I’m not psychic, but I have a feeling that this year you’ve faced some struggles when it comes to managing your sales pipeline.
• Lead gen programs aren’t performing as effectively or predictably as they used to be
• Buyers are ignoring your marketing and sales reps in favor of doing independent research
• Sales cycles are getting longer, and more complex—making sales pipeline management harder
These problems are almost all due to one fundamental shift: modern buyers are turning to each other to find out if your product does what you say it does. They’re using review websites, private social networks and in-person events to learn about your solution—which means they’re tuning out most of your emails, marketing campaigns and cold calls until they’re nearly ready to buy.
Below, I’ve outlined the big hurdles your sales pipeline management team will face because of this new paradigm, and how they can overcome each one using your most valuable resource: your customers.
P.S. We’ve written a guide that explains how sales and marketing teams can infuse customer advocacy into the your funnel if you want an in-depth version.
1. Lead gen programs are failing to connect
92% of buyers say they delete emails or voicemail messages when it comes from someone they don’t know. This is because buyers don’t trust your salespeople or your marketing. And why would they? Your reps—and often, your company—are strangers. Or, if they have heard of you, they have preconceived notions about what you do. Emails and cold calls just aren’t effective at engaging buyers anymore.
Before a buyer will even consider engaging with you, they need to know who you are, and why they should take interest. And the people who can do that most effectively are your customer advocates. These are your brand’s most zealous users and fans who will happily talk about you on public and private networks to their peers.
The fix: Ask your best advocates to make introductions for your sales team to their peers. If you ask them to talk about their successes with your product in their introductory outreach, they’ll be happier to oblige. When they do give you a referral, make sure to recognize them for the submission. Give them more kudos if the lead becomes a new customer. This way they’ll be happy to open up their rolodex again.
“Publicly praise people who are referring to your entire customer base. Every time we get a deal that comes in from a referral, I shoot an email off as a quick thank you. If you do those kinds of things, they’re going to keep referring.”
– Andy Mackensen, Co-founder and CMO of HUMAN and SnackNation
2. Buyers make vendor shortlists before they interact with your sales or marketing teams
77% of B2B buyers said they didn’t talk with a salesperson until after they had performed independent research. And if they don’t like what they see, they’ll choose your competitor without ever entering your funnel.
The fix: Encourage your advocates to write online reviews and comment on industry forums about your industry or solution. The key is to position your request as an opportunity for them to share their knowledge and increase social capital among their peers. Make sure you recognize them for helping you out, or they won’t do it again. Try a public social media shout out that points people towards their insights.
“People are out there engaging with review sites. They want to share what they know. It’s a really nice way for your customers to put themselves out there as professionals, and also a way for them to showcase how they’ve used your product and why it’s been successful for them.”
-Adrienne Weismann, Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer at G2 Crowd
3. Bigger buying committees and increased time-to-close makes sales pipeline management harder
5.4 people are involved in the average B2B buying decision. This means sales reps have to foster more relationships—and deal with more stakeholder objections—than ever before. This is likely why research conducted by Harvard University and Gallup found that more than a quarter of all B2B sales cycles take seven months or more to close.
The fix: Advocates can do what your salespeople can’t: speak convincingly to key decision-makers on why your solution works for them. The more similar the advocate is to the prospect, the more effective their message will be.
Make sure you have a happy pool of high-quality references ready to talk to different types of stakeholders. To do this, you need to be consistently engaging, educating and delighting customers, so they’re happy to talk about their experience with others. Position reference requests as a chance to network with peers and reward customers when they help move deals forward.
“Just establishing an initial pool of advocates and a centralized tool for managing them isn’t enough. You will need to continually add and grow your program over time to fill gaps, replace outdated content and customers, and expand your reach within customer organizations. As such, it is wise to establish a set of customer reference nomination and recruitment strategies and know the tactics and tools that will help you get there. ”
-Nichole Auston, Director of Content Marketing at RO Innovation
Mobilizing customer advocates throughout your sales pipeline
Advocates are the key to overcoming these sales pipeline management problems at every stage of the buyer journey.
Uncovering and mobilizing these fans can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet, or as sophisticated as building a rich advocate marketing strategy to continuously find and nurture your customer advocates. The key lies in bringing your sales and marketing teams together to set up processes for requesting and tracking acts of advocacy throughout your entire pipeline.
Treat your advocates right, and they’ll flip your pipeline problems around and turn your funnel into the gold mine it was always meant to be.