The pandemic destroyed your sales pipeline, now what?

The pandemic destroyed your sales pipeline.

Growth Orbit Insights

As the business landscape continues to evolve in the wake of COVID-19, it is likely your business has seen dramatic change as well. What may have been a solid and growing pipeline has suddenly faltered.  Your normal playbook is out the window, yet you still need to produce. It is time to analyze the pros and cons of the viable options available in this environment to determine what is the right path for your business. Speed and agility are more important than ever but there is more to consider.

by Steve Schilling

The pandemic destroyed your pipeline, now what?

The world has changed quickly, and you had no time to prepare. You were experiencing one of the longest, most robust economic expansions in history. You had a well-conceived growth plan in place and were executing. You had a robust pipeline of activity and a strong forecast, then…the world suddenly stopped. What we all hoped was temporary, is looking to be a much longer term. Your sales pipeline is obliterated, or at a minimum put on hold, yet the expectations of growth remain. How do you meet these expectations with one hand tied behind your back?

A global crisis can either paralyze an organization or galvanize it to thrive

The pandemic left most businesses in a substantially worse conditionAccording to a recent McKinsey global survey, 52% of executives report their business is in “substantially worse condition” than it was six months ago, less than half think they will be in a better situation six months out. Everyone is facing many challenges that are forcing us all to adapt.

To make matters even worse, your entire team is working from home. What are they working on?? Are they being productive?? And what about your prospects? They are at home too, which creates new challenges in reaching and engaging with them. Trade shows, events, and customer visits are off the table, and budgets are being cut. What worked before is gone, and from all accounts, our ‘normal’ is not coming back anytime soon.

So, how do you drive lead generation that will work when your normal playbook won’t? The fact is the “new plays” you now need to run require different skills and resources and even different technologies. In these challenging times, performing at optimal levels matters even more. A rising tide may raise all ships, but when the tide is going out it requires extraordinary execution to rise above the rest.

How do you get your pipeline back on course and adapt to drive success?

You need an actionable plan. One that enables you to move fast and implement innovative changes that will have a measurable impact in Q4.  According to the SiriusDecisions Sales Metrics Framework a healthy sales pipeline has a 12x quota requirement. Across industries, a Marketo study found that just above 22% of SQLs (sales qualified leads) actually become customers. With these numbers as guides, it is time to become more agile in our planning and develop a plan of attack.

Bold options are needed in a world of chaos

The world is in chaos, but now is a time when the bold double down and invest in key strategic initiatives that will lay the groundwork for big wins as we move towards a new year. What can you do now to get or keep lead generation momentum moving and get your sales pipeline healthy again? Let’s consider a few highly tactical options:

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White Paper: 10 Characteristics of High Performing Sales Organizations

10 Characteristics of High Performing Sales Organizations

Content marketing

As we all social distance, people are spending more time than ever on the Internet. This makes content marketing a viable sales and marketing tool. The problem is, content marketing requires a lot of… well, content, which involves an investment in time and resources. Your old content assets are most likely no longer relevant, so you will need a content overhaul. Once you refresh your content, you must publish, distribute, and promote it through the proper channels.

Content marketing and content creation are sometimes considered to be simply putting out blog posts, videos, and graphics. Some organizations even promote content creation as a practice that is done relatively easily, and without much cost, time, or resource requirements. Yet the reality is quite different.

Why is content marketing so expensive?  Many studies claim that content marketing provides an ROI up to three times that of traditional marketing.A study by the Content Marketing Institute found that B2B organizations dedicate 29% of their budget to content marketing on average. But what measure is used to define success?  All too often it is a cost per lead generated. But when businesses fail to recognize that only 5 to 15 percent of inbound leads are qualified, they’re doomed to miscalculate the true cost of content marketing.

Content marketing does work and should likely be a meaningful part of your sales and marketing strategy; it just is not fast or inexpensive. It is unlikely that content marketing alone is going to solve your sales pipeline challenges. The more likely approach is to consider content marketing as a vital component of an overall lead generation strategy. Ultimately, it is the quality of your content that will have the biggest impact. Focus on quality – useful and meaningful content – or what Forbes describes as “shareworthy” content and you are more likely to find success.

Email marketing

It is easy to get caught up in the belief that email marketing is easy and inexpensive – just hit send, right?   But hitting the send button can be a lot more expensive than it seems. Using email to reach customers has a cost that goes beyond what we pay for tools, time, and technology. We must consider the intangible costs as well.

The era of the effective “email blast” is behind us.  To be effective today, your email messaging must be customized and relevant for the audience. The old saying, “You only have one chance to make a first impression” applies here. Get your messaging wrong the first time, and you will be relegated to that trash box forever. The ability to customize messaging comes down to the ability to segment your target market, develop compelling messaging that aligns with your target personas, and deliver content that your prospects find of value.

Email marketing is an effective method for filling your sales pipeline.A recent benchmark email marketing report by Campaign Monitor showed that more people are opening email during the COVID-19 pandemic than ever before. The report found that “average (email) opens were up across the board for March and April, despite the marked rise in send volume between February and March (email sends were up 19% from February 2020 to March 2020).  Both March and April saw opens remain strong year over year, with a nearly four-point increases for both months from 2019 to 2020—an increase of more than 20%”.

Inbox’s are unusually full these days. Everyone is ramping up their email marketing in response to the pandemic crisis. Businesses we used to hear from weekly or monthly are now emailing daily. Email marketing can be a viable strategy and can be cost effective, but keep these 5 best practices in mind:

    1. Do not treat email as “Free” – overuse will drive disengagement or worse
    2. Monitor your email performance for relevance, engagement, and value
    3. Personalize your content and offers
    4. Let customer’s control your email frequency
    5. Make unsubscribing easy

Email may seem like the perfect pipeline building medium. It is inexpensive and reaches large numbers of people quickly. But, when you overload prospects with messages they do not want, you risk being relegated to the junk folder and losing the ability to keep emailing them at all.

Instead, ensure your content is meaningful and offers insight of value to your prospects and then use all the data and tools you have to ensure your prospects find each email relevant. When prospects find your emails are not relevant and do not interact with them, provide an easy method to unsubscribe. Your list will be smaller, and you will send fewer emails, but ultimately, you will drive meaningful engagement with the right prospects and build your following.

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Our Guide to Lead Generation

How to Run Your Sales Organization Like a Pro

Should you expand your sales efforts?

You want to grow your pipeline, so you add sales resources, it is an obvious consideration. The challenge is that selling in this unfamiliar environment requires unique skills. In fact, your current sales organization is likely struggling as it is now. In Bob Franco’s book Sales: The Hardest Easy Job In The World he explains that selling should be easy, but when salespeople do not follow through on execution, they make it hard.

When you are looking for your sales organization to prospect and generate leads, follow through is what it is all about. Research studies show it takes on average between 6 and 8 cold call attempts to reach a prospect. Unfortunately, the average salesperson gives up on calling after only 2 attempts.

Sales reps give up on calling too soon. More calls result in more sales.

The high cost to gain a slow-ramping sales resource

The cost of hiring a salesperson varies depending on the benefit package, recruiting fees, comp plan, ramp time, and onboarding costs, but it is generally estimated to be between 200-300% of the first-year base salary.

It takes a long time and a lot of efforts before a sales rep is productive.A newly hired salesperson, who starts fast and ramps to full productivity within six months, will usually generate a profit for the company in their first year, but that is not typically the case. According to ClearSlide and CSO Insights research, 71% of companies take 6 months or longer to onboard new sales reps; and a third of companies take 9 months or more.

Hiring a slow starter, i.e. a rep that takes 9 months or more to reach full productivity, means your new salesperson will be a cash drain in their first year and clearly will not have a productive impact on Q4. Expanding a sales team that lacks the needed capabilities to generate new pipeline in the current environment, including the energy and toughness to sell over the phone on top of working from home, is a recipe for failure.

The case for dedicated sales development

In today’s B2B world, phone and email are about the only vehicles we have left to reach prospects. But as we have already covered, email and phone-based prospecting is hard, and most salespeople do not have the stomach for it, let alone the aptitude to do it well.  But why?

Connecting with prospects requires time and resources

Sales reps do not have the time or aptitude to generate their own leads with phone calls.

  • Connect rates – It takes over 10 dials to make a single meaningful connection when calling a list of prospects with direct phone numbers and almost twice that when calling a main switchboard number.
  • Conversation to Qualified Lead – It can take over 20 meaningful conversations to generate 1 qualified lead, and more if you are calling highly targeted markets, such as IT or marketing, or very senior executives.

To sum it up:

it can take 60-90 dials to qualify and gain an appointment with a single targeted prospect. This is not an efficient use of a quota-carrying salesperson’s time.

Connecting the dots – Integrate Sales and Marketing to Maximize Success

Companies that practice inbound marketing are already capable at some level of content marketing, email marketing and performance analytics. Therefore, creating an effective sales development function means integrating outbound phone-based prospecting (and in many cases effective nurturing) with your existing strategies.

Do not mistake sales development as merely another word for cold calling. Integrating targeted content with research, tailored outreach, effective nurturing, and analytics means that you are no longer blindly calling people, creating no added benefit or value. Effective sales development is built upon the same principle as content marketing – provide value, earn the opportunity to engage, identify, and connect to pain, and then provide solutions.

Organizations that want to overcome their pipeline challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have to integrate and align sales development along with content and email marketing. The ability to consistently and predictably generate leads and build a qualified sales pipeline requires the integration of each of these functions.

According to research from the Kellogg School of Business, organizations that effectively use sales development see a 7-point increase in their close rates. So not only does this approach enable you to more effectively grow your pipeline and improve velocity, but your sales team also becomes more effective and produces better results.

Now may be the right time to consider outsourcing

Sales priorities during the pandemic have shifted to outsourced lead generation partners.Your sales and marketing organization may not have the expertise, technology, and resources to execute the kind of integrated programs described. There are two approaches to consider when thinking about how to address these problems: in-house resources or through outsourcing.

Advocates for building these functions in-house focus on the long-term benefits it can bring to the company. They value hiring, training, and developing your team who can be groomed for future roles within the organization and enable the organization to scale over time.

They also argue that the tribal knowledge and skills developed are important to keep in-house, build upon, and ultimately lead to proprietary expertise.

Advocates for outsourcing look at these efforts by the numbers. They argue that the cost, speed, and effort involved is so much more attractive when outsourced that building internal teams makes almost no sense, unless you are a large, highly profitable, and established company with ample time. But today, most organizations need pipeline yesterday and do not have the time, resources, or runway to start and run all of this in-house. This is a sprint not a marathon.

When considering building in-house or outsourcing your lead generation programs, it really boils down to return on investment. Which approach will deliver the best results when time, cost and effort are all taken into account? With each day and hour that passes, your need for qualified pipeline continues to grow. Whether it is an in-house program, outsourced program, or a combination of both, it is likely that something new needs to get done quickly.

Looking ahead

The pandemic has forever changed all of our lives, yet business keeps moving forward. If recent events have derailed your pipeline, you must move quickly to develop a game plan and execute fast to get your growth plan back on track. Growth Orbit understands the reality we are now operating in and can provide guidance on navigating through these trying times, deliver qualified pipeline growth and help you rise above the competition to achieve the success you deserve.

About Growth Orbit

Growth Orbit is a full-service growth acceleration firm, focused on driving measurable value through lead generation and sales performance solutions that work. We excel at combining sound growth strategy with proven sales methodologies, supported by effective technology. We only consider ourselves successful when we deliver accelerated, measurable growth for our clients.

From developing smart insight driven sales messaging, to filling your funnel with qualified leads, we’ve built our foundation on meeting clients where they are and helping them achieve new levels of growth — what we call reaching Growth Orbit!

Building Pipeline Despite a Pandemic

Growth Orbit reps have created over $100 Million in pipeline since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic!

$109,332,000

…and counting!

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