For every business, sales is the cornerstone of growth.
But as with any strategy, you can be reactive or proactive.
Stable recurring profit needs a process. Sometimes when you’re just starting out, this is hard to nail down. But as you perfect your pitch, find a niche, and learn how your service approach excites and engages prospects, you need to move this information out of your head and into three places: process, people, platform.
Building a pipeline is a lot of work — we’re not going to sugarcoat it. But with a repeatable set of actions, practiced habits, and shared learnings amongst your sales team, you will convert opportunities faster and more often. Let’s get to work.
In this blog post, we’ll cover,
Along the way, you’ll hear from others in the Channel and how they went from a manual process to maximizing sales efficiencies with a pipeline.
At the most fundamental level, the sales pipeline is a representation of your company's sales process. True pipeline management means you’re designing, measuring, and optimizing the sales process to drive performance.
A well-managed sales pipeline allows you to analyze and implement different sales techniques, manage and allocate resources, and provide valuable data to review your progress year-over-year.
You’ll learn more and more about what kinds of deals are best for your business and maybe even dial down to a specific niche. It’s all about attracting more of the same.
Developing a solid sales pipeline is particularly important for MSPs that might be acquired.
A well-thought sales pipeline indicates that you have recurring revenue generation, which in turn suggests stability. This predictable revenue stream and steady cash flow make you more attractive to potential buyers as their investment comes with minimal risk.
But even if you’re not looking to get acquired, a sales pipeline gives you the ability to make long-term business decisions, knowing your predictable revenue can accommodate growth or unforeseen changes (the global financial crisis of 2007 and last year’s global pandemic are two such instances we’ve heard IT Partners mention).
A sales pipeline maps deal progression across various steps or stages of your sales process.
Represented as either a funnel, a horizontal bar, or even a vertical bar divided into stages, your pipeline often reflects the typical buyer's journey. Your sales reps should change how they engage with a prospect depending on which stage they’re in.
Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Action/Purchase
Each prospect will move through the buyer’s journey at a different rate, depending on their level of interest and urgency. Take time to assess how long potential clients spend in each stage on average.
But keep in mind, they may even skip steps in this journey. For example, word-of-mouth referrals are already in the decision phase when reaching out. They short-listed awareness and consideration by asking others who they know and trust.
Knowing that not every prospect starts with awareness, you’ll want to identify how many opportunities enter each funnel stage in any given month.
We discussed a standard buyer’s journey above. Still, to really track how prospects move from start to finish, you need to build a comprehensive mechanism to deal with different types of prospects, scenarios, and situations that might occur.
These are called sales pipeline stages. Without stage setting and mapping, prospects and deals can easily slip your mind. This attrition leads to fewer sales and impacts the vitality of your business.
The number and type of stages in your pipeline can vary. For example, some businesses prefer five stages, some eight; in the end, it depends on your IT product/service and where you get your leads.
Most sales pipelines have the following stages:
The first stage of any sales pipeline should be Prospecting - where you generate qualified leads.
Leads may come from various sources.
Suppose their contact information was received via content campaigns such as webinars, blogging, social media, downloadable content, or via customer referrals or word-of-mouth. In that case, they are brought in through inbound channels and categorized as warm leads.
When leads have not voluntarily opted into any communication with you and developed through proactive, direct contact, they are brought in through outbound channels and categorized as cold leads. Sources for these include email lists, IT networking events, cold calling, display advertising, etc.
Qualifying leads is perhaps the most crucial step of your sales pipeline.
Ascertain potential customers based on criteria, including company size, geography, and industry, during this phase of the sales process. You’ll be looking for qualities that match your ICP (ideal customer profile) or even simply mimicking what your most enjoyable or successful clients “look like.”:
If answers to most questions are YES, advance to the next stage. If you have some NO as answers, probably dig in a bit more to understand what objections may arise and if you can overcome them.
In some cases, leads might be ideal customers but may not make IT decisions during the initial contact. In such cases, keep track of these leads, and follow up at a later time.
3. Building Relationships/Evaluation
Building relationships can feel slow but is immensely valuable to the future of your business.
As you probably already know, pitching is the last thing you should do when meeting a new contact — instead, focus on making a friend. Reach out regularly, schedule it into your calendar but keep it personal.
Sports, the weather, maybe even their children - find common ground. And take notes! That shopkeeper will be touched if you remember to ask about her daughter’s wedding next month.
Keep the conversation going on social media too! Perhaps engaging in industry conversations on LinkedIn or liking their cute dog pics on Facebook.
Friends support each other, right? In the small business community, it’s important to attend or promote events - sharing bake sale details, eating at a restaurant that recently expanded its menu, or attending virtual workshops, etc. You can also send them a physical gift such as a book on a topic that you have expertise on and follow up later.
Remembering the details of their personal lives and finding reasons to reach out is the KEY to building relationships.
Once you have a healthy conversation flowing, you can start understanding their current IT-related pain points, what bothers them, and how to best solve their problems.
Each conversation leads to more information and builds trust.
You’ll close quicker when you can describe the customer's problem better than they can.
At this point, you’ve gained their trust by showing them you know who they are, what they care about, their issues, and that you've developed a proven process that will deliver the results they want.
Present your quote as a well-tailored offering that can solve the customer’s challenges and enable growth.
Assuage any doubts and keep their trust. SMBs don’t have the technical expertise to manage all their operations and they’re counting on us to deliver. Make sure they know they’ll be taken care of and provided the highest level of service.
You’ll know the right time to go for buy-in from decision-makers and negotiate prices. Keep it flexible and conversational.
Read Next: Ten Tips to Speed Up and Streamline Your MSP’s Sales Closing Process
5. Following Up/ Lost
What to do with leads that don’t qualify?
You may move them to a backlog/future pipeline stage and pick them up later.
This can be either done manually or automated - typically after a specific number of inactive days have passed.
Just because a deal doesn’t immediately convert, don’t mean it’s lost forever.
Here’s a small checklist to keep in mind as you engage with your cold leads.
Once you have the sales pipeline outlined, the movement of the deals from one stage to the other needs to be on track.
At each stage, there are repeatable actions or habits that you must perform to move a deal/prospect across stages.
Assessing budget, scheduling a team demo, negotiating a quote — these are all events associated with specific stages.
Managing a growing pipeline is exhausting.
But not following repeatable steps throughout your sales pipeline leads to lost leads and lost money. Give yourself and your team a playbook that helps you win.
Here are some best practices for building and managing a sales pipeline:
Truthfully, at least 50% of your prospects are not a good fit for what you sell
Not every SMB is going to be the perfect fit for your business, and that’s okay.
Focus on customers who fall under your ideal customer profile. To identify your ICP, look at your most successful customers and contrast them with the lost ones to develop an ideal profile.
Remember, you may not be able to determine all of these factors immediately when identifying a new lead or prospect but pay close attention.
To build a healthy and fast sales pipeline, identify your most successful deals.
Indicators include short time-to-close, highest revenue, or even the one where you’ve enjoyed the client relationship. Distill commonalities of the opportunities, seeing what converts as you move from stage to stage — for example, a follow-up email or agreeing for a quote.
What did they need to hear from you to gain trust and continue the conversion?
Tweak your sales process based on this data to help your sales reps consistently close deals.
Here’s some data you can analyze to build your pipeline:
Analyze the ratio of MQLs to SQLs to true opportunity.
MQLs or Marketing Qualified Leads are gathered at the Lead Generation/ Prospecting stage.
SQLs or Sales Qualified Leads are when you make the first contact at the Assess Needs/Qualifying stage.
True Opportunity is your ideal customer profile, those mostly at Building Relationships/Closing stages.
Take a note of the time each successful deal spends on these stages. Then, look at activities and the type of conversations that led to deal closure.
Tweak your sales process and forecasting accordingly.
Take a note of the account holders of your most successful deals.
These key account holders are your most valuable customers. They contribute to consistent revenue growth, are excellent referrals, and build your reputation in their space.
Here’s a pretty solid checklist that can determine your most valuable customers:
Once identified, spend more time, energy, and resources, to service these accounts. Now that you have a good relationship, don’t be afraid to ask how they evaluated your services and why they stay loyal. This is valuable feedback that you can work into sales conversations — also, study activities and the type of conversations that led to success with these accounts.
Replicate the process for other deals.
Tracking metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is just the first step towards running a data-driven business.
These indicators let you effectively gauge the efforts of your sales reps and your sales process.
They’re also important signposts that guide your business activities.
How to hire? For busy IT Partners handling client needs, it can be hard to know when to grow — or if you can sustain that growth long-term. Another concern? The time and money it takes to hire and train expert sales staff.
The most sustainable option for MSPs is to train existing employees (with deep technical knowledge) to sell. Since they interact with the clients the most, they can better identify possible sales opportunities that are both beneficial to the client and your business.
Of course, you may not be able to move a current team member into the sales process full-time. But if you intend to scale, it is imperative to select future hires with specific qualities and help them to understand the sales process, even if it’s just a small portion of their time.
Remember, it’s not selling; it’s helping. Always do what’s in the client’s best interest.
When hiring a new salesperson or transitioning an existing employee into a sales role, it is crucial to look for specific qualities. These are often future indicators of success.
All MSPs have a different approach to defining sales team roles.
Generally, an IT Partner would employ a salesperson or a sales rep. A sales rep showcases product offerings and holds onsite or virtual meetings with prospects to convert them to clients. Some of your best technicians may be conversational, helpful, and politely persistent, making them a natural choice when building your team.
Once your salesperson closes clients, their ongoing needs are seen by their Account Manager or the Sales Technician. Account Managers mitigate churn by helping retain the client, providing excellent services, and act as the primary contact for support. They are also responsible for growing the account through upselling products and services.
And remember, scale is proactive, not reactive.
Instead of waiting for calls, some MSPs also have a Business Development rep role, who primarily does the outbound calling, qualifying leads, and handing them to your sales rep to convert. For MSPs just starting with a small team, the sales rep is usually responsible for the business development role.
And of course, some IT Providers have the responsibilities of these roles reside all in one person, which can be overwhelming. Trust us, break up your hunters and farmers.
If you’re unsure about what role to hire or are looking out for a specific job role, ask around for advice in the IT community.
Keep a note of the five or six actions your sales rep takes every time they close deals.
This is the beginning of building a repeatable sales process.
As you evaluate these notes, document procedures in an easy-to-reference format.
When you’re ready, you will have a repeatable set of actions and tactics that your sales reps can use to become successful from day one.
Building a sales pipeline is iterative. Once a process starts to emerge, and the first few reps start having success, keep testing it. Every won opportunity and a lost deal is a good time to tweak your sales process.
Whether you are creating the sales pipeline from scratch or building on it, your sales reps are the ones who will reference it every day. It will help them stay on track and see where they stand against monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals.
After collecting this feedback, set about building a process. Set some ground rules and figure out what would work best.
Remember, there is a difference between pipeline management and sales forecasting.
Once you understand this, you can spend less time discussing close dates, probabilities, and deal sizes (sales forecasting) and hounding your sales teams to get numbers.
Instead, you’ll talk about the overall health of your pipelines, identify cracks, suggest ways to fill them, and develop a plan to move deals forward
Let's face it, IT sales can be cumbersome.
It's hard to prepare network assessments, explain offerings, create proposals, clarify objections, and track buyer's journeys— especially in different tools. Dozens of emails are sent between you and your clients just to complete this and approve the deal.
Most IT Partners and MSPs, especially in the initial days of the business, use word documents and spreadsheets to organize their sales process.
While it may seem easier at the start, it can be inefficient in the long run.
Growth requires methodical, repeatable operations.
In fact, 79% of sales teams currently use or are planning to use sales analytics technology to increase efficiency.
Some common pieces of technology that MSPs use:
But once you’ve invested in a stack of tools or an integrated platform, there is still one major challenge — getting your salespeople to use it!
The best way to do this is to communicate its value.
To help sales reps realize its importance, invite them to demo calls and highlight which features you find valuable. Show them you’re providing a solution to the persistent problems you’ve heard them complain about for weeks, months, maybe even, though we hope not - years.
Once the team is ready, come up with a solid implementation plan.
First, assign a specialist to migrate all of your data to the automation software and ensure the system is set up correctly. You can also consider hiring a freelance specialist. Some companies also help in onboarding data as a part of their sales.
On completing data migration, test everything is working correctly before going live. Grab one or two reps and have them test how the platform works for them so you can anticipate questions the group may have.
Second, conduct user training and management, set up time with your sales reps and implementation specialist to clearly communicate the software’s intricacies and how they can operate it efficiently. If you plan these meetings virtually, record them to be used as reference later.
Lastly, make sure you’re consistently communicating to teams why you are implementing a new sales platform, gather their thoughts and feedback, and most importantly, provide them with time to adjust to the change.
You have the people. You’re developing a process. Now you need a platform.
A Sales Acceleration Platform automates tedious sales tasks to keep opportunities moving. It consolidates sales activities, keeping sales teams consistent, and helping them build solid client relationships. With the right platform, you can create a frictionless experience that both your clients and salespeople enjoy.
With a Sales Acceleration Platform made for IT Channel, you can:
Don’t just take our word for it, though. We spoke to some of our customers, your peers - here’s what they have to say:
When software does these activities for you, on-time, you are set up for success. Automation that’s specific to MSPs gets your sales cycle streamlined, transparent, and collaborative.
When your sales processes are efficient, you get more time to focus on customer support and satisfaction to build strong client relationships and foster long-term customer loyalty.
The art of selling is about building a process that your sales team can rely on whenever they talk to a prospect. Operationally, strategies and tools can support and accelerate your pipeline, but first, you have to bring this process online.
Take the time to create a sales pipeline so you can effectively manage the growth of your business. Use this framework, and you’re well on your way to mapping a process your team will embrace.
Now, it's time to get to work.
The end-to-end IT sales acceleration platform that helps Channel Partners sell smarter and close deals faster