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Bill Banham: The modern sales funnel is big and it includes numerous sales channels. At the top of today's multi-channel funnel, is it's not just calling events and referrals, but social media, SEO, varied content forms, paid search, and much more. How do you create a sales funnel which draws on multiple channels to produce interest, engagement, and conversions? How do you prioritize types of leads, analyze sales cycles, and ensure that your sales team is at the heart of your company's outreach?
In this episode of the CPSA and Strategy podcast, top sales influencer Leanne Hoagland-Smith will offer her take on how to construct a powerful, multi-channel sales funnel, and the culture needed to build solid and sustainable sales strategies. Leanne Hoagland-Smith is Chief Results Officer at Advanced Systems. Leanne is a people and process problem solver for SMB executives and sales professionals in rapidly growing markets. She has 25+ years experience in private and public sectors as an executive coach and workplace culture tactician. Leanne is a published author and recognized speaker who brings common sense solutions.
Leanne Hoagland-Smith, welcome to the Sales Strategy Podcast brought to you by the CPSA. It's great to have you with us today.
Leanne: Oh, thank you so much for having me Bill. I'm looking forward to having this discussion about connecting the dots.
Bill Banham: Let's jump straight in. The first question, it seems a simple one, but perhaps it's not. That is, what do you define as a sales funnel?
Leanne: I think a sales funnel really is a misnomer. I think it's really more of a marketing/sales funnel. It's not just the qualified sales leads, but it's the opportunity for what just general sales leads and as you build the relationship, because we know most people don't have a need when you reach them the first time. It takes a while to build that relationship and discover what the limitations for that particular sales lead are, where that company for that sales lead is going, and with everything changing so much in today's world, it changes how that sales funnel looks. I always thought about the sales funnel being more of a tunnel. People working with the sales lead, walking them through the tunnel, as opposed to the old sales funnel letting gravity eventually pull everything down.
Bill Banham: Thinking about the very top of the sales funnel, or the sales tunnel, can you sort of highlight different channels that they go into, that sales funnel at the very top? Perhaps that's email marketing, for example, or search, or good old fashioned telephone calls.
Leanne: It can also be looking at the local newspapers, local business magazines, finding out who's doing what, sending notes of congratulations, and it also can be LinkedIn, which has become a very popular prospecting channel, outside of the direct mail and buying lists. It can also be sales referrals. All of those are at the top. Again, you can also have the leads or the inquiries from websites. As long as you have some idea of who your ideal customer is, what target market you are going after, and how your solutions may work with that target audience. Your sales funnel at the top can be very broad, that's why it's a funnel. You really don't know and you don't want to lose any opportunities.
Bill Banham: Tell us more about some of the most productive channels that you've found in your career.
Leanne: The most productive are two, one is referrals, and then the other one has been content marketing. Using an education-based marketing approach where you're educating people through your content. I guess a third one, which has worked when I do it, is offering items to be bid at silent auction events and I will offer a coaching package. I'm getting about a 75% close rate on those. A forward thinking sales person, they have to do a little thinking about what is going to work for them. Sometimes thinking a little out of the box too.
Bill Banham: Now let's imagine that you're going into a company and they don't really have a solid concept of what that sales funnel is for them. In your experience, what is the best way about going about creating that strategy where you've got different people in different departments coming together and building leads, and they're dribbling down to a point at some point where a sales person then takes those and tries to convert?
Leanne: When we look strategy, what does strategy mean? Strategy means, comes from the Greek, for a general to deceive the enemies. Then we also have to back up a little further and say, "How does our sales strategy work with the overall organizational goals?" A lot of times, my question is, what is your strategic plan, where are you going with your strategic plan, and how are sales part of that overall strategic plan? What I've experienced is that many times sales managers are not necessarily aligned and then you have some counter-productive behaviors happening. Then you start identifying, write down your ideal customer. I mean, this is pretty simple, but I can't tell you how many companies don't have either one profile or multiple profiles of who is their best ideal customer.
The next thing I encourage them to do, is when you're looking at your sales funnel, especially if it's hurting, is go to your existing customers and ask for referrals. That is probably the easiest way to get new sales leads into the funnel. If you have a loyal customer who's been buying from you for a while, he or she should have at least one or two people that they know who could benefit from your solution. I think that is the initial strategy. Then you go through and you look at your data. You start becoming very specific as to who you're going to target. What I sense a lot of times is happening is we have something called Captain Wing-it out there. Sales managers receiving pressure, whatnot, start spraying their reactions all over the place and then they start praying something will stick. This is a time to be very intentional. Identify. Work those target markets, those sales leads you have. Always ask, if you can, is there somebody else? It defies logic sometimes how people put together their prospecting lists, so to speak. There isn't a lot of intention. There's not clarity. Then they wonder why they don't have success.
Bill Banham: Okay, so let's talk a bit about that intention, that clarity, that purpose, that focus, and you're absolutely right. Here's you and I talking about how do you create a strategy which leads back into the sales funnel, but to your point, first topic is about knowing the personas of your customers and understanding what your unique selling points are, and whatnot. If we now sort of switch a little bit, and focus who's responsible for certain channels. Do you feel that there are certain channels that go into the sales funnel which are the domain say of the marketing team? Content and search would be areas managed by the marketing team with that persona in their mind, or actually, should the salesperson be involved?
Leanne: I definitely think the salesperson should be involved, because the salesperson needs to know what the marketing people are doing. The marketing people need to know what the salespeople are doing. For many smaller firms, even if they have a sales manager, there's a greater likelihood they're going to have a sales manager and they're not going to have a marketing manager. There definitely has to be communication between both. It's not two silos. How would you feel as a sales person going in, you're talking to someone and they make a comment about an article and you're clueless as to what was in that article or the content is in error. That could be a real disaster. For the marketing person not to know the needs because they should be talking to sales people, well what are some of the obstacles or needs? What are your customers looking for as far as content?
I read recently that the successful awardee of a contract, his or her content, has been read by the decision maker, and he or she, the decision maker, has read five pieces of that content. The salesperson needs to know the content and may actually be helping writing the content, and the marketing people need to know what the sales people are experiencing. I think this whole concept of marketing being in a silo, like years ago, kind of the Madison Avenue types, the advertising has been disrupted because of technology, because people now are looking for content. I think that gives them insight from a decision-making perspective. What is this company like? How are they thinking? Can we work with them? The content is turning more into a psychographic information, as much as sales people look to the demographics of their ideal customers and some of the psychographics. I think buyers are now looking at the psychographics of the vendors.
Bill Banham: You touched upon some of the problems and the issues when it's done incorrectly. Let's talk a bit more about about what happens when you get it right. What happens when you've got awesome content happening, which is being reviewed and influenced by the sales person, it's not just the domain of the marketing team? What does that sales funnel look like suddenly? How healthy is it? How much can a sales team expect to get in terms of leads from a big and healthy sales funnel?
Leanne: I don't know how much, all that I would say is if it's all in alignment, they should be quality leads. Theoretically, they should be converting those leads into sales. The only misstep might be is that they may have an expectation to convert the sale too early. It doesn't look that much different, except I think the only difference is, is there more intentional conversations? Marketing sits down with sales and saying okay, we've developed all this, these are the leads we've seen coming in, what have you done with them to the sales people. Conversely, the sales people can say, okay, we're not getting these kind of leads, or the leads we're getting are not really qualified, what can we do to improve the quality of our leads? The ultimate solution, or end result, is that they're communicating, they're improving the process, so that the quality of the sales leads improves as well as the quantity.
Bill Banham: We've bounced around something else, but we haven't actually really spoken about it yet. That's the role of the CRM in all of this. What's your take on using a CRM as part of the sales team?
Leanne: I think every salesperson needs a tool to manage his or her interactions with sales leads. For myself, it's an Excel file. Old school. I enter all phone calls, I have a process, I know how to put them on the next sheet if they're a sales lead. I plug them into my calendar. Being a solo entrepreneur I don't have to manage a lot of sales leads, and I can't, I'm one person. The challenge with a CRM is that it is a relationship tool. It's not necessarily a selling tool. It becomes, how do I better manage my sales time to get improved results?
Bill Banham: Some of the benefits of a CRM, about helping to qualify the strength of a lead, the warmth of a lead, do you use any sort of process like that with your Excel sheets?
Leanne: No. I don't. I use the Excel sheet to continue to nurture relationships, to make sure I honor the commitments I make when I tell a client, I'm sending you something. Then I just make a note in the Excel sheet, I did it. You can highlight and whatnot, and I know from my calendar what are hot leads and what are cool leads and whatnot. It's been over time. My Excel sheet also looks at marketing opportunities. Did I get this marketing opportunity or that one? Like this podcast is a marketing opportunity so it was in my Excel spreadsheet. I'm a little, I guess, different, but I use a tool, and I think that's the emphasis. Whatever CRM you use, once you find one that works, you need to use it.
Bill Banham: So you'd say, regardless of whether you've got a little black book, whether you've got an Excel sheet, whether you pay thousands of dollars for sales force, use it or lose it.
Leanne: Yes, absolutely, because somebody else who's more successful is probably using it.
Bill Banham: Before we wrap things up, if you were to summarize or to offer one lesson that you hope people would take away from this particular episode, around how to build a multi-channel sales funnel, would you say it's organization process, making sure you've got that little black book, in whatever format it is, or is there another lesson you'd like to leave?
Leanne: I would say it goes back to, assess where you are, as far as your strategies and everything, clarify what does that look like for you when you look at your goals, and then execute. Then when you finish assessing, come back re-assess, re-clarify, re-execute. If you adopt that attitude or that process, assess, clarify, execute, I think you're going to have sales success.
Bill Banham: Thank you very much. Leanne Hoagland-Smith ...
Leanne: You're welcome.
Bill Banham:... thank you for being with us today.
Leanne: Thank you for having me.
Bill Banham: Listeners, this has been the Sales Strategy Podcast. I've been your host, Bill Banham with Leanne Hoagland-Smith, and until next time, thanks for listening.
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