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How To Build A Sales Pipeline… Not A List Of B2B Prospects

  • Written by Mark Godley, LeadGenius
  • Published in Demanding Views

markgodleyphoto 1So, here’s a dirty little secret: the companies that fail to build a successful sales pipeline almost always believe that buying a good list of prospects will fix their business.

It won’t. Even the best data — a custom-curated list of ideal prospects freshly validated — cannot compensate for the essential foundational work you need to do before you start talking to any data vendor.

In fact, the process of building a sales pipeline is a lot like buying a house. If you’re only focused on the “finish work” — what you see in those pretty pictures online — and fail to establish your foundational criteria first, there’s a good chance that the house you buy will never live up to your expectations.

Some of the foundational criteria critical for home buying are:

  • What kind of neighborhood do you want?
  • Is the quality of the school district important?
  • Do you have access to great facilities?
  • How much ongoing work are you willing to do? Do you prefer move-in condition or a fixer-upper?
  • Do you need to be close to your work or want access to public transportation?

You get the point.

A B2B prospect list can also be considered “finish work.” But you need to complete six essential steps to establish the foundational criteria that will help your data vendor create a list of prospects that will build your pipeline and accelerate your business.

Those six steps include:

1) Define Your Target Market

Most people overestimate or exaggerate their true market. Regardless of your aspirations for future expansion, your target market needs to represent a realistic assessment of your best prospect: your ideal custom profile (ICP) for growing the business over the next 12 months. Your total addressable market (TAM) is probably far fewer companies than you imagined or told investors in the recent past. When defining your parameters, rule out, not in. Aim for your best-fit prospects, not prospects that are aspirational.

2) Articulate Your Differentiation

Prospects want to know how you compare and compete. Perhaps, for example, you have an industry sector strategy. You don’t have to be better, but you do need to know the landscape of alternative vendors in order to articulate how you differ from existing offerings.

3) Set Your Pricing/Packaging Strategy

Pricing and packaging may be part of your differentiation. It’s the strategy you’re going to use to break in, perhaps disrupt and generate sales. A few of the approaches include: offering a premium, price-leading solution; using a try-and-buy or “freemium” approach to build a base that you can later upgrade and upsell; going low-cost for low-friction, volume transactions; or using a land-and-expand sales strategy. Whatever your strategy, be consistent with it.

4) Create Your Outreach Strategy

How will you reach your prospective customers? One way is with a marketing-oriented digital advertising strategy to generate inbound inquiries. Or plan on a more traditional outbound, sales-focused program with industry veterans armed with a Rolodex of contacts. Or be bold: take a product-driven strategy such as that recently followed bySlack and build a viral, word-of-mouth following with no sales reps at all.

5) Hire The Right People

Your market-facing staff can make or break your strategy, so choose wisely. Are you interested in seasoned whale hunters with existing relationships for which you’ll pay top dollar? Or do you need marketing ops geniuses who can stand toe-to-toe with most engineers? Matching your hiring profile to your outreach strategy is critical to the success of your overall plan. Don’t go cheap with your hiring as doing so can unravel the remainder of your plans.

6) Select A Tool Set

Your salestech, martech and adtech stacks should support your outreach strategy as well as hiring profile. Long gone are the days when simply buying a subscription to a CRM was all you needed to start engaging the market. Today, the CRM often has attached to it a half-dozen or more task-specific tools to drive your effectiveness.

There is no doubt that data can be rocket fuel to drive your pipeline-building efforts. But adding it at the right time is important to yield maximum results. Just like those online pictures driving interest in open houses, a great data vendor can help you build an impressive pipeline. Just make sure your go-to-market house is built on a solid foundation first.

Mark Godley, CEO of LeadGenius, is a C-suite “startup junkie” with a depth of experience in sales and marketing. LeadGenius provides B2B marketing and sales teams with highly-accurate lead generation data and go-to-market intelligence, derived from a unique combination of machine learning and human researchers. Follow LeadGenius on Twitter @LeadGenius.