When it comes to lead generation, the gurus will tell you that you need a highly automated funnel and expensive monthly sales funnel automation. Those overwhelmed by automation, often turn to spray and pray, repeatedly posting to social media in hopes of gaining attention from potential buyers. What if I showed you a better way, using a holistic sales approach?
What is a Sales Funnel?
Most simply put, your sales funnel is simply the process you lead potential customers through on their buying journey to purchase your products or services. It is the system you have created and use to find, qualify, and sell to your ideal client. Automation can be part of that process, as are social media posts, but for my clients, we start by reviewing a basic funnel concept and think of each part of the funnel as a step in relationship building.
For our discussion, we will review a three-tiered funnel structure for your sales pipeline. These tiers are:
Top of the Funnel: this is also known as the awareness stage. The goal for the top of the funnel is to attract those who need your business and have pain points that you can solve. Also called prospecting.
Middle of the Funnel: this section of the funnel facilitates interest and desire. The goal for the middle of the funnel is to convert prospects to leads by qualifying their needs, budget, and readiness to purchase. In this stage there usually two-way engagement as you establish a trusting relationship.
Bottom of the Funnel: this part of the funnel is all about "action." You've established a connection, your prospect knows, likes, and trusts you, and you work towards the close or conversion. With a holistic approach, the most powerful part of the bottom of the funnel comes after the close with client retention and referrals.
For this article, we will focus on the sales cycle transition from the top of the funnel to the middle of the funnel. Moving from generating awareness to relationship-focused prospecting for your future customer.
Prospecting with Purpose
According to CSO Insights the research division of Miller Heiman Group, 70% of buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative, and 44% identify specific solutions before reaching out to a seller. They also noted that 65.2% of buyers said that they found value in discussing their situations with salespeople. (millerheimangroup.com) However, Biznology noted that 82% of B2B decision-makers think sales reps are unprepared. (biznology.com) Could this be because of a communication disconnect, and the seller not understanding the buyer's needs and perspective?
When we are at the top of the funnel, oftentimes we find ourselves inadvertently focused on ourselves. After all, that is what we know best. Our product, our features, our benefits, our amazing track record with our work with our clients. After all, we have spent a lot of time on pitch perfection and our ideal customer profile. People would be crazy to miss an opportunity to work with us!
With all the focus on us, we can easily forget one of the cardinal rules of the sales process, being able to answer the WIIFM (What's in it for me?) question from the prospect's perspective. A client-focused relationship approach will reduce customer churn, increase customer lifetime value and create shorter sales cycles.
Think about the last experience you had from the client side. What did you like, or dislike, from the approach that was used? Did the person reaching out assume they knew what you needed? Did they go straight into a sales pitch? Did they try to identify your needs? Did they treat you like a person... or a potential transaction? What would you have preferred they do differently? How can you incorporate those ideas into your prospecting process?
7-Tips for Creating a Relationship-based Prospecting Experience
Build Rapport The best tool for building rapport is to effectively deploy active listening. When first engaging with a lead, it is important to get to know them. Qualified leads are great, but they are even better when they are the byproduct of a professional relationship. Through active listening, you build trust, lower resistance, and build confidence. In this process you are getting to know them, their business, their pain points, their goals, and through all of this, how you can add value.
Add Value According to the Annuitas Group, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. Adding value is not about closing the sale. (annuitas.com) From a relationship-building perspective, there are a number of ways you can add value and strengthen your relationship with your prospect. This could be suggesting a quick-win that they could implement now that would make a difference, it could be sharing an article or free resources based on what you have learned about their needs through active listening, or connecting them with a trusted resource for a need that falls outside your area of expertise.
Understand Mutual Connections and Opportunities for Introductions Looking for shared connections has never been easier, from LinkedIn to Facebook, we can see where we have mutual connections. Identifying mutual connections creates common ground and accelerates the "know-like-trust factor". Making introductions, and asking for introductions, can be hugely beneficial. Introductions are a transfer of trust that can help accelerate relationships. When asking for an introduction be sure to explain why, what you are offering, and how it will benefit the connection to that your prospect is at ease with trusting you with their relationship.
Leverage Client Referrals According to Dale Carnegie, 91% of customers say they’d give referrals, but only 11% of salespeople ask for them. Make asking for referrals a natural part of your regular conversations with prospects. Make the ask intentional but natural. You can ask, “Who do you know who would be interested in my services?”, or drop them an extra card with a written note letting them know that there is no greater compliment than a referral. Referrals are one of the most effective ways to reduce the average sales cycle.
Connect on Social Media Build a visible network by connecting on social media. According to LinkedIn, 65.1% of businesspeople say social networks are critical for reference checking. Be sure to ask for testimonials as you build your social proof.
Tell the Truth and Be Yourself People can tell when you are faking it. Whether that is faking interest in their side of the conversation, faking listening, or faking a solution. You won't be able to connect if you are not being genuine. If your solution is not the right fit, but a competitor's offering is, be honest. You may lose an initial sale, but you gain trust while also strengthening your relationship and this will earn you referrals.
Seek the Win-Win You are building a relationship. Be a resource for your prospects, not just from the perspective of selling your products and services, but from a relationship perspective. Learn their interests, their needs, and build from a solid foundation of service.
Putting People back in the Process
A little bit of basic humanity goes a long way. I was talking with a friend recently who told me that her direct messages were overflowing on her birthday with people wishing her a "Happy Birthday" and giving her the "gift" of "purchasing" their product or service. Talk about a missed opportunity. What started as a relationship-building message quickly turned into something that felt disingenuous and manipulative.
When connecting with prospects over social media, follow the same relationship-building techniques you would follow when connecting in person. You wouldn't walk up to someone at a Chamber event, shake their hand, and then immediately start a sales pitch. You would take time to get to know them, ask some questions about their business, and their business needs. Likely, you wouldn't offer someone a transaction with you as a gift for their birthday.
When connecting with prospects, use the tips above to create genuine win-win relationships that will last for years. Cultivate a personalized experience for your qualified prospects. Most of all, embrace your genuine authentic yourself and create a customer experience that turns prospects into advocates and long-term clients.
About Tammey and TANIANT
Tammey has over 25 years of executive leadership experience & an Executive MBA from the University of Washington Foster School of Business. She works with private, public, & nonprofit organizations providing consulting services & executive mentoring helping guide organizations to new levels of sustainable growth.
She is a sought-after speaker, trainer, & serves as a resource for organizations such as FemCity Global, the Nonprofit Learning Lab, & the Nonprofit Leaders Conference. Tammey also hosts her globally recognized podcast, Your Killer Life, which discusses all things breast cancer as she is a 6-year breast cancer survivor.