A concept that I have found crucial in organizing my marketing efforts for Soleil Lifestory Network is that of “the pipeline.” As a business person, I–and you–ignore the pipeline to our great peril. We must always be aware of having the marketing pipeline full of prospects. This is an ongoing process. It is never done!
The pipeline is an image that refers to all the people who have connected with you in some way and are therefore your potential clients. Think of the pipeline as having an entrance (inquiry) and an exit (purchase). In any pipeline at any given time, there are many sorts of prospects–some making their way to a purchase others clogging the line by requiring attention that you need to expend elsewhere. These need to be taken out of the system.
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1. There are the “I’m just curious” people. Some are looking for free information–they will never buy from you. Identify them early before you spend much time. Be polite, outline your offerings–and let them go. They will eat your time and drain your business development. They only seem to be in the pipeline. They aren’t–they’re clogging it. And if you are spending time on them, you taking time away from a true potential customer.
2. Some people make their way through the pipeline quickly and will buy right away. The “selling” has already occurred when they heard you speak, were recommended by a friend, or when they studied your website. They are ready to buy. What you need to do with them is close the sale! If they are ready to buy, don’t keep selling! Let them buy so you can both move on.
3. Other prospects, however, need a long time in the pipeline. This is usually because they want to be convinced. The most economical way for you to do this is to have multiple, sequential response materials available on the (a) benefits and (b) features of your products and services.
Of those who need convincing, some will purchase soon (for instance, half of our new teachers purchase Affiliation Packages within three weeks of first contact, most do so at the second contact.)
Others will say “it’s not right for me now.” They require continuing contact so they don’t slip out of your pipeline. Many will eventually buy a product from you–but not now. You must have a system in place to keep them connected to you (response materials) over the coming months and years it will take to move them towards a purchase. (I have found that if an Affiliate Package inquiry does not purchase within three weeks, the sale is likely to take months or years. In fact, a surprising number of old inquiries do eventually purchase.) For many of these people, a crucial condition in their lives is missing to finish the purchase.
You can keep them in your pipeline by using multiple (sequential) response materials as follow through to their contact. This can be crucial to ensuring that the prospect doesn’t leak into someone else’s system. Obviously, it is a waste of your marketing time to sell the concept (in our case, the value of memoir preservation) to a prospect and have them, months later, purchase your service–from someone else.
Most potential buyers in this category are pleased to purchase the concept (they have come to you in search of it, after all) and won’t maintain a relationship with you. They are likely to see your product and someone else’s as interchangeable–so you must make it clear with your follow-up contact–that your product or service is special. And you must be there when they arrive at the purchase point at last. (This is all called market positioning–and it’s another article!)
4. Still others in your pipeline will never buy–for whatever reasons. At one point, they have simply slipped away–found another product more to their liking, given up their interest, or–who knows? If you have ever done political canvassing or door-to-door fundraising, you know that you need a certain number of “no’s” to get one “yes”. Don’t get discourgaed that every prospect doesn’t convert to a sale. In our business as in others, it’s a matter of percentages and it’s always true that the more prospects you have, the more sales you’ll get.
When you wear the Marketing Director hat for your company, it’s your job to know who and how many prospects are in your pipeline at any given time. It’s also your job to keep that pipeline filled at all times. Because when your pipeline dries up–you are in trouble.