As a business owner, sales professional or marketer, you know successful business development efforts drive sales and growth. You’re also aware of the challenges in creating and managing a structured business development program.
The success of a business development program is defined by how well potential customers are organized, tracked and engaged. Using tools like a business development (also referred to as sales) pipeline provides a way to visualize how prospects move through the stages of your sales process by segmenting them based on completed actions.
Implementing a pipeline management system allows you to see where prospects are at any given time, which provides valuable data and insights into gaps or roadblocks in the sales program and where to allocate efforts.
There are six main stages in the business development pipeline. Let’s break them down.
Business Development Pipeline Stages
During the prospecting stage, also known as lead generation, potential customers become aware of your business through marketing campaigns. The most common ways to attract and engage prospects include advertising, social media, public relations, events and email marketing as well as old fashioned networking.
Not every prospect turns into a customer. The lead qualification stage identifies someone that might have interest in learning more about your company’s service or product. In a sense, it allows you to separate those most likely to buy your product or service from those least likely so that you can allocate your time and resources appropriately. This is where a lead magnet, such as a whitepaper, ebook or trial subscription, is offered in exchange for a prospect’s email address or other contact information.
The Courtship Period
Continued exposure is often required for the customer to become comfortable enough with your service or product. In fact, a rule of thumb is that it takes seven marketing exposures to a customer before they are ready to buy. This could be anything from reading a social media post, to running into a company representative at a trade show, to reading a white paper or having a lunch with a company representative. Often when this stage is skipped then customer is not ready for the sales meeting to discuss the benefits of the service/product.
Pitch Meeting or Demo
Once your list of prospects has been narrowed down to only highly qualified potential customers, it’s time for the pitch: showcasing your service or solution with a meeting or demonstration. This interaction tells you if a prospect is interested in or motivated enough to receive a proposal.
If your pitch entices the prospect, they progress to the proposal stage. In addition to outlining the scope of work and costs, your proposal reinforces your value proposition, drives home your points of differentiation, and demonstrates the benefits of your offering.
By this stage in the pipeline, leads are ready to convert to customers. But closing a deal is not always cut and dry. You may have more questions to answer or last-minute reservations to overcome. In addition, requested changes in scope or pricing may arise.
Although it may seem like clients exit the pipeline at the time of contract signing, the secret to continued sales and referrals is building strong client relationships. Staying close to a customer through onboarding to ensure they get top-notch service and checking in periodically gives you natural touchpoints to cross-sell new services, upsell enhancements or explore contract renewal. It also offers an opening to ask for feedback, a testimonial, review or referral.
Are You Leaving Revenue on the Table?
If you’re not using a business development pipeline, you may be leaving sales and revenue on the table. A pipeline allows you to track overall sales progress, including the effectiveness of your sales tactics. It can also reduce the length of the sales cycle, help predict revenue and improve outcomes.
In a later article, we’ll discuss how to build a business development pipeline tracker. In the meantime, feel free to contact me to find out how we can streamline your business development program with pipeline management.