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  • Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 1

    How to Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc.

    October, 2005

    Note: I am indebted to Hugh Macfarlane, author of The Leaky Funnel, for his

    invaluable contributions to this article.

    Introduction

    The growth of many companies is constrained by their sales funnel. Although many of

    their best minds are focused on sales and marketing, it is often one of the companys

    most frustrating efforts. Usually, they take a sort of cocktail shaker approach, mixing in

    all the newsletters, advertisements, collateral, and sales techniques they like. Then they

    shake things up in the market, promoting their company, touting their products, offering

    specials, sending out closers, and hoping for the best.

    So, why cant they find enough prospects? When prospects are found, why do so many

    fail to close as forecasted? And, why do so many prospects seem to cooperate with their

    sales efforts, and yet dont buy?

    These companies are eager for prospects to buy, so why wont they cooperate? The

    reason is actually simple.

    They arent ready. (Duh!)

    What can companies do to make their sales funnel flow faster?

    There is a simple, effective approach that works. You can implement it in your company.

    It is not hard to do, or even expensive. The only thing it requires is that you stop focusing

    on your company, your products, and your needs. Instead, focus on the prospects

    business, their objectives, and their impediments. Then, work to remove those

    impediments. Call it the buyers journey.

  • Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 2

  • How to Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster

    Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 3

    The Buyers Journey

    In his book, The Leaky Funnel, Hugh Macfarlane provides a simple description of the

    buyers journey. Figure 1 represents a version of that journey:

    Figure 1: The Buyers Journey

    Customers seeking to solve problems and grow their business vary this sequence

    according to the circumstances. They may need the purchasing department to position

    vendors early in the process (as is the case in The Leaky Funnel). Or, they may need to

    strategically prioritize and plan for various projects, or conduct pilot testing. The stages

    depend on their environment. The problem is that sellers typically ignore the buyers

    journey in favor of their own:

    Figure 2: The Sales Process

  • How to Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster

    Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 4

    Clearly, buyers and sellers are coming from different planets. Companies invest heavily

    in sales forces, always looking for closers who somehow wont fail to make their

    quotas. They spend money on CRM or sales training in an effort to improve results. They

    fiddle with compensation, or even replace the sales leaders. They invest in marketing

    collateral, websites, and promotion in an effort to soften the market. Most of the time,

    unfortunately, these investments in the sales process (as it is typically construed) have

    increasingly diminishing returns because they are focused around the companys product,

    rather than the buyers problems.

    How can this problem be fixed? Fortunately, it is not incredibly difficult. There are four

    steps to organize your companys efforts to make your sales funnel flow faster:

    Figure 3: Steps to Make the Sales Funnel Flow Faster

  • How to Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster

    Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 5

    Define the buyers journey

    People everywhere are trying to achieve their goals and solve problems. How much does

    your company know about the problems they have, how they go about solving them, and

    what those efforts cost? Do you have evidence and data to support your theories, or do

    you presume to know what prospects want?

    Valuable techniques exist for researching and gathering this data. For example, Voice of

    the Customer initiatives provide a structured and systematic means of assembling facts

    from existing sources, such as customer complaints, technical support calls, warranty

    claims, and proactive interviewing and surveys. These data are then translated into lists of

    issues and needs that are critical to value, or Critical to Quality (or CTQs as they are

    known in Six Sigma). CTQs apply to a service like the marketing and sales process every

    bit as much as they apply to the requirements for a product.

    Likewise, a technique known as customer value mapping can be useful in defining who

    within your prospects business is impacted by your products and services, and which

    aspects of their world you can have an impact on.1 These insights help identify the kinds

    of questions salespeople (or marketers) should be asking to uncover prospect needs

    before the sales process begins.

    You should gather as much information as you can via Voice of the Customer and

    customer value mapping. Add that information to the collective knowledge of your team

    to create a map of the buyers journey. Then, invite some of your customers to help you

    validate that map. As you talk with them, gather as much information as you can about

    their problems, their work-arounds, and what those work-arounds cost. You may find that

    different types of customers have a different journey. This is important information that

    may enable you to segment your market in ways more productive than traditional

    marketing demographics.

    1 A more complete treatment of customer and business value mapping can be found in my book, Business Value Mapping Why Your Prospects and Salespeople Dont Understand Your Products Value and What You Can Do About It.

  • How to Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster

    Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 6

    Establish metrics for each stage

    Once you map out the journey for your prospects, you are in a position to begin gathering

    data about your process. As in any production process, there are three kinds of

    information. First is the calculation of lag time, which is the time it takes for prospects to

    progress through each stage of their journey. Second is the quality of the opportunities.

    Third is the quantity of the opportunities, which enables the calculation of throughput

    (and improvements in throughput). These are interdependent variables, as we will see.

    In measuring lag time, first try to guess how much time it takes for buyers to progress

    through each of the stages of their journey. Then, do some research, and identify the

    actual amount of time it takes them to progress. You could do this by examining

    information in your existing forecasting or opportunity management system, or by asking

    salespeople to keep some records for a while. (You might not be able to get perfectly

    clean data on each stage. Still, you should be able to get enough information to begin

    identifying differences between what you thought lag time would be and what is actually

    the case.

    One large client measured the length of the sales cycle for deals it won, and the deals it

    lost. The average time for winning a deal was 56 days. The average time for losing a deal

    was 156 days. While it might be a bit extreme to take so much longer to lose a deal than

    it does to win one, it points up an interesting phenomenon.

    Buyers who take longer than is normal to progress become far less likely to buy. They are

    called laggards, and you can measure them in your own business. How much time do

    salespeople spend trying to sell laggard prospects?

    One telecommunications company mined data from its forecasting system. They

    compared the days of sales effort required to win deals (i.e., progress to a yes) with the

    days of sales effort required on deals they lost (i.e., progress to a no). It turned out these

    were vastly different numbers. Deals they won happened relatively quickly. Deals they

  • How to Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster

    Copyright 2005, Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc. All rights reserved. Page 7

    lost often took much more sales time. In fact, in one year the company spent a staggering

    19,000 more days pursuing buyers who didnt buy than ones who did!

    Of course, your business will be different, but this clearly illustrates the importance of

    measuring the progress of opportunities through the buyers journey, aka the sales

    funnel. But how do you learn what is wrong with these laggard prospects, and perhaps

    what to do about them?

    That is the point of the second critical thing to measure in your sales funnel, the quality of

    the opportunities. Here is an example from an engineering client who was struggling with

    the same problem lagging buyers although they used a different metric: for them it

    was a low close ratio that hovered around 10% regardless of what they did to improve it.

    They joked about having so many deals that wouldnt c