How to Find Buyers and Build Your Funnel

No question about it: sales are down. The economy has reduced the amount of new business in the marketplace. This has reduced our incomes, thinned our sales funnels and in general made selling much harder than ever before. However we still have a job to do – “get the name on the line which is dotted” to borrow a famous movie line.

Weak demand by customers is the one of the largest challenges we face. Demand creation is complex. The reply from many Sales Managers is simply “cold call more.” If only that were true. Demand creation starts with having genuine solutions and valuable offerings.  Many of our value propositions are weak. Author and innovation expert  Clayton Christenen speaks the reality when he says,

Most solutions are really simply cobbled together elements that a company can offer instead of real offerings that customers want.

Jack Welch and other business luminaries say that in the 21st Century Demand Creation will become more important than anything else in business. That isn’t going to happen using the same tired marketing hype or over-priced and mediocre offerings. However as salespeople we can’t usually impact that part of our jobs. So how do we create demand in markets where supply and competitors far exceed demand?

Today Demand Creation is Job One

One unfortunate truth that we face as “on the street” salespeople is that our companies are not going to do find opportunities for us. Sure we get weak leads from trade-show raffles or web leads from loads of tire kickers, but real leads? They come few and far between – at least from most companies I’ve worked with.

The job of finding opportunities falls to us. Better yet we need to create opportunities – we need to create demand! Now this is a huge topic so I’ll be painting in broad strokes. However if you commit to dedicating time to a plan that creates demand for your product and services you’ll be rewarded by fantastic sales results. I’ll tell you why…

  • Creating demand fills your pipeline
  • Creating demand allows you to pick the cherry’s and throw away the pits
  • Creating demand gets you closable deals that increases your income
  • Creating demand makes your boss and company happy
  • Creating demand restores the joy and pleasure to selling

How many deals are you working on right now that you know deep down you’re not going to win? How much fat is in your funnel? How much hot air? Are you working with people that you can’t stand because you need the business? Are you constantly dealing with unreasonable demands that forces you to jump through hoops? How many times to you go back to the well for additional discounts for a prospect who promises to buy only if the price was better? These are all symptoms of  having a weak funnel – or a thin pipeline, whatever you want to call it.

I used to dread my monthly pipeline forecasts. It was a gauntlet of abuse on why deals weren’t coming in, why I didn’t have more deals on the table and why I wasn’t selling more. My bosses always told me to cold call more. Marketing braved one call and told the sales team they “weren’t selling on the company’s value.” Of course when asked exactly what that value was, Mr. “I’ve Never Sold a Thing In My Life” said, “well this isn’t the call do discuss that.” We all moaned. The company was clueless. However that didn’t change our commission check we had to figure out a way.

Finding Opportunities

The low hanging fruit of Demand Creation is Owning Your Territory. You need to know who the most likely prospects are and where they are located in your territory. You need to know what deals are happening or will happen. You need to be connected and have your fingers in every pie out there. It’s a big job but absolutely essential. It is so important you can find an entire report dedicated to Owning Your Territory on this site.

Getting your share of the available business in your territory is only a start. At anyone time less than 5 percent of prospects are actively looking for a new solution for their business. Worse yet – everyone is going after that business. The ocean is full of hungry sharks and where there is food the ocean is already bloodied. You can jump in that red ocean hoping to get a piece or you can create opportunities where others aren’t looking. Let’s talk about how.

Your Customers Hold the Key

Most of us have had product training until it comes out of our ears. We know every bell and whistle, every great feature and every reason the company believes our widget should sell like hotcakes. We’ve drunk the cool-aide as well. Most of us have been around awhile. We know our industry and our solutions. We know what customers really want. Better yet we KNOW what they need. In a world of business pain we are left baffled why customers aren’t lining up to buy our stuff – right?

Well as Mark Twain famously said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” In large measure we really don’t know what drives our customers or prospects. Customers have their own specific reasons for buying our products. Customers know what they need to accomplish far better than us. Find out why customers have bought from your company in the past. Find out what they like and what they want to do better. Not only will you learn how to sell your products better but you might even find new opportunities right in your own backyard. You may also keep unhappy customers with your company by solving their issues instead of finding a new solution and a new supplier.

However those are not the biggest benefits of talking with your customers. Customers are fertile incubators for new ideas. They take our products and solutions and innovate with them. They find uses, work-arounds and applications that have never even crossed our minds. The power of customers cannot be overstated, they know

  • Other applications your solutions can be used for
  • Other businesses that need your solution
  • Options and upsells that they desperately want
  • Other industries, markets and niches that you can sell into

Please don’t gloss over this step. I know that it sounds simple. Most salespeople are connected to their customers. Most street smart salespeople are very familiar with what is going on in their accounts and their industry. However looking outside the box and finding out detailed information on how customers are using your solution will produce new ideas that you can use in finding those “blue oceans” of opportunity. Blue Oceans are where there aren’t any other sharks but you looking for business.

Perfect Pitches

Once you’re armed with case studies, customer information and great testimonials you’re prepared to sell outside of the company box. You know the drivers that create demand in new prospects minds and you know the buttons to push. Now you have to adapt your scripts, tools, and approaches with these new messages and ideas.

In just a minute we’re going to talk about the specific strategies to find new buyers. However before you are ready to contact those prospects you need to have sharp value propositions clearly crafted that will create demand. Your messages cannot be the technical jargon or over used hyperbole of your marketing department. You need to craft results based messages that are outcome focused and they need to be in the language of your buyers.

Accountants talk differently than lawyers. CEOs talk differently than managers. Every market and every solution will have a different mix of decision makers involved. Make sure that you now what butters their bread and that you’ve crafted your messages in the language they speak. If you’re not sure, go back and talk to your customers.

  • Jill Konrath, author of “Selling to Big Companies” made a statement that is true of all sales, not just for salespeople selling to large accounts, “if your failing to get in is the most likely reason is that you have a weak value proposition.” I would add to that that a good solution isn’t enough. McDonald’s doesn’t sell the best hamburgers. Microsoft (and I hear the screams now) doesn’t sell the best operating system. Yet those are just two examples of companies that succeed because they’ve added the secret sauce of what I’m telling you here, namely
  • Have the right message
  • For the right audience
  • Communicated in a powerful and persuasive manner

That will get you into doors that have previously been locked. Once you’ve done that you’re ready to create some demand and fill that pipeline with robust closable deals,.

Divide and Conquer

Now that you’re prepared by knowing where to look and what to say you need to actually find prospects – that 95 percent of people who aren’t buying now but could be. It’s a big elephant to eat. The only solution is to eat it one slice at a time. There are only a couple of steps to do that

  • Segment your territory into targeted markets
  • Identify accounts that you suspect will need your offering
  • Find partners that can help you get into those accounts
  • Die-hard execution

Lets examine those steps more closely.

Segment your territory into targeted markets

Figure out 5 to 10 specific markets that you can go after. You could divide up your universe of prospects by demographic, by industry or by niche. If you sell to doctors what kind of doctors? What specialty needs you the most? What size practice? Older physicians or younger. Identify your existing markets and new ones. For example if you sell instruments to surgeons do orthopods need them as well? If you sell services to car dealers can parts dealers use you? Where are the results you deliver needed? What pain points do you fix?

Make a list of those targeted markets that you can sell into and then rank them. Start with the top 3 and then move onto Step 2.

Identify accounts that you suspect will need your offering

In each of your 3 top markets identify at least 10 companies that need your product or service. Use what you know about the industry, business, your customers and your solutions to determine the best fit. Is your product a high ticket item? If so a very small business won’t be able to buy it no matter how much they need it. What is your ideal customer profile? Who in your targeted market fits that?

Today there is no shortage of where to find suspects that may need your product. Use the Internet, Hoovers, Linked-In or the thousands of other business sources to find likely suspects for your products and solutions.You can use the newspaper, the Yellow Pages, trade magazines and even associations to find candidates to sell to. The only requirement is that they fit your market and your profile. Research and learn about these companies because that information will become your blue-print for getting access to them later.

Make a list of the most likely buyers for each of your three markets. Now, name those accounts because soon you’ll be working a plan on getting into them. Right now they are just suspects, you don’t really know what their needs are or if you can solve them. However this gives you a great starting place. You now have thirty named accounts to prospect – thirty more than you had yesterday.

Find partners that can help you get into those accounts

One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is re-inventing the wheel. What I mean by that is doing everything on your own and not looking for assets and people to help. Every account you want to sell into already has vendors they work with, networks of contacts and a space within their community. Find and use partners that can help you not only get into your named accounts but can help you get a deal done.

It is far easier to create demand in a group or market than create that market. I like to think of it as being easier to get hit by the bus instead of having to fill the bus up. Who do your named accounts work with? Who do they associate with? Those are the people you need to know and places you need to go. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Use the relationships other suppliers have to get you into accounts. That is by far the best way to speed up your demand creation and get new opportunities into your funnel.

Who sells to your accounts that you can partner with? Here is an example to illustrate the point.

I recently worked with a Furniture Company whose sales had declined over 27 percent last year. They were spending frighting amounts of money on advertising, direct mail, cold calling and bush beating trying to drum up business. I had them stop all of it. Every salesperson was assigned one category of partner that could help them sell furniture. One guy took Carpet Stores, another Interior Decorators. An especially spunky young saleswoman went after Real Estate agents. The pitch was simple: we each have customers that need more than what we sell. Lets collaborate together and get a larger share of the customer’s wallet.

Some partners only wanted to bird dog opportunities – that is get some money for a lead and then a commission on the sale. Other partners were more creative, bundling their solutions with the Furniture Store. Amy, the saleswoman working with Real-Estate agents had the most success. People buying new homes want new furniture to match. Sellers often struck out because of their house didn’t show well with outdated ugly furniture. In 6 months sales were up over 32 percent and marketing costs were down over 56 percent. Biggest payoff – every salesperson made their quota and got a fat bonus.

Carefully monitor your partners. Are they delivering results? If not, why? Is it a one way street with you giving more leads away than you’re getting? Perhaps your partner isn’t as connected as you thought or motivated enough? If you can’t fix the problem find a different partner.

What bus can you get hit by? Who sells complimentary products to yours. Who is working with the accounts and markets you want to sell into. They can rocket your sales performance through the roof.

Die-hard execution

Today you hear a lot about working smarter and not harder. I’ve got news for you: today you need to work both harder and smarter. The key there is work. You must execute relentlessly, working your plan consistently and constantly. Demand creation requires that you identify your markets, select the most likely prospects, finding partners to help you gain access and trust to get into those accounts and a plan that you work on every day.

What is your selling process? Do you cold call and then follow up by email? Have you identified the key objectives that must be done that moves each sale from opening to signature? Do you know the key decision makers for each opportunity and have a plan for getting in-front of them?

Every sale has key milestones that must be accomplished for the sale to close. Map out your plan step by step. What do you do to gain access? Then what do you do to generate interest? How do you follow up? Does your prospect need to do a site visit? Do they need engineering specs or technical assistance. Know clearly the path you have to walk with the customer. Establish a plan and then work that plan – relentlessly.

Rinse and Repeat is needed for all of your prospecting activities

This 4 step plan isn’t a do once and stop system. Once you’ve worked your thirty accounts it is time to work your next thirty. The good news is that you’ve learned a lot. Each time you repeat the process you will get better at it and more effective.

Keep good records. One of your markets may not pan out. Replace it with a different target from your list. You may have to find different partners. Your message to market might not be powerful enough – or aligned closely with their needs and your solutions. Know what is working and what isn’t. In sales keeping score is easy: how much business did you close in the week, month and quarter. Keep score – your income depends upon it.

Selling is one of the professions that is only improved by doing. The more you do, the better and more effective you’ll become at it. Work these 4 steps of demand creation and you’ll be much closer to success than others cold calling or worse, sitting by the phone waiting for a prospect to call. Remember, hope is never a strategy.

Would You Like to Double Your Leads and Opportunities in 26 Days?

  • Is your pipeline full or are you being hammered to find more opportunities?
  • Do you chase after every deal working with people that you can’t stand because you need the business?
  • Are your manager’s phone calls pleasant or full of haranguing to do more cold calling and prospecting?
  • Are you satisfied with your income and sales results?
  • Are you happy as a professional salesperson or burning out from overwork and stress?

If not having enough people to sell too I have a very limited time offer that will get you more leads and opportunities in only 26 days. Just click the button below to find out more.

Russ Emrick