My toothpaste is my pipeline

This morning I ran out of toothpaste.

Now normally, because of my frugal nature, love for efficiency and need for personal challenges, I try and predict how many squeezes of toothpaste I have left in the tube before I need to head to the bathroom cupboard to grab a replacement, thus ensuring I don’t ever run out.

Today was different.

That’s because this morning, as I had spread the last of the paste on my toothbrush, I was acutely aware of what was at stake; I had failed to replace the backup toothpaste the last time I went to the supermarket.

So, I put the head of the toothbrush under the running water of the tap and then sadly saw the paste drop off my brush and get washed down the plug hole.

I was no longer in control.

You may at this point be asking yourself what any of the above has to do with Sales.

Well, the link maybe tenuous, but my toothpaste problem; made me think of Sales and the risk of not always having more pipeline options in your business development activity.

As Sales people, we all have probably experienced at least one of the following two phases;

‘Beginners luck’ – This is when you’ve started a new business development role and after about 3 months in, when you’re settled and have a little confidence in what you’re talking about, you hit a sweet spot and manage to get some decent wins on the board.

‘On a roll’ – This is a time when you’ve been in the role for a little while now (no more beginners luck) and after a bit of a flat period, you start winning some new business and feel you can’t put a foot wrong.  Everything is going your way and the stars are aligning in converting your sales pipeline into revenue.

Both these phases feel great, but we all know that they never last.

Why?

I believe it’s because during those two phases, all we see is endless opportunity and are not afraid of missing out on the deal in front of us at that exact point in time.  We’re fearless because we don’t see a limit to our ability to win.

When we’re beginners we don’t know the size of the market or the number of prospects that are available to contact, so we don’t worry about making mistakes because we don’t really know what is at risk.

If we’re on a roll, it’s always when we have a number of deals on the go, so we’re not afraid of missing out on one, because we have plenty more chances in the pipeline.  We’ve done all the planning beforehand and have options, so right now we’re all about the close.

It’s when we start to feel that those same opportunities are limited, finite or that our pipeline is looking a little light and we become fearful of running out of chances that we then start to slump and see our results drop off.

We start to doubt ourselves, we start to panic and we develop fear.

“Fear leads to desperation and desperation scares potential customers off” – Not a Yoda quote

That’s why it’s so important to make sure you have a consistent forward looking pipeline of business development options.

If you can see that there is plenty more opportunity coming up, you’re less likely to be fearful of losing out of the customer in front of you and you won’t come across as desperate.

This isn’t to say you should throwaway potential customers, but keep some perspective on things and maintain a level of control on what is happening for you, rather than happening to you.

Three ways I do this are;

1) If I’m working my way through a prospect list of 50 contacts, I will always have an additional prospect list of a further 50 contacts prepared and waiting for me at all times. This way, I will not fear running out.

2) If I’ve got proposals to write, I will always do two or more at a time. This will put the pressure on me (which helps me focus) but also reduces my over reliance on the outcome of just one proposal and thus lessen the chances of me capitulating to the unreasonable demands of one of the other parties.

3) I always schedule allocated time in the diary for all business development activities needed to initiate a sales cycle. g. Regardless of how busy I am delivering to my existing customers, I still schedule in time to meet with new prospects, because they will be my existing customers tomorrow.

The lesson here is; you shouldn’t stop being efficient and productive with the last of the toothpaste in front of you, but if you want to avoid seeing your sales go down the drain, you too should always know you’ve got spare toothpaste in the cupboard.

So, did I walk around for the rest of the day with bad breath?

No.  I innovated.

I saw that my 5 year old daughter’s Mcleans ‘Little Teeth’ toothpaste was in the bathroom cabinet and I decided that having my mouth smell of bubble gum was a more favourable option than halitosis.

Is that really innovative thinking?

I’ll be discussing that topic next week.

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