The One Sales Skill You Need to Build Pipeline (and How to Get It)

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A number of years ago I was part of a sales leadership off-site that began with several of us getting dinner at a great new restaurant outside the city. The menu featured a variety of creative main dishes spanning the spectrum of typical country fare. After careful review of the options, the team members placed our orders one by one, each selecting something different, seemingly secure in their choices. I was the last to order.

Now, like many people, I love great food and fancy myself a decent home cook. So when it comes to restaurant dining, I appreciate that not all dishes on a menu are created equal. Though variety is the mainstay of most menus, and despite many promising-sounding options, I never want to be that guy who picks the wrong thing. You know—the menu item that makes the server think, “I can’t believe he ordered that!” So I usually craft a short-list and ask for their recommendation. On this particular night, the description of the tenderloin caught my eye.

“How’s the tenderloin?” I asked.

At that moment the world seemed to stop. The waiter paused and lowered his notepad. He then locked eyes with me in a tractor beam-like gaze as a very serious look came across his face. The rest of the table fell silent, curiously waiting to see what would happen next. “Oh sir,” said the waiter in a voice that was both serious and reassuring. “It’s incredible!” His smile re-emerged. “It’s the best thing on the menu in my opinion.” Over the next few moments, he proceeded to describe the maple syrup reduction and parsnip mash that accompanied the dish. By the end of his short, Oscar-worthy monologue, six of the eight people in our party changed their order!

Weeks earlier in a sales operations discussion, my team and I were looking at which sales reps were doing the best job of generating their own pipeline. The idea was that if we could zero in on what these reps were doing, we could help them promote their winning behaviors across the organization. What did we find?

Much like our restaurant waiter, the sales reps that appeared at the top of the pipe gen list all had one thing in common that separated them from the pack: conviction! Conviction is powerful. From the messages you share to the words you use, to your tone, poise, and body language, those with conviction possess a powerful and persuasive weapon in the battle for customer mindshare.

 

What does conviction look like in sales?

Conviction is the ability, experience, and willingness to make strong recommendations; to challenge; to emphatically point out strengths and opportunities for improvement in your customer’s business; and to combine the collective wisdom of enablement, training, and customer experience to create a clear future vision for the businesses you serve.

Can you acquire conviction overnight? No, but you can develop it quicker than you might think. The secret to generating conviction that leads to massive sales pipeline is to get as close to your customers as you can.

Participating in training exercises, reading case studies, and listening to testimonials can provide a head start but, much like learning to fly a plane by spending time in the simulator, the real secret to conviction is firsthand contact with customers and developing your own street-level perspective of the value your solutions can add.

In the book Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek discusses the concept of abstraction: the idea that the further away you are from something, the less context, conviction, and impact you can have. Simon’s rule #3 for avoiding abstraction is summarized by the following:

“As social animals, it is imperative for us to see the actual, tangible impact of our time and effort for our work to have meaning and for us to be motivated to do it even better. When we are able to physically see the positive impact of the decisions we make or the work we do, not only do we feel that our work was worth it, but it also inspires us to work harder and do more.”

Adam Grant, a management professor at the Wharton School of Business, conducted an experiment to highlight the power of getting close to your target audience and removing abstraction. In it, he sought to boost the efforts of the school’s fundraising department by having students who received scholarship-funded donations share firsthand stories of how the scholarship they received changed their lives. The result: a 400% increase in average weekly donation revenue in the following month alone.

When it comes to developing conviction, it’s also vital that you work on refining your sales pitch. Poor, schlocky, low-impact pitches often leave sales reps conflicted about calling on customers because they feel they’re bothering them and adding little value. By contrast, it’s much easier to find conviction in a well-structured pitch rooted in compelling facts and beliefs. Make your message polarizing and easy for your team to articulate by focusing it on a single problem that is already well-understood by your target audience.

Building pipeline is never easy, but when it comes to building a world-class sales operation, reps armed with firsthand stories, experience, business acumen, and a compelling pitch will always be set up maximum success.

 

Bonus Video: How to Harness the Massive Conversion Power of Conviction!”

 

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