I don't think a day goes by when I don't speak with a salesperson who is completely lost, panicked by his uncertainty as to what to do next.
This applies to all sorts of salespeople: from salespeople who work for other peoples' companies to salespeople who are authorized to build a business within a corporate framework to salespeople who happen to own the businesses they are selling for. The differences of their circumstances are not significant. What's important, and requires dramatic action, is what they have in common: They've never learned how to build a pipeline of prospects that they can convert into sales. So they sit around, waiting and hoping, for a miracle.
One of my friends owned a restaurant in Burlington, Vermont. As a chef and a total foodie, he outwardly appeared tailor-made for the business. The problem was he lacked any and all sales skills. He couldn't publicize effectively, attract customers or sign local businesses for commercial accounts.
To no one's surprise, the business suffered to a point where it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Then, just when the owner was about to walk away, an unassuming first-time customer sat down at a table. After a full-course steak dinner, the diner congratulated the chef for "one of the best meals of my life," and hired the restaurant to be the primary caterer for his nearby golf club on the spot.
The restaurateur went from struggling to keep his lease to getting a new lease on life,which also preserved the viability of his business.
A heartwarming story, sure, but it's also a cautionary tale. Near miracles do happen now and then, but there is no way you can build a successful sales career or a thriving company on this wish for a fairy tale ending. We must learn to build a pipeline that assures the steady flow of qualified prospects; one that keeps the business going and growing.
Pipeline Action Steps
- Develop a compelling message designed to identify the unique value you offer. Think of this as your differentiator.
- Apply this message to a direct mail campaign (or e-mail or snail mail) targeted to your prospects.
- Engage in public relations by taking your message to the media. For example: Write to editors and reporters, offering to educate their readers on whatever it is in your area of expertise.
- Become a presence on the internet. Try Twitter, making a blog or video blog. Use your talents, or hire creative, to make your name known.
- Experiment with marketing activities you have always rejected out of hand.
In my case, I long believed that advertising was a poor way to market my company, MSCO. Given the fact that we generate plenty of media coverage and are often number one on Google for marketing firms nationwide, advertising seemed unnecessary.
But, with urging from an MSCO team member, I launched a radio and TV campaign in early 2009 built around my memorably titled book, "Your Marketing Sucks." From week one, the campaign proved to be a total winner and has been a bedrock of building our pipeline ever since.
The key point is this; once you have a sales machine in place--a means of generating a steady flow of qualified prospects--you control your own destiny. You don't have to wait for referrals. You never have to simply hope for a good year. You're not at the mercy of the overall economy.
Instead of sitting around waiting for miracles to happen, you drive growth--relentlessly and perpetually.
Mark Stevens is the CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm based in New York, and the author of Your Marketing Sucks and God Is a Salesman. He's a regular media commentator on business matters including marketing, management and sales. He's also the author of the marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking.