Pipeline Composition and Ansoff Matrix: Supercharging your 2018 Revenue Plan

If you are like many of my clients, you finished up the end-of-fiscal year push for Q3, used the first half of the month to catch up, and have now begun the annual task of revenue planning. Few things are one-size-fits-all when it comes to the intricacies of pipeline planning, but one thing remains true: Companies must have specific targets for pipeline SIZE and pipeline COMPOSITION.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” Benjamin Franklin.

If you talk to business leaders and business developers/ salespeople, you’ll get as many views on how to build the pipeline. Many companies use the pipeline to build revenue plans, from which they build their budgets. Some even use the pipeline to forecast revenue to equity partners or shareholders. Other don’t put an opportunity into the pipeline until the bid is submitted.

Consider:

  • Is your approach limited or enhanced by the number of people involved in the process?
  • What is the impact of the vision and expectations of the company leadership?
  • What systems, processes, and technology exist to manage your pipeline?

Some companies use advanced technologies to manage their pipelines, with triggers, reporting, and dashboards used by management. Others use Excel and even have several different versions of pipelines for different business units sitting on a Sharepoint site or a shared drive somewhere (or even have them sitting on local machines, not connected to anything).

When it comes to pipeline SIZE, it will depend on whether you sell to public sector or commercial sector, how long your sales cycle is, whether you are selling products or services, average deal size, and historical win rates. In many companies, target pipeline size is fairly standardized—between 3-5 times the annual sales target.

It is pipeline COMPOSITION that keeps many business owners up at night. What opportunities should you focus your B&P funds on? Are there new or takeaway deals at agencies where you already work, and you have relationships and customer intimacy you can leverage? What about deals that focus on selling your core competencies, where you can leverage your impressive past performance? Strategic importance is another option, when the government or a specific agency seems to have an emerging need that you think you can fill; or that the company has growth goals with a certain agency, or offering, and so you build a pipe around that. These are each worthy of consideration, and to some extent, the best plan is to build a diversified portfolio of opportunities to ensure that you are positioned for growth across the board.

While much of this depends on leadership, vision, growth strategy, and maturity of the company. I like to cross reference an oldie but goodie from business school: the Ansoff Matrix. When you look closely at the matrix you see many of the options we talked about for revenue growth and pipeline planning. Once you look at it that way, some of the how, where, why becomes more apparent.

Selling where you have customer intimacy means the top row (aka “current markets”), selling your core offerings is the first column (aka “current products”), and so on. As you consider where to place your bets, you cannot ignore how much time and money it takes to build your company in each direction.

  1. The MARKET PENTRATION quadrant is the least expensive, quickest way to sell work. Think of this as re-competes, or even takeaways and adjacent offices and programs within the same agency. This is where you expand your footprint and share of work within one account. Deals in this quadrant will naturally have higher win rates (85-95%).
  2. Now think of the MARKET DEVELOPMENT quadrant where you would position to sell core offerings into new agencies. You can potentially grab more money chasing this business, but it will take you more time (to build customer intimacy) and investment (to establish your reputation and company visibility) to make this happen. Another option to aid with this type of growth is to form strategic alliances and/or bid as a subcontractor or a small business prime to help a large get a piece of the work. Deals in this quadrant will have more modest win rates (35-45% depending on competition and contract vehicles).
  3. The NEW PRODUCTS quadrant is when you will sell new offerings in your existing agency clients. This is also even more time consuming, and potentially even more expensive. You may need to pay large sums to hire key personnel who can help you build that capability and are already seen as experts in that specific skill, or you may even need to acquire a company who already has the capability you wish to offer to your current customer. This may be a great option, however, if you are entrenched in the agency or program and the program officer is specifically asking you, as a trusted contractor, to help them meet specific needs they have. Deals in this quadrant may have higher that middle win rates (60-75%), since you are being brought in early in the sales cycle and already have established trust with the decision makers and influencers.
  4. The last quadrant, DIVERSIFICATION, is going to be the hardest, will take the longest (think 3 to 5-year plan), and requires much more money from the acquisition and marketing investment standpoint. This is where large companies will have the advantage over smaller firms. The companies I worth with seldom need to have opportunities like this in their pipeline. For those that do, it is likely a smaller portion (10-15% of the opportunities they are chasing), unless they are in a mature market with declining sales. Deals in this quadrant can be considered “stretch” opportunities, and will surely have lower win rates (<25-30%), but they catapult growth and dramatically change the company at its core.

Knowing all of this, as well as your company’s tolerance for risk, ability—and willingness to invest in people, marketing, and B&P—you can go into revenue planning with a portfolio mindset. You know what percentage of the revenue plan will be targeting each growth segment, and which elements—customer intimacy, past performance, or strategic intent—will be leveraged.

Please share your thoughts on pipeline composition strategy in the comments section. And if you’d like a consultation to help you think through this with your leadership team at the table, check out my company site.

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Grow Revenue Using Pipeline Marketing

Many small and emerging mid-market businesses can become paralyzed when it comes to developing a strategic marketing plan. What makes it so immobilizing?

  • Trying to create a comprehensive plan that represents every aspect of the corporate mission and vision, i.e. trying to boil the ocean.
  • Leading with messaging and content around the biggest revenue generators, rather than potential growth areas.

To get started in a pragmatic way, business owners must find something to rally around. Whether selling to the government or to the private sector—THE PIPELINE is king.

Pipeline marketing is the application of content marketing and lead nurturing to your sales funnel. It considers FIRST which customers you are actively selling to and what they are buying. (In contrast, most corporate marketing plans focus on what you want to sell, not what customers are actively seeking.) Next, pipeline marketing considers what stage of the sales cycle the customer is in and helps your organization align sales and marketing messages, content, tactics, and channels to support or accelerate the buying cycle.

When you market to the pipeline, you need to consider a few things:

  1. When is the best time to create a pipeline marketing plan? The best time to invest in this approach is just after annual revenue planning. Once your firm identifies where its sales will be coming from in the next 12-18 months, you should then focus your efforts on marketing to the specific opportunities.
  2. How often should a firm revisit its pipeline marketing plan? Business leaders should revisit their pipeline marketing plan when they regularly clean up their pipeline. I can’t tell you how often even the biggest companies say they can’t market to the pipeline because they can’t trust the pipeline data. To have a solid pipeline marketing strategy, firms must first have a solid pipeline with good hygiene. Once business leaders realize that marketing will only support opportunities in the pipeline, it is amazing how quickly the data in the pipeline becomes reliable.
  3. What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for pipeline marketing? A great leading key performance indicator for pipeline marketing is the advancement through stages in your sales funnel, although the ultimate KPI will be sales and win rate. Overtime, firms can compare length of sales cycle and no bids/ losses with those opportunities that were marketed to in the pipeline and those that were not.

Once a company commits to a pipeline marketing philosophy, there is more focus on generating sales and growth than impressions, page visits, and leads.

The risks of NOT employing pipeline marketing for the 2018 calendar year?

  • In the public sector (B2G), a firm may have a large revenue base with a specific agency, but if that work is already sold and doesn’t re-compete for another three years, then the firm may be missing an opportunity to apply its scarce resources to increase PWIN on opportunities that will close in the next 12-24 months.

    By marketing to the pipeline, B2G firms can stand out with target agencies and focus their messages specifically on work they are actively bidding.

  • In the commercial sector (B2B), a firm may have a focus on demand generation marketing. However, if there isn’t a deliberate strategy to push those new leads through the sales funnel, they may not convert to sales. If a firm’s KPIs are centered around lead goals, the focus is on the top of the funnel—which often emphasizes quantity over quality.

    When B2B firms focus primarily on lead generation and forgo pipeline marketing, it can lead to misalignment of sales and marketing.

 

Applying SPIN Selling Techniques to the Federal Sales Process

Applying SPIN Selling Techniques to the Federal Sales Process

November 26, 2013

To be really effective at selling professional services you need to leverage not just traditional capture, marketing, and sales staff, but also the efforts of your project staff that interact onsite with the client.

Cover of "SPIN Selling"
Cover of SPIN Selling

The approach I recommend uses “investigation skills”—or questioning—to help both “sellers and doers” determine not only the “as is” situation in the client account, but also helps to flush out specific needs and preferences of the client. This traditional commercial sales technique and questioning architecture is sometimes called “SPIN selling”. SPIN®  is an age-old approach that earned a bad reputation simply because of the negative connotation of the word SPIN. When, in actuality, S-P-I-N is simply a mnemonic to help practitioners remember the four types of questions they should use to uncover and develop client needs:

    • Situation questions are rooted in learning facts and background about the “as is” situation
    • Problem questions probe to learn about problems, difficulties, or dissatisfaction that the client may have 
    • Implication questions strive to escalate urgency by identifying effects or
      consequences
    • Need-Payoff questions are used to determine the usefulness or value of a given solution

SPIN selling is ideal for professional services firms because the interview technique is especially powerful when used not only during an official sales call, but also throughout the entire sales and project delivery process.

Questions are a powerful communications tool. You may in fact already employ this technique naturally. If not in your professional life, certainly in your personal life. For instance, you would like your child to take a coat with them when they leave the house to meet friends at a neighborhood park a mile away. You recommend this and they object. You then may ask, “What will you do if you get all the way to the park and it begins to rain?” This is an example of an implication question. And, as your child begins to think through and even talk through their response, they will likely come to their own conclusion that they should in fact bring a jacket along. This example may seem trivial, but the same principles hold true in client conversations.

My recent APMP Journal article, “How to SPIN More Awards Out of Thin Air,” uses real world examples, from the Federal space, of employing SPIN questions to uncover and develop client needs at various stages of the government sales lifecycle.

WEB MARKETING: Build it and they’ll come – Not on your Life!

Caution Readers: This perspective of web site is not from a web expert, but rather a marketing strategist who uses web as one platform of many in integrated campaign execution. The contents of this post are not meant to minimize the importance of a web site or the expertise needed to build and maintain a top-notch web site. No web sites were harmed in the writing of this blog post 🙂

Web marketing has been evolving at a rapid pace, even just in the 20 years that I’ve been a practitioner. From the outside looking in, it seems as if the 1990’s it was about having a website, buying domain names, and making the site “look good.” In the 2000’s it progressed to making the website work well, building dynamic content, investing in content management systems (CMS), and gleaning insights from “web data”.  This decade, the focus seems to have matured to responsive web design (RWD), personalization of experience, lead-generation, and full-blown web analytics.

When talking about business to business and business to government marketing the “end-goal” for many companies has been to drive traffic to their web site. Many executives and technical experts believe that if they put their content (aka thought leadership, offerings, capabilities) on their web site that the customer will do the rest.  While e-Commerce may have made this true for a spell in the business to consumer (b2C) world, and even in the commodities world of business to business (b2B) and business to government (b2G); it is no longer that simple in any market sector.  Even with the best search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) plans, companies cannot rely on “build it they will come.” Even “pull marketing” doesn’t work like it used to, with all the clutter and technology in the marketplace. Our customers (across sectors) have gotten quite savvy. Modern marketers need to raise the bar yet again… we need to 

Image

What does THAT mean? It means that modern marketers need to develop content that can be shared and accessed on channels beyond our own web sites. I know what you are thinking… “I’ve been using other channels to get my message out for years.” I would challenge you on that (because I’ve been using tactics like pay-per-click (PPC), banner advertising, and social media for a decade or more too. However, I can tell you, that I’ve largely been broadcasting messages that are trying to drive traffic back to my company’s web site. Let’s be truthful, haven’t we all?

So, where do we go from here? We have to let our content live elsewhere. Let’s focus on engaging with members of our target audience and “starting the conversation”. Certainly if we want to do that, it is best to “meet the client where they are” and not expect that they will seek us out or flock like lemmings to our magnificent web sites and content.

After we engage them with meaningful and relevant content, and establish a rapport, only then can we hope that we have created enough value and credibility that they will come to our site to interact further with our content.

True, we may not be able to track activity (impressions, clicks, downloads) like we can on our own site. But certainly we can find new marketing metrics to capture and leverage as part of our return on investment story. Also, as modern marketers have learned in the past few years, the first interactions with prospects should not be “gated” (we should not be asking them to fill out registration forms to initially engage with our content.) Only after we’ve connected with them, can we as marketers expect our prospective clients to share their contact information with us and begin to truly engage with our brand.

Not only have marketing strategy and marketing technology progressed, but also our buyers / consumers have evolved as well. Marketers who are still operating in a “build it they will come” mode, will only have marginal success – it will truly be progressive marketers who “meet the client where they are” who will truly maximize the power of their marketing reach.