When I was growing up, my father was an avid vegetable gardener. At the start of spring, before the final snow had melted from the backyard, dad would plant tomato seeds in some soil in small paper cups on the kitchen counter. He’d place those cups near the window sill, where they’d get some good morning sun.
By the time the snows had melted, and it was warm enough to plant a garden, we’d already had small seedlings ready for the soil. We were one step closer to the harvest. But just because those seedlings were planted didn’t mean Dad was finished planting tomatoes for the season. He’d plant another round of seeds. His reason for doing this: After that first round of seedlings had past their prime, the second planting was ready to begin bearing fruit.
While our neighbors’ gardens seem to bear tomatoes for only a month or two, Dad’s garden seemed to produce an always-flowing pipeline of healthy, ripe tomatoes, from late spring until early autumn.
A lot of sales organizations seem to approach their business development efforts much like most of our neighbors grew tomatoes – they plant their seeds at the beginning of the year, and then invest all their efforts into the harvest. When the fruit is gone, they face long stretch of time with no tomatoes, and begin the cold-calling all over again. It’s a tough way to keep the pipeline flowing.
When it came to his vegetable garden, Dad was big on nurturing. He always had a crop of seedlings going. Sure, you couldn’t eat the seedlings, but if you continually plant more, and give them care and attention, you’ll always have another round that’s ready to produce fruit; your harvest won’t be limited to a single wave of crop.
Several years ago, I was part of a sales team that thrived on cold-calling. At the start of each quarter, we’d concentrate on cold calling. As we made those calls, we were focused on one thing: finding prospects that we could move into the sales cycle, and close this quarter.
We’d inevitably find a few who were in enough of a “ready to buy” mindset. Those prospects became our sole focus for the next several weeks, as we’d move them through the sales cycle, toward closing business for the quarter. On the first day of a new quarter, many of us would wake up to an empty pipeline; we’d begin the cold calling process all over again, and face several weeks or months with no new revenue. It was a very frenetic cycle that made us stressed out, and then burned out.
Unfortunately, many companies still operate that way. And many gardeners still plant all their seeds at the start of the spring, have a single harvest, and then many stressful months with no fresh fruit.
So, what’s the right way to create a pipeline that’s always flowing?
For starters, get out of the “ready to buy” state of mind, and think more “nurture” instead. Go out in the field, and get to know those future customers that aren’t ready to buy this month, quarter or year. Develop relationships with those people who aren’t yet ready to buy (but will be some day). Deliver value through content, ideas and expertise.
If all you can talk about is your product, and they’re not ready to buy, you’ll have nothing to talk about. And you can’t build a quality relationship without quality conversation. Invest more of your business development resources by continually planting and nurturing seedlings for your garden patch. And don’t stop. Seedlings grow up to be big tomatoes, ready for picking.
Another thing that my father used to say to me when we’d be out picking those big ripe tomatoes in the garden: “Do you remember when these were just little seedlings on the kitchen counter? If you pay enough attention to them when they’re small, before you know it, they’ll be jumping right off the vine, and onto your plate.”
Not every prospect is ready to buy today. But if you put effort into building relationships long before your prospects are ready to be customers, and if you continue to do this on a regular basis, harvests will happen more naturally, and with a lot less effort. And they won’t stop, either.