Indieconf 2012: Unlimited Supply of Prospects

The second to the last talk on Saturday was given by Bill Davis of Team Nimbus. He outlined one of the seven sales components his team recommends: a pipeline that gives you an “unlimited supply of prospects.” (Now I want to know what the other six are.)

Bill opened with an analogy from “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the book, the father spends all year restocking the woodpile next to his family’s house. He draws from the large woodpile and makes a smaller woodpile inside the house. He pulls wood off this smaller pile to feed the fire. He always has a larger pile to go to if he starts running low on wood. This way, he is able to keep his family warm through the winter.

The point of the analogy is this: don’t exhaust your woodpile. Your woodpile is your cache of potential clients. As freelancers we generally spend most of our time throwing wood on the fire (doing work for current clients) when we should be spending most of our time restocking the woodpile. Soon, the woodpile is exhausted and we have no idea how to replenish it.

“You cannot sell your way into small business growth.” — Bill Davis

As freelancers, the best way to grow our business is to increase our exposure to new client opportunities. But what is the typical way we do this? We might talk to potential clients at a conference, do some cold calling, or post on a job site. All of these are things salespeople do. Bill explained that most freelancers can’t or won’t spend the time necessary to learn how to become an excellent salesperson. Therefore, why do most of us buy into a client acquisition model that almost exclusively depends on us being excellent salespeople?

Bill’s sales pipeline has six buckets:

  • Outdoor Woodpile – qualified prospects who have a certain business need (e.g. pediatricians in Raleigh)
  • Indoor Woodpile – prospects to whom you have communicated your ability to solve their business need
  • On the Fire – prospects who have demonstrated an interest in having you solve their business need
  • Client – prospects who have decided they want you to solve their business need
  • Advocate – client who has referred you to someone else
  • Raving Fan – client who has benefitted from your business growth

Each bucket in the pipeline will have varying numbers of prospects. The goal is to continue stocking the Outdoor Woodpile with prospects, while also ensuring that existing prospects continue moving through the pipeline at an acceptable rate. Plenty of prospects on the Outdoor Woodpile will never make it to the Indoor Woodpile. In the same way, many clients on the Indoor Woodpile will never make it to the Fire. But that’s okay. Having every last prospect move completely through the pipeline is not necessary for it to be successful.

What made sense to me about Bill’s approach is that it helps me organize my prospects and determine where to exert effort. Instead of being tempted to focus in a single area, it helps balance my sales efforts and adapt to the transient nature of lead generation. As long as my Outdoor Woodpile is stocked, I can work prospects through the pipeline. It’s a system that has rules. As a software developer, that appeals to me.

For example, Teascript is a SaaS application I built in 2007. I’ve been enhancing and improving it since then and it’s generating a significant amount of monthly income for me, but it hasn’t really taken off the way I’d prefer. Learning about Bill’s system made me realize that my almost exclusive focus on creating new features has been incorrect.

Teascript’s core offering is to enable homeschoolers to easily create professional high school transcripts for their students. I’ve proven that users will pay for that core offering. My implementation is solid. But I need to build my pipeline. I need to be connecting with prospects by providing free information on how to build a transcript (blog posts, e-books, maybe even a workshop). Then I can sell my core offering to them from a position of strength, after having built that relationship.

It’s going to take time and practice to fully implement the sales pipeline Bill gave me. But it’s going to be worth it. The amazing thing about the pipeline is that you can recycle “logs” (prospects). If a prospect has become a client by responding to your pitch but then declines to move further, place them back on the Outdoor Woodpile and start over again.

When asked what to do if a market for a given product or service is already saturated, Bill responded that “if most businesses serve their clients the way most businesses do, there will always be an opening for you.” I think he’s absolutely correct. With a few exceptions, there are always opportunities to do something better, faster, or cheaper than the next guy. If anything, simply providing an amazing customer support experience has a tendency to turn Outdoor Woodpile logs into Raving Fans almost overnight.

Only one more Indieconf talk to recap, and boy is it a doozy: “Build an Army of Products” by Brennan Dunn. If you’ve ever wanted to stop trading time for money, don’t miss Monday’s post.

This post is one in a series from Indieconf 2012