement prospect cultivation tactics. There's only one way to cultivate prospects suc- cessfully — and it's not how a salesperson wants to go about it. Customers set their own buying schedules and they're not about to abandon their priorities to fit a salesperson's needs. They don't want to be 'bothered' with multiple emails or repeated telephone calls. They're not moved by attempts to arrange a meeting or by someone saying, "I'm reaching out to you to gather information." But when the prospect is ready to buy, those who come to mind have the opportunity to make the sale. Staying in front of prospects regularly with help- ful information builds the platform of success. 5. Be the resource for prospects. The most effective way to convince a customer to buy from you is to make yourself invaluable. What you sell may help a customer become more suc- cessful, but what you know solves customer problems. There are those who are reluctant to share their knowledge, fearing that prospects will take what they want and never bother to become buyers. While there's always the chance this can happen, it's worth it in order to demonstrate a company's competence and ex- pertise. The best way for prospects to become aligned with a company is for them to discover the depths of your expertise and the extent of your knowledge. This is the value-added that makes a significant difference. 6. Help customers be more successful. If partnering has any value as a concept, it's to be found in helping prospects and customers meet business challenges. Just selling them the right product or service isn't nearly enough today to build a lasting bond. Almost any 'ven- dor' can do that. Going beyond the expected is today's chal- lenge. A supplier of bakery mixes and fillings

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