America's #1 Small Business Expert, Melinda Emerson "SmallBizLady" shares how to keep the sales rolling in your small business

How to Keep Your Pipeline Filled in Your Small Business

 

When it comes to keeping the sales rolling in your business….. it’s tough! Right?

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of your small business and forget to focus on your marketing and sales activities to keep your pipeline filled. I think it’s a waste of time to focus on annual sales goals. It’s best to create monthly sales goals; that way you’ll have weekly sales activities. I’ve created a list of 7 ways to keep the sales rolling in your small business, and they’re designed to ensure that you focus on revenue-generating activities that will generate the sales you need.

Hi everyone! I’m Melinda Emerson, but most people know me as SmallBizLady and I’m regarded as America’s #1 Small Business Expert. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 17 years, and have been on a mission to end small business failure since 2007 - that’s when I made the shift to infopreneur. After my first nine years in business, I figured out that my true calling is in helping other entrepreneurs learn all the expensive lessons that I had learned.  My small business advice reaches more than 3 million entrepreneurs each week online. I publish a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com and I’m the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, 2nd Edition and the ebook How To Become a Social Media Ninja.

I’m really excited to spend the next 60 minutes with you and share my tips keeping the pipeline full in your small business - and I’ll answer your questions, too. You can post those questions as comments below (don’t forget to login!). And if you’ve got a sales tip to share, be my guest chime in - I’d love to hear what works for you!

 

PART I: It's All About Communication

Are you wondering where to get started? First, it’s all about communication, and there are three easy steps:

1. Profile Your Best Customers

Who are your most valuable and profitable customers? How much do they spend with you annually? Do they fit a niche? While it’s imperative that you understand your products and services, it’s even more significant to understand what value your business brings to your customers so you can continue fulfilling their needs. Business issues can change quickly, making vendors potentially interchangeable. Be sure to thank your customers, too; no one owes you business.


2. Talk Regularly With Your Customer

You always want to strengthen your relationships with your clients. Regular check-in phone calls are a good idea as you want to make sure you understand their budget cycle and anything that could affect their ability to be successful in their job. With your long-time customers, schedule a quarterly face-to-face meeting to ask for feedback or just to catch up. You must stay on top of their needs and understand any new factors that influence their decision-making processes. Have at least five questions to ask, and then make sure you engage them around some personal small talk: kids, vacations, holiday plans, etc. The more personal the relationship, the more that relationship will allow you to obtain critical information and a strong advocate for your business.

3. Develop a Sales Process

Sales and marketing have to work together in your small business. Even if you’re the only salesperson in your business, you must plan your marketing program based on the amount of sales leads you need to generate in order to close the required amount of sales per month. If you know you need 500 leads per month in order to close 50 sales, then determine how many phone calls, emails, blog posts, Facebook ads, and Twitter messages must be made, sent, or posted per month to drive the desired traffic. Once you establish a sales process and schedule the time to work on it at least three times a week, you will generate more sales.

 

PART II: Use Data to Build Strategic Partnerships

There’s a lot to gain by checking out your competition and building partnerships with other organizations - here’s how to get started:

Watch the Competition.

Identify several key competitors, and discover what benefits they provide to their current customers. You can gain insights by exploring their websites - compare your keywords, branding, value proposition, and pricing.  Based on your assessment, develop at least three strategies that you will use to position yourself effectively against them. You must be able to stand out among the competition. Always think, “What is my signature move?”

Build Win-Win Relationships

“Give to get” is a motto that works well in business. A strong strategic alliance offers many benefits, including reducing risk, sharing costs, and improving time to market. Look at who’s already getting money from your target customer: how can you develop a partnership that can contribute to your bottom line? Always go into a relationship understanding your partner’s “must have” list. Pro-tip: it’s always best when you can find a partner who is not a direct competitor.

Refine Your Elevator Pitch

Your most important job as a small business owner is selling yourself and your business, so you need to be able to succinctly explain your business, and who you serve.  It’s a great way to build trust quickly, but you shouldn’t use the same pitch forever. From time to time, switch it up a little.  Add a brief client list; mention a recent award or media hit.  Elevator pitches are designed to draw in your target and keep the dialogue going.  Be careful not to give too much information or use industry jargon. Offer just enough information to make them curious and get them to ask you a question.

Utilize Surveys

All businesses have ups and downs, and honest feedback from our customers is actually a gift. Use surveys to get your customers to give you a scorecard. Surveys that measure customer satisfaction should be a regular part of your business practice. With specific enough questions, your customers can indicate to you how your business is functioning. It will also indicate which areas must be adjusted or changed to improve your business and generate more repeat business. You can ask questions about price, value, and your staff to measure your business operations. While your customer surveys should ask questions about product quality and the way your business functions, surveys can also be used to help grow the business. Start by including questions about potential new products and services to gauge interest. Allowing customer input can help you decide which new goods and services to add. Getting early buy-in can also generate excitement, preorders and anticipation for customers before you even launch the product or service.


By implementing these marketing techniques, you will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts. Just keep yourself motivated to stay on top of your sales processes. If you stay focused on sales, you will always keep your pipeline filled.

 

PART III: Top 3 Sales Tools You Can't Live Without

Growing your business can be time-consuming, especially if you’re doing it all on your own. Thankfully, we’ve got technology tools like these to make selling even easier (and sometimes help us do it while we sleep). Here’s what you need right now to streamline your sales efforts without spending a ton of time doing so.

1. Infusionsoft

Emails can be your best selling tool, and with Infusionsoft you can even automate the process. With the tool, you can send emails to your contact list based on specific behaviors, such as visiting your website, clicking a link in an email, or making a purchase. The idea is that people who have done these behaviors will be more likely to convert to sales than those who haven’t, so targeting them with emails will result in more purchases.

Once you setup the email content and schedule in Infusionsoft, it will run automatically from the moment someone enters your email sales funnel. All you have to do is sit back and collect the cash your emails earn.

2. Insightly CRM

Rather than trying to manage customer information in unwieldy spreadsheets, use Insightly Customer Relationship Management software to stay organized. You can enter contact details, social media profiles, and notes from interactions with your leads. Then you can sort them by tags, such as Customer, Signed up for White Paper, etc. You can even assign tasks to team members to follow up with leads, and track those tasks in Insightly.

Staying organized with a CRM makes it easier to track leads and ensure none fall through the cracks, and it helps you deliver a more personalized marketing and sales campaign to each lead based on the information you have in your CRM.

3. Square

If you sell products or services in-person, it’s imperative that you accept credit cards. But if you’re thinking you need one of those bulky card processing machines, think again. Square has a small device that connects to your phone or tablet that you insert or swipe credit and debit cards on. The transaction is processed digitally, and the funds hit your account in a few days. You do pay a transaction fee for each purchase, but it’s worth it to increase your sales by accepting more forms of payment than just cash.

 

PART IV: Automate Sales Processes & Finding Teammates

Now that you’re set up for sales success, it’s time to make those processes more efficient, and to get help getting things done - here are a few more tools to help you out.

4. Bidsketch

If you send proposals to potential clients, you might spend a lot of time customizing one every time you have someone interested in your services, and yet not all of those proposals will result in sales - which means you waste a lot of time on the process. With Bidsketch, you can create template proposals that you can easily update. You can even view a prospect’s interaction with the proposal to see if they just glanced at it or if they spent a great deal of time perusing it, so that you know which leads are more likely to be serious about moving forward. This helps you know which ones to put your energy into nurturing to close the sale.

5. Gumroad

Selling digital info products like ebooks and online courses makes you money even when you sleep, which makes them fantastic additions to your revenue stream. Gumroad lets you upload these products so that you can sell them in its online marketplace. Just direct traffic to your product pages and they can use their credit cards to buy the items there and then download them.

You can even access analytics on which of your products are being viewed the most so you know which to market more (or which to expand your offerings of), as well as get the email addresses of anyone who buys them so you can add them to your mailing list.

6. Zapier

It seems like there are a million tasks you have to do in sales and marketing that just take up time but little brain power. With Zapier, you can take those to-dos off your list. Zapier connects apps through tasks so that they’re automated.

For example, you could create a task so that every time someone signs up for your emails via MailChimp, they automatically get added as a contact to your CRM. Or you could get notified whenever a keyword is mentioned on Twitter. These are tiny tasks that, when you add them up, can eat up a lot of time better spent on other areas of your business. By handing them over to Zapier, you get your time back.

7. Upwork

If you are a freelance writer, graphic designer, or programmer, you’re constantly looking for your next project, and it can be hard to know where to find it. Upwork is an online marketplace that connects people looking for help with projects with those freelancers who have the experience to assist. You can search for specific projects, or people can reach out to you if they see in your profile that you have the experience they want.

 

In Conclusion:

Sales are the lifeblood of your small business. The sooner you create and automate your sales processes, the sooner you can build a 7-figure sales team. You only need to use a few of the suggestions above to achieve better results. Any sales tool that cuts down on time spent on your sales process is one worth the time and money needed to use it. Test out a few of these suggestions and see if they don’t boost sales over the coming months. Remember, when you make time for sales activity in your schedule each week, your pipeline will always stay filled.

Here’s a recap of a few tips to keep your pipeline filled:

  1. Develop a detailed customer profile
  2. Survey your existing customer base
  3. Refine your sales process
  4. Sign up for an email marketing program, such as www.infusionsoft.com or www.mailchimp.com
  5. Utilize a CRM such as www.Insightly.com
  6. Don’t get stuck on a never-ending to-do list - automate it!
  7. Look for win/win relationships with your customers

  

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Leave a question for Melinda to answer and share your own tips in the comments area below. All you have to do is sign in to our Help Center (top right of the discussion page), and you'll be set to participate. And if you cannot make it during this time-frame, no worries! Melinda's discussion article and the comments will be archived here in the Community  Thanks!

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Comments

62 comments
  • Hi, I am in Sydney-Australia, what time zone are you? Thanks!!

     

     

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  • cairo egypt +2

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  • Hi Daniela and Mohamed,

    We are in the Pacific Time Zone (PDT).  This discussion will start at 9:30am PDT.  If you cannot attend for any reason, Melinda's discussion article and the comments will be archived here in the Community for you to reference later.  

    Thank you,

    Teresa

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  • Hello,

    I wanted to ask Melinda about the frequency of social media. I know frequent messages may keep us top of mind, though I think people may tune us out or unsubscribe to our content regardless how good the message.

    Thanks.

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  • Great question, Melissa! We'll make sure Melinda addresses this when she's here tomorrow. Thanks for posting!

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  • Hi Daniela & Mohamed,

    We hope you can take advantage of this rare opportunity to "chat" with Melinda, (she has such a wealth of experience!) but if you're unable to make the 9:30am - 10:30 am PDT time slot we hope that you'll still leave a question - or two! - for her if you have one. As Teresa said, these comments and all of Melinda's tips will be kept here in the Community so you can return to this page at any time to read them. Cheers!

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  • How can I join this session?

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  • Hi Micah,

    Great to see you! Thanks for asking how to join. The online discussion will take place here on this Community page so to join, just return to this exact page at the start time. :) Melinda will be here, taking your questions live. We'll also start posting the first of Melinda's tips at 9:30 am PT and continue to share all of her best practices for increasing sales over the course of the discussion hour.

    Just a last note that there is no video or audio component of this discussion. Let us know if you have any other questions!

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  • Hi Brenda,

    This is noted.

    Thank you!

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  • Hey everybody it's Melinda I'm so excited to be here answering your business questions. Fire away. 

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  • Thanks Melinda! We're excited to have you here, live with us . :) For everyone participating, f you haven't already refreshed your page please do so to see Melinda's first set of tips! This is a great opportunity to ask questions to Melinda. Forbes Magazine named her the #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter!

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  • Why did your journey in entrepreneurship begin, and how did you get here?

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  • Hey, is there a video or something or is it only by writing?

     

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  • HI Melissa,

    Thank you so much for your question. I want to follow-up on your question about the frequency of social media. You must use social media frequently in order for it to have any impact on the sales in your business. For example I tweet on average 26 times a day, and I have over 300K followers, so I don't think it's a problem.  Just focus on the quality and relevancy of you content. Always seek to be helpful NOT salesy. No one wants to be sold to.

    And since you asked a question, you'll get a copy of my bestselling book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months.

     

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  • Important tip: Don't forget to refresh this page every so often to see new question, Melinda's answers, and more of Melinda's tips in the main article at top. :)

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  • Micah---

    That;s a long story... I was born in the basment of a steel mill in Pittsburgh, PA.  I started in from on my mother's house at 12 with a lemonade stand....We'll actually my story is nothing like that I was a journalist, and I realized in college that one day I wanted to own my own business. I was inspired by Oprah Winfrey actually, because she was the first journalist I ever saw start a business.  After 5 years as a TV news producer after college, ( I got my dream job and hated it) I decided to start a production company in 1999, in the basement of my house. I had a laptop, a fax machine and a dream...... 

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  • Hi Nicolas,

    So glad you could join us! We won't have an video or audio portion. This will happen via writing (aka "commenting"). We'll post Melinda's tips at the top of the page and you may ask her any question right here in the comments area. Thanks!

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  • I quit my job in Feb of 1999, and took out a home equity loan and paid off all my bills, and my kid brother moved into my house and became my tenant ( code for he paid half the mortgage), and I ran my business from the house for 2.5 years. Then my big break cam when I won a business plan competition and I won 20K and free office space for 1 year. That was a game changer. I was about the hire my first employee, and that's when my business took off. By 2003, I was #39 on the Philly 100 list of fastest growing businesses in Philadelphia. I had 9 employees, and my husband was able to quit job and join the business full-time.....  

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  • We were rolling along pretty well until 2005 when I got pregnant. At 33, i ended up on bed rest with a high risk pregnancy. And wifi was NOT was it is today. I was basically cut off from working, and I was a really BAD workaholic. We'll needless to say, I almost lost my business during that time, but I also realized all the expensive and costly mistakes I had made the largest one being that I had built a business that couldn't run without me.  That's when I knew I would have run my business better, if I had had better advice. So that's when I decided that I needed to start giving advice. The first thing I did was write my best selling book Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, and you'll get a copy Micha.

     

     

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  • Thank you, Melinda.

    I am happy to see how common it is to see others who are successful have influences of their own. You are an "Oprah Winfrey" to many entrepreneurs out there, and I admire your tenacity with little resources. That is what makes the best entrepreneurs, in my humble opinion :)

    GO MELINDA!!!

    Thank you,

    Micah 

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  • Then I couldn't get my name on twitter to start giving small business advice, so my publicist and I came up with the name "SmallBizLady."  That turned out to be the best branding accident that ever happened to me. Now I reach 3 million entrepreneurs a week online with content and information to start and grow small businesses. I hope that answers your question.

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  • Great story, Melinda. What keeps you going now? How do you keep your energy up?

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  • Thanks Melinda. Curious, what do you tweet about 26 times a day?? 

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  • Jacob, I love my job... I love helping people live their dreams as entrepreneurs. It doesn't feel like work, it's aa calling really. As far as keeping my energy up, we'll I have a 10 year old son who keeps me hoping, and I workout 3 days a week.

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  • Melissa--

    I think you are going to have to start following me @SmallBizLady to find out. :O)

     

     

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  • Melinda, since we live in a digital world and given the fact that you're a social media expert, do you still utilize non-digital marketing and, if so, is it still effective?  Thanks!

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  • Thank you Micah. I tell my story because I want other people to know they can do it too. I'm just like them.

     

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  • Melinda -- We have a question that was sent in: "How often would you recommend surveying your customers? Do you have any tips for getting customers to complete surveys? Thanks in advance!" :)

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  • Peter---

    Yes, the phone is still the best marketing tool around. Direct mail has made a come back as well as personal hand-written notecards.

     

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  • When it comes to surveying your customers, depending on what you sell. I would survey customers within 7-10 days of them receiving your product or service.  I would survey your email list quarterly, to make sure you are providing relevant content.

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