Every sales funnel leaks, but some leak more than others - and unfortunately often in the most expensive places. Understanding where and how your sales funnel is leaking - and taking the appropriate action - can make a dramatic difference to not only your sales win rates but also your cost of sales. Here are a handful of things I suggest you might want to consider if you want to plug those leaks and grow your revenues...
The idea of the "Leaky Funnel" was first popularised by Hugh Macfarlane of Mathmarketing. It's long been one of my favourite B2B marketing books and a highly recommended read - up there with Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" as an essential (and well-thumbed) element of any B2B sales and marketing professional's bookshelf. I'm not going to pretend I can do Hugh's ideas justice in this short blog, so instead I'm going to share a few of the lessons I've learned along the way from helping clients solve their sales pipeline challenges.
If You’re Going to Lose, You Had Better Lose Early
The cost of a lost or abandoned opportunity rises dramatically the further the deal has progressed through your pipeline. All that wasted effort could have been better applied elsewhere - if only you had been able to identify and qualify bad deals out earlier. Top performing sales people often do this instinctively. Many middle-of-the road sales people need help.
Before they can qualify out, they need to understand what you’re looking for. That’s why defining ideal prospect profiles is so important. They need to understand the demographic, situational and behavioural characteristics of your most valuable potential customers - and ensure that they can identify the winning traits early on in their sales process.
Sales people often have a problem qualifying deals out if they are measured on the number and apparent value of deals in their pipeline. Sales managers have a critical responsibility here - they have to encourage their sales people to qualify out low-potential deals early rather than implying that the more opportunities they are managing, the better. Quality rules.
Top of Funnel Leaks: Failing to Turn Interest into Consideration
A key reason reason why otherwise apparently well-qualified opportunities leak from the top of sales funnels lies in the failure to convert the prospect’s initial interest into serious consideration. If the prospect isn’t given a powerful reason to change the status quo, they are unlikely to invest significant resources into investigating and evaluating potential solutions.
Before you can turn interest into active consideration, you have to sell the need for change. It’s almost always better to sell the compelling need for change - by elevating the consequences of inaction - before your promote the virtues of your solution.
Middle of Funnel Leaks: Getting Considered but not getting Chosen
Getting considered is no guarantee that your offering will get chosen, not matter how strong its merits. A common mistake is for sales people to dive straight into trying to prove that their solution is better before they show how their approach is distinctively different from that of their competitors.
It’s almost always more effective to differentiate your company, your approach or your solution in a simple, compelling and memorable way before you attempt to prove your solution’s superiority. What sets your offering apart? If you can’t articulate this clearly, your prospects won’t be able to understand it either - and you open yourself to losing to a functionally inferior product that was simply better sold.
Bottom of Funnel Leaks: Getting Chosen but not Getting Bought
These are the most expensive and the most frustrating leaks of all, particularly if - as is so often the case nowadays - you lose not to a competitor, but to a decision to do nothing. Bottom of funnel leaks often happen because you failed to build a compelling enough business case, and because your champion lacked the ammunition to convince their colleagues to go ahead with the project.
Building a compelling business case starts from the very top of the sales funnel. When your sales people are evaluating opportunities, they must determine whether the consequences of inaction are truly painful enough for the project to be successfully championed through the prospect’s organisation. If they are, they need to ensure that their champion can develop a strong enough internal business case to secure the approval from what are often a risk-averse set of colleagues on the management team.
Where Are You Leaking?
Where is your sales funnel leaking - and why? If you are to stand a chance of plugging the leaks and increasing the flow of opportunities from top to bottom of your sales funnel, you need to be able to diagnose and deal with the blockages and leaks that are holding them back.
Visualising the shape of your sales funnel, plotting where the leaks are occurring, and taking steps to accelerate good leakage (qualify bad deals out early) and eliminate bad leakage (remove the causes of late stage leakage) will pay dividends - and be better for your sales environment.