May 27, 2014

Your work is a pipeline -- you just don't know it yet

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Less than a year ago, we introduced Pipelines to Contactually, allowing you to start managing not only relationships, but the actual transactions and business value that were attached to them. Like most brand new features, we rolled out Pipelines not knowing exactly how people would use them, but after a few months of listening to your experiences it's starting to come together. We'll be sharing some of those stories here over the next few weeks, but to start, let's just talk about Pipelines in general, and why they should matter to everybody. Personally, I think they're important for a couple big reasons:

    • They give you a concrete connection between the people you know, and the work you do

    • They give you context for your follow-ups ("Hey Bob, any news on that purchase order yet?")

    • They help you understand your business better

That last one is really underappreciated by people, because a lot of small businesses don't necessarily have the time to figure out what their business process really is -- they're running around putting out fires and just trying to keep the lights on. That's totally understandable, but it's also pretty inefficient; if you're executing the same sales process over and over again but don't realize it, it's a lot less likely you'll get better at it over time, or come up with ways to improve it.

Almost every process is a pipeline.

Creating a pipeline is a fast, easy, useful way to chart out what one of your primary business procedures actually consists of. Pipelines don't have to be complicated -- maybe your process is only two or three steps. It's still incredibly helpful to realize which of those two or three steps someone is on before you contact them, or how many leads are in different stages.

(Want to learn how to use Pipelines in Contactually? It's easy -- and we cover the nuts and bolts in our free Power User Guide, which you can get here.)

Test yourself, make a Pipeline

I desperately needed a Pipeline solution when I used to do full-time consulting, not so much because I couldn't keep track of my deals (although I couldn't), but because without a system I was never honest with myself about the state of all my different projects. It's easy -- too easy, in fact -- to list out your leads and the amount of income you can project from each one. What requires actual honesty is figuring out what stage each of those deals is really in. If someone says they might want me to build them a website for $1,000, that's a lot different than someone who has paid me the first $200 and expects it done next week.

It might seem obvious, but unrealistic sales expectations are an incredibly common plague among businesses of all sizes. Things miraculously "fall through" at "the last minute", but if the deal had been assessed with a little more scrutiny ("wait, do we have a signed agreement for this?") you might have realized how much of a long-shot it was from the beginning.

Whether you're selling homes, booking concerts, or raising money for charity, any repeatable, customer facing task has steps. So take a few minutes to figure out what those steps are for you -- even if you think you already know what they are. You might surprise yourself!