In earlier times—let’s call it 2018—it was common for sellers to be exclusively in control of their sales pipeline. They built it and moved prospects through it based only on inputs that mattered to their organization. However, just because those seller-focused pipelines were popular didn’t mean they were effective!
In fact, a Gartner study looked into this sales habit and found serious problems with it. When your inputs are based only on what matters to you as the seller, you overlook the most important factor that determines a truly powerful pipeline: decision confidence on the part of your buyer—as Gartner calls it. They point out that buyers with a high degree of decision confidence are 2.6 times more likely to expand existing relationships and buy more compared to those who lack confidence. And yet, they also shockingly found that 85% of leaders were “leaving significant amounts of growth on the table”—all because buyer input and buyer confidence were being treated as an afterthought.
This is a huge problem today. If you’re still using seller-focused pipelines, your business is at serious risk of being out of sync with your buyer, meaning lost sales in places you should be growing. Yes, there’s a lot of uncertainty in today’s marketplace. And buyer confidence is shaped partly by social and economic factors that are out of your control. But it is also shaped by something that remains very much within your control: your sales process. How you build it is up to you.
It’s time for fresh thinking! Start by building a buyer-verified pipeline. That means taking all sales pipeline inputs and then checking them against what your buyer confirms is important in each pipeline stage. With this new information, you then—and only then—start movement through the pipeline. The more your buyer verifies, the more you boost their confidence in making a decision and close deals.
There are a number of strategies you must employ to start building this buyer-verified pipeline. Let’s start by looking at four of them.
1. Examine the content of your buyer communication.
You are what you eat when it comes to information and decision-making. Are you sharing meaningful, time-sensitive material with your buyers? That can include up-to-date webinars, white papers, or product comparison sheets (among many other examples). And, more importantly to this process, what is your buyer sharing with you? Encourage reciprocation. What they share with you gives you an insight into what matters most to them right now and is also a sign that they are ready to take the next step.
2. Define engagement levels with the buyer, not for the buyer.
If your buyer is engaging with you regularly in discussions about business problems they’re looking to solve, take that as a sign they’re ready to move ahead in your sales pipeline. This is a significant shift in thinking from the old ways of doing things. Back then, it was thought to be up to the seller to decide when an opportunity was ready to move forward. But in today’s sales environment, your buyer sees you well before you see them. They contact you when they are ready to buy. You can rank your buyer’s level of engagement either in binary terms (yes or no) or on a scale, depending on the complexity of what you’re selling.
3. Gauge your buyer’s mindset.
This point applies mostly to new business. When you are building a new relationship with someone, you must pay careful attention to how receptive they are to new ideas, new approaches, and new solutions. If they are persistently stuck in old ways of doing things, you can conclude they have a closed mindset. But if your buyer signals in your conversations with them that they’re receptive to new ways of working or new products to solve a vexing problem, then they have an open mindset. The more open their mindset is, the more receptive they will be to your proposal and move to the next stage.
4. Be on the lookout for solution seekers.
You can always tell when a seller has pushed a buyer too fast through a pipeline. They get hit hard with pricing objections or, worse, dead silence. That is why it’s important to listen carefully to how your buyer defines the business problem they have in front of them. How deeply are they already invested in finding lasting solutions? Have they engaged consultants or other third-party groups? Have they reached out to others within their organization or to peers within their industry to learn how they solved a similar challenge? This is also a point where you, as the seller, can add extra value to the prospective buyer. Refer the solution seekers to additional resources to help them. I had that happen just recently at Engage. I was in discussions with a prospective buyer in the insurance industry who was in the middle of an important sales reorganization. They needed more groundwork completed before hiring me. I asked, “Have you talked to your industry association about how others have carried out this kind of reorganization?” That proved to be helpful advice for the buyer and it ultimately helped me close new business in less time.
In the next article in this series, we will look further at how you make the transition away from seller-focused pipelines and start building a buyer-verified one. This will help ensure that you’re properly equipped to earn sales growth—even in an unpredictable marketplace.