A buyer visits your website, requests a demo, and then buys a few days later. This is the clear, easily attributable sales funnel that SaaS account executives wish existed.
However, the real way that people discover and buy new SaaS subscriptions is a lot messier. And, it looks more like this:
- The lead hears about your product in a blog post that a coworker shared in Slack.
- Then, they read another blog post a week later.
- They follow the company on LinkedIn shortly thereafter.
- Maybe, they subscribe to your newsletter.
- They get busy.
- Then, they change jobs.
- A coworker at their new company mentions that they used your product at a previous job and loved it.
- They sign up for a free trial.
- And, eventually, they become a paying customer.
That’s how the majority of people discover and buy these days. And, the more friction they face in adopting a new solution, the harder it will be to convince them to make a change.
Multiple touchpoints, messy attribution, and a lengthy sales process all contribute to pipeline anxiety. In this post, we’ll go over some of the most common challenges sales teams face today with pipeline generation and how they can overcome them.
What is pipeline generation?
Pipeline generation is the process your sales and marketing teams use to generate enough leads to grow your business.
Sales pipelines are often mistaken for sales funnels. So, it’s important to distinguish between the two. A sales funnel represents the buyer’s journey whereas the pipeline reveals the steps taken by the sales team. Within the sales pipeline, leads are generated and referred to as pipeline generation.
Your pipeline should address the 3 main parts of the buying process:
- Decision (or conversion)
And you’ll need to have a strategy in place at each step to effectively guide your customer through the pipeline to conversion.
For example, in the decision phase, one of your pipeline generation strategies might be to send a proposal to the prospect. The more complex your product, the more involved your pipeline generation steps will likely be.
Why is it so hard to keep your sales pipeline full?
Since the buying process is not linear, this poses some real challenges for keeping your sales pipeline full and healthy. Here are some of the most common reasons your pipeline generation strategy might not be bringing in as many leads as you’d like.
1. Unpredictable changes in the buying process
While it used to be that sales reps could predict and participate in most stages of the buying process, that’s not the case today. Now, due to dark social and the way that word of mouth occurs online, sales reps aren’t always privy to every stage in the funnel.
Dark social refers to communications that happen through private social media messages and chat apps that aren’t accessible to the public, search engines, or salespeople. An example of a conversation on dark social would be two coworkers chatting on Slack about which CRM software they prefer.
Marketers can’t see the conversation, even if it involves their product or company. When parts of the buyer journey occur on dark social, you can’t readily track them or know how your pipeline applies.
While you aren’t privy to most of these conversations, you can help shape the perception of your brand by arming your prospects with helpful content, such as buyer’s guides, case studies, and blog posts, that clearly demonstrate how your product solves a specific pain point they are experiencing.
2. Outdated leads and information
Having a database of leads isn’t very helpful if most of the data is inaccurate or the lead is no longer valid.
Trinity Nguyen, VP of Marketing at UserGems, says, “30% of CRM contact data becomes outdated every year. Most revenue teams admit that their ‘CRM is a mess!’ This causes distrust in the data and teams wasting time manually looking for buyers to reach out to.
“And, working with only 1 prospect for a deal increases the risk that your solution won't be critical enough at the company level to fight for the budget. Plus, your contact might get a new job mid-way through the deal, which means you would have to work the account from ground zero all over again.”
“The result? Sales reps and SDRs spend two-thirds of their time on manual tasks like looking for and researching buyers. This means less time to actually sell.”
Regular prospecting and maintenance of your lead enrichment data can eliminate these issues. Regularly remove dead leads to keep your pipeline running efficiently.
However, don’t save it all for a spring cleaning day. You’ll want to regularly weed out the bad leads so your sales team can focus on the prospects that are the most likely to convert to paying customers.
5 ways to boost pipeline generation
The challenges outlined above are enough to make any SDR, AE, or SDR manager nervous about the current landscape. However, you can counter these pain points by using the tactics below to improve your pipeline generation.
1. Always be prospecting
Many sales teams make the mistake of focusing too much on their existing leads and not enough on new prospects.
This is especially true if teams are short-staffed or the company is going through a busy spell. However, you can’t afford to ignore prospecting, especially when things are going well. If you do, you run the risk of having no new leads to nurture after you’ve converted your existing ones, causing pipeline anxiety for your whole team.
One simple tactic to extend the health of your sales pipeline is to keep track of job changes for both leads and current customers. After all, if someone has already bought from you once, if they change jobs, they’re more likely to buy from you again.
In addition, here’s a strategy that our sales team uses at UserGems.
Kenny Powell, Senior Account Development Representative, says, “The best prospecting techniques revolve around being authentic. ‘Show me you know me’ is a great philosophy to live by for this.
- Live where they live — are they active on LinkedIn? Do they prefer email? Calls?
- Do your research before reaching out. How will what I say resonate with them?
- Ask yourself, ‘am I solving their problem?’"
“Taking a multi-channel approach to prospecting is key. Hit your prospect with a LinkedIn follow, do your research on their page, send an email related to what you found out, and then give them a call — leave a voicemail talking about the email you sent over.
“Give your prospect a way out. Their priorities may have changed, so continuing to try and book a meeting or get a response by asking the same question over and over again will be pointless.”
2. Create engaging content
Providing helpful, enticing content for your prospects establishes trust and authority for your brand and acts as a lead generation tool. For best results, align your content so that it speaks to the specific challenges that your customers are facing and how your solution solves them.
For example, if you sell CRM software for real estate agents, you might create a blog and video series highlighting the top ten sales tactics that are working today for real estate agents.
However, sometimes something as simple as a dark social screenshot can go a long way.
For example, Taylor Vo, Senior Account Development Representative at UserGems, says, “I once screenshotted a tweet posted by a prospect and sent it to them in an email. It’s eye-catching, shows you’ve done your research, and helps to get a conversation started. The most important part here... make sure it’s timely! Sending a really old post might rub them the wrong way.”
3. Develop a follow-up process
Standardize your follow-up process to ensure that leads are effectively nurtured through the sales pipeline. And no one slips through the cracks. You’ll want to make sure the entire sales team uses the same follow-up system.
It helps to use CRM software to manage this process. Make sure to add every sales rep and assign follow-up tasks for each lead to make sure every prospect is contacted using the same process.
For instance, here is what our process looks like at UserGems.
Krysten Conner, Enterprise Account Executive, says, “For follow-up, we are never ‘just checking in.’ We should add value every time. And we should be sending stuff that they would willingly pay money to get.”
Conner continues, “Things like exec. summaries of Harvard business review articles, resources that are plug and play, insights on what is going on in their industry or with their competitors. From prospecting to follow-up, it is always centered on them. Never on us.”
Vo adds, “I find my best follow-ups are the ones where I’m sharing relevant articles, insights into the problem, and persona-based case studies. My favorite type of ‘bump’ is one that covers the ‘not right now’ objection right off the bat. If you know the number one reason folks won’t take a demo ‘today’ — use that. Call it out from the get-go, and explain why it might be worth taking a look at this time.”
4. Retarget leads and various buyers
Since the buying journey isn’t linear and requires multiple touchpoints, retargeting helps by automatically serving ads to these leads to remind them of your products or services. According to Google, "Combining retargeting ads with the other advertising you already do can help you sell 50% more."
For instance, when previous buyers join new companies, you should retarget and bring them back into the funnel as new leads for prospecting.
5. Use pipeline generation software to act on your insights
Review your sales data. And then act on your insights with the help of automated playbooks and pipeline generation software. These help you:
- Increase your sales pipeline flow
- Make informed decisions about future pipeline generation strategies
No matter what area of the pipeline you’re looking at, you should always evaluate and adjust as you go. Don’t let your process go stagnant.
For instance, let’s say that you have a decent email open rate. You should still be striving for better and reviewing the numbers associated with your email open rates. If you notice more people open your sales emails if you use their first name in the subject line, then you can use this information and add names to subject lines moving forward.
Or, if you see that your “About Us” page is the most popular page on your site, optimize it such that the prospect can easily connect with a sales rep.
Avoiding pipeline generation pitfalls
The rapidly evolving sales funnel means sales reps need to be on their A-game at all times. You can’t afford to let prospects go untapped for any reason. Otherwise, you’ll be faced with few leads and a ton of pipeline anxiety.
Avoid some of the most common sales pipeline pitfalls, such as:
- Forgetting to prospect when you get busy
- Not creating a system to follow up with leads
- Letting your lead lists get stale and outdated
- Not reaching out to leads and customers when they change jobs
While you can’t control if a lead buys or not, you can control your sales team’s inputs, like how often they’re prospecting or if they’re staying in touch with leads and customers when they change jobs.
That’s where UserGems can help. Whenever your leads or customers change jobs, UserGems adds them into your Salesforce as new leads and enriches them with new contact information, so you can sell to them again. It’s completely automated and fully integrated with Salesforce. So, there are no new processes to be built. And reps don't even need to learn any new tools.