Fill It to the Top: Tips to Ensure a Strong Sales Funnel

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

An effective sales funnel requires your sales and marketing to be working in harmony. Here are tips to building an ironclad sales funnel.

Sales Manager: "We're not meeting our revenue goals!!"

Sales:  "The leads are weak!"

Marketing: "No, Sales... YOU'RE weak!" 

Does this sound familiar?

This rift has been part of the marketing and sales clash fueled by a lack of accountability, revenue growth and quite frankly, a lack of trust.

Driving predictable pipeline value that ultimately results in closed sales isn't easy.  It's why improving the quality of your outbound lead generation program is essential. Think about your plan of attack from both the marketing and sales perspective, and then create a mutual, sustained focus to ensure your plan is executed. Regardless of which side you're on, here are the steps towards building an ironclad sales funnel.

Related Article: Born to Sell: Do You Have Sales Personality?

1. Start with the right prospects

Don't waste time and effort calling on businesses that don't fit your ideal account profile. A clearly defined customer profile and market penetration analysis can help you determine which types of prospects you should be talking to. 

Consider the factors that align best with the value you can offer via your products and services.  Industry, revenue and location are good starting points. Other factors, such as emerging businesses vs. mature businesses, ownership type, and other subtle indicators might also help you define your target market more precisely.

From there, prioritize your prospect list based on:

Function: Who influences or makes the buying decision?
Industry: Relevant messaging based on segment.
Engagement: Have they responded to previous marketing touches?  Or is this their first introduction to your company?

2. Be nimble to act intelligently on market triggers

Market events can trigger immediate opportunity, especially if your business is set up to respond with relevance and speed. 

Examples of triggers include: Negative press around product issues, employee cuts or product recalls related to your competitor. 

3. Define "qualified"

The definition of a qualified lead must be agreed upon by sales and marketing. There's nothing that creates more anger from the sales team than marketing providing a "lead" that has no potential and wastes time.

How often does this happen?  Depending on the source, you'll find that the most common answer is "too often". For example, according to MarketingSherpa, 61% of B2B marketers have sent leads to sales without qualifying them. This is bad. Very bad.

There are many lead definition frameworks in the market, such as the widely known and adopted BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe) to more market-or event-driven strategies, such as "ACNE" (Authority, Compelling Trigger Event, Need, Engagement). 

Neither side should define a qualified lead in a silo; you need to sit marketing and sales down together, and agree to definitions that make sense for your business.    At the very least, discuss:

  • Current pipeline health, bandwidth and lead flow.  Don't overburden a strong pipeline with a large-volume of low quality leads. On the other hand, if you're in pipeline build mode and have new, hungry hunters you could lower the quality threshold to increase the volume.
  • The buying committee, buyer/persona types and their buying process.  In addition, you can learn a lot from non-buyers so it's important to understand the role of each prospect in their organization and how they might influence the decision.
  • Business challenges that your solutions can solve for
  • Buyer purchase stage and timeframe
  • Marketing vs. sales nurture opportunities

Related Article: Shortening the Sales Cycle Through Content Marketing

4. Create service level agreements

Ok sales team, now that marketing has played nice, it's time you do your part.  When the team passes over a lead, you must review and determine within 24 hours if it meets the mutually agreed upon definition. 

If not, feel free to hit the big red "decline" button.  However, if it did meet the definition, accept within 24 hours. Why is this important? 

It's a check and balance to determine:

1. Is marketing managing to the definition at an optimal level (>80 %?)

2. If "yes" and sales fails to convert leads at or above lead to opportunity conversion baseline, then that's your cue to validate whether:

  • a. There's an opportunity to improve the sales process (or person)
  • b. The lead definition needs to be adjusted

Closing the loop is a critical step in all key stages of the pipeline, from lead acceptance to a final disposition/outcome (closed/won).

5. Create a strong call approach/call guide

Misaligned messaging can stop your lead generation efforts before they get started. 

Carefully crafting and refining an appropriate call approach that both sales and marketing agree on is vital. Before training, invest time in huddling with sales and marketing to create messaging alignment under the following categories:

Before training, invest time in huddling with sales and marketing to create messaging alignment under the following categories.

Call approaches should be relevant to the respective industry and personas you're targeting and the words used should be consistent throughout the customer's buying cycle.

If you want to grow your revenue and optimize your lead generation process, adopting these 5 steps will get you on your way to substantially increase the odds.  Marketing and sales can achieve great results when they work together, but there's more:  stay tuned for part II and III of this series where we'll cover training, lead management, increasing your contact rate, integrating inbound and outbound channels, ensuring strong show rate and measurement/refinement.

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