You Never Know | Managing the Sales Funnel and Strategic Planning

OUTdrive episode 44 You Never Know solocast

Recognizing Opportunities and Nurturing Relationships

OUTdrive Episode 44: Solocast with Cliff Callis

Not too long ago, in Super Bowl LV, Tampa Bay totally dominated our favorite, the KC Chiefs. All season, KC had found a way to win as the Buccaneers slowly built up a really strong team. Coming into the game, I was feeling a little uncomfortable every time I thought about it. Tom Brady has been our nemesis for years, but we’ve got Mahomes, right? But you just never know. You never know who’s going to show up. You never know how someone’s going to be feeling that day. You never know how someone’s going to play. You just never know, and that’s the topic of my solocast today.

In life and business, you just never know and so you always have to stay open to every possibility. You have to stay positive and upbeat. You’ve gotta believe that anything can happen, because it usually does.

Business Development

Most days, I spend a great deal of my time in business development, helping our clients strategically build their business through marketing and looking for potential clients that would be a good fit for us, and us for them. You can do all the research in the world trying to identify the most likely prospect that can take you to the next level, but you just never know, until you do. You never know what their philosophy is on in-house marketing versus out-of-house experts or where they stand with their current agency relationship. You never know exactly what they might be looking for in a new agency or whether they’re even looking until you ask, and asking in today’s environment is challenging at best because it’s hard to get an audience. So you put together a contact plan, send helpful information on a regular basis and hopefully get the opportunities to ask the questions that will give you all the answers, but until you do, you never know. They could potentially be your biggest new client or not interested at all.

You never know who we might have attracted through our educational content. You never know who might be looking at our website, absorbing our background information and samples, moving themselves down through the sales funnel over time. Even with strong marketing automation software that we use for ourselves and some of our clients, we are still not able to identify every website visitor until they actually engage with us by signing up for our podcast or letter or when they respond to an email. So, they may actually be way down the sales funnel, as they are more and more these days when you do get that very first phone call or email from someone who is interested in the possibility of doing business. You just never know.

Effectively Managing the Sales Funnel

When we do get the opportunity to pitch business, you never know how it’s going to turn out in the end. I’ve been selling a long time and there have been times when I thought for sure someone was going to hire us at the end of a presentation and they didn’t, and there have been other times when I thought we bombed until we got the call to proceed with a proposal or contract. You just never know.

If your business is B2B like ours, your sales cycle may take some time. From your first contact with a prospective customer, it could take several months or even years before that prospective customer makes the decision to hire you or purchase your products or services. There are often a lot of factors that go into a purchasing decision. Some of which may be out of your control and some may even be out of your prospect’s control. Timing matters, stars need to align, and things need to fall in place. But when does that happen and what do you do in the meantime? You have to stay in front of that prospect and be accessible because you never know.

There are a lot of iterations of the sales funnel out there. Some more complex than others, but most revolve around three key phases of a prospect’s journey to engaging with your business. These include awareness, consideration, and conversion. During the awareness phase, a prospect is getting to know you. Then, during the consideration phase, a prospect is doing just that, considering your company as a potential partner, vendor, supplier or whatever the case may be. And finally, in the conversion phase, the prospect makes a purchase, and you close the sale. For some, this process, or journey may take a couple of weeks, for others, it may take much longer. One phase may take a long time, then the others may not. You never know.

So how do you manage your sales funnel when you never know? Our approach is to try to be interesting until someone is interested and then really knock their socks off once they are. Let me give you an example from a content perspective. We try to stay in front of the brands we would love to do business with, with a steady stream of relevant, interesting and entertaining content. That includes our OUTdrive podcast, direct mail, email, social media and a variety of other top-of-the-funnel content strategies and tactics. Here we’re nurturing the leads and contacts we have, and also trying to bring more qualified leads in to keep the top part of our funnel full, because you never know. Once somebody is interested and they move on to the consideration phase where they are truly evaluating us as a potential partner, our content approach to this group progresses. At this stage in a prospect’s journey, our outreach and communications might include case studies, ebooks, testimonials and other content that will hopefully move them closer to a conversion by proving our value and establishing a level of confidence and trust.

In a perfect world, new leads are continually coming into the top of the funnel and moving through the stages to a conversion or sale. Marketing automation software helps us generate new leads and continue to move them forward, and our website is built in a strategic way to do the same. Both work together and are important components of our business development program. Strategic and well-built websites are becoming more and more important because as I mentioned earlier, in some instances we have leads coming in that we’ve interested in the awareness phase and they are thoughtfully considering us as a partner before we even know who they are. So not only do we want to be interesting and knock their socks off during consideration, but we have to be accessible, and we have to be ready to jump into action once they’re ready to move because you never know.

You know, when we bring on a new employee to work in business development, I find myself using the phrase “you never know” a lot during their training and mentorship. Actually, you never know when a new employee is going to work out the way you had hoped. You can do all the personality testing in the world plus do multiple interviews by multiple people and you still just never know how they’ll fit in, whether they like it or not and whether they actually are good at the work. You never know.

Strategic Planning

Sometimes, especially when people are involved, you have to follow your gut, because you really never do know. I’m proud to say that I’m a man of faith and my faith also helps guide my life and the decisions I make. 2020 was a trying year for many dealing with all the implications of COVID-19. The year serves as a valuable reminder to plan for the unexpected because you never know. While nobody could have been prepared for a global pandemic that would sweep across the world, we do have the power to be prepared for crisis-type situations with a strategic crisis communications plan to help guide us through unexpected circumstances. In one of our past OUTdrive episodes, I visit with Mark Thomas about this. Mark is the Director of Marketing and Communications for Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) in North Haven, Connecticut. He’s an expert marketer and communicator and really a great guy. He shares some fantastic insight into how his company was able to quickly adapt to the COVID environment. Mark tells us how their crisis communications plan served as a foundation for developing strategic messaging and getting it to the audiences it needed to get to effectively and in a timely fashion. I encourage you to listen to episode number 21 of OUTdrive if you haven’t already because you never know.

Out here in rural America, we live among many Missouri farmers and ranchers who are constantly battling the unknowns. In fact, we even have a few on our staff. Weather, volatile markets and a variety of other factors bring uncertainty to U.S. agriculture operations nationwide. But yet, our farmers work tirelessly to continue to provide the food, fuel and fiber for our world’s growing population. That’s what we have to do. We have to plan ahead where we can and keep working at it, because you never know.

How many times in your life have you used the phrase you never know? Think about it. I find myself using it all the time and you know what, it keeps me hopeful, it keeps me positive and it keeps me confident that good things are going to happen.

So folks, thanks for riding along in this episode of Outdrive. I hope you’ve enjoyed my ranting and will come back again next week for another great story from rural America, but, you never know.