Everyone in your pipeline is not the same, so don't treat them the same. You have a different relationship with each one of them, and it's constantly changing. You can greatly improve your effectiveness by simply segregating your contacts into unique categories that identify the nature of your relationship and subsequent activities.
Here are the five lists every salesperson should have:
1. Customer list. This is your best list. The people who buy from you are the most likely to help you win additional business, provide referrals, and give testimonials. You should know their industry, size of business, buying motives, buying habits, your value to them, and opportunities to upsell and leverage new relationships.
Tip: I send a custom-labeled tin of the most delicious cookies to anyone who sends me a referral who ultimately buys from me. This simple gesture of gratitude has yielded many new customers.
2. Cold call list. This list contains the contact information of the businesses that fit your target market but have never bought from you before. The demographic information should match your best customers to increase your contact to first appointment ratio. Contacting organizations that fall within your ideal customer profile yields the best cold call results.
Tip: Focus your prospecting efforts on people or organizations with as many shared demographic elements as possible (industry, title, number of employees, etc.), since people prefer to buy from salespeople who have experience serving in their industry.
3. Pipeline list. These are people with whom you are actively engaged in the sales process. They have some characteristics of a qualified buyer and will possibly close within your current quota cycle. Don't confuse these with the nurture list contacts, because these buyers have a definitive purchase or delivery date.
Tip: Never over-exaggerate a prospect. I live by "reality-based" pipeline management. If the prospects aren't qualified, don't push them higher up the list. Rigorously qualify every sales opportunity so you don't get burned at the end of the month when a deal does not close.
4. Referral list. This is a list of your referral partners. Don't confuse these with customers who provide you with referrals. The people on this list work in complimentary industries where it's mutually beneficial to share leads and customers. Discuss with your referral partners what a qualified buyer is for each of you, so everyone understands who is a good prospect and who is not.
Tip: Meet regularly with your referral partners and keep a record of their ideal customer profiles. You gain a lot of credibility with buyers when you can offer legitimate resources that help solve their most pressing issues.
5. Nurture list. This list consists of people who are not ready to buy right now, so you must stay in contact with them over an extended period of time. They require a "touch" program, so that you stay top of consciousness when they are ready to make a purchase at some future date. A good, yet simple to use, CRM program can help you do this.
Tip: I love newsletters, blog posts, Twitter updates, etc. Anything that is simple to do to stay relevant to a buyer. I had a prospect who received my newsletter for three years before he bought. Let technology manage the process for you, and move on to the next opportunity!
Organize your contacts into these five categories and you'll gain a sharper focus in prioritizing your sales activities--and earn more sales as a result.