Pipeline Expansion: 3 High-Touch Strategies To Grow Your Leads 500%


One of the most common complaints I hear from sales teams is they constantly face a shortage of quality leads. Some argue marketing sends them bad leads in bulk. Others are convinced they need more resources to prospect. However, salespeople can be self-sufficient in growing their own pipeline. Rather than rely on marketing to drive better leads or hire additional staff to do the grunt work of identifying prospects, sales reps can work independently to strategically scale sales.

Using three high-touch strategies, salespeople can take a more familiar, consultative approach to expanding their pipeline.

1. Customer Referrals

According to data from sales intelligence platform Implisit, customer and employee referrals convert to deals faster and more often than all other lead generation channels. The study reveals customer and employee referrals have a lead-to-deal conversion rate of 3.63%, while website leads convert 1.55% of the time, social media leads close 1.47% of the time, and sales-generated leads turn into new business 0.94% of the time. Indeed, people trust recommendations from people they already know. In 2013, research firm Nielsen found 84% of people agreed that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family is the most influential way for brands to earn buyer trust. The reason being: people trust their friends.

To prompt your customers to refer others, the first step is:

A. Communicate your request to customers

People are happy to help when they are asked to. In the absence of a specific request, they do nothing. Thus, two ways you can earn referrals are:

  • Include a request for referrals within your email signature. This is a subtle and passive way to generate new leads from every person you interact with.
  • Make a direct ask. On sales calls or client check-ups, be explicit about the fact that you want your contacts to refer business your way.

After you make customers aware that you want referrals, you should carefully explain how they may identify the best prospects for you.

B. Train customers to qualify leads for you

Most customers who love your product would, without hesitation, introduce you to other businesses in their network. But that can be problematic. Customers who are too eager to help out may introduce you to prospects who simply do not have the budget, authority or need for your product or service. Therefore, you will want your customers to be selective about who they refer.

To make every introduction count, you should tell your customers more about the exact type of buyer you want to meet. Kayley Marner of Influitive explains, “Once you’ve dropped the hint, you can give [your customer] more specific instructions about how to give good referrals. This will ensure you receive higher-quality referrals—instead of just tire kickers.” Therefore, sales reps should be specific about who their ideal customer is to make it easier for existing customers to cull their networks and share targeted introductions. But that is just one component of a quality customer referral. Your product or service must also come highly recommended. To facilitate better referrals Marner proposes, “Try drafting a tip sheet that explains the best way for advocates to refer your company or sending them a referral quiz that asks questions like, ‘How would you talk about us when making a referral to a friend or colleague?’”

C. Incentivize advocates

Only your best customers actively sing praises about your business. Your remaining customers may only advocate for your brand when prompted. That is because their headspace and time is already occupied with personal priorities. Most rarely think about ways they can consistently help your business. To encourage them to regularly recommend your services, offer incentives. For example, you may propose:

  • Cash incentives. For every paying customer you refer, earn $500!
  • Free services. Get one month of our SaaS platform for free every time you refer a friend who signs up for a free 14-day trial.
  • Additional services. Unlock exclusive product features when you refer five customers to our sales teams.
  • Package discounts. Save 20% on your next order when you refer a friend.

Bonus: Give referrals to get referrals

A bit of reciprocity goes a long way.

In sales, a counterintuitive way to earn referrals is by referring new business to your customers first. “Establish a pattern of providing referrals to others,” advises sales expert Mark Hunter. “If you expect your customers to offer you referrals, then you need to willingly provide them with leads. Because it’s easy to become focused on generating our own referrals, make it a habit of providing a specific number of leads to others each week, month, etc.”

Salespeople should think of this as a long-term strategy though. Hunter adds, “However, do not expect each referral you give to result in one coming back to you. If you do, you’ll never master the referral process. Remember that, in time, you will create an additional stream of referrals.” High-quality customer referrals are likely to come when you, Hunter suggests, “Become a person of influence. People who have the ability to influence become people with whom others want to connect and thus become very receptive to receiving and giving referrals.”

2. Influencer Alliances

It’s true: Access to thousands of highly qualified prospects is available with as little as one key relationship. The modern day Internet has glamorized the “influencer” as someone with 100,000 Twitter followers and half a million likes on Facebook. Yet, for ages, there have always been plenty of well-connected individuals who have the eager ear of large, engaged audiences. In the traditional sense, influencers can come in the form of industry association leaders. In the digital age, they may be popular industry bloggers or unsuspecting LinkedIn Group administrators. These opportunities become interesting for salespeople once you dive into the numbers.

  • Industry associations: For the chance to sell to more than 10,000 businesses earning more than $1 million every year, salespeople should target members of the leadership team at Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
  • Influential bloggers: To reach internet marketing enthusiasts, sales teams can build a relationship with Jeff Bullas whose personal blog reaches over 250,000 readers.
  • LinkedIn Group admins: Ecommerce technology providers can contact the admin behind the LinkedIn Group “Ecommerce and Online Marketing Experts” to tap its 79,000 members.

What salespeople can do is form warm relationships with industry influencers who can promote your brand to their audience. Of course, developing cooperative influencer alliances requires a multi-step approach.

  1. First, identify who key influencers in your niche are.
  2. Then, carefully research whether or not their audience is right for your product.
  3. Next, reach out to influencers who have a sales-qualified fan base to introduce them to your product. Unlike most sales prospects, industry influencers are actively searching for new solutions they can tell their audience about even if they do not specifically have a need for it.
  4. Continue educating your target influencers about your brand and product or service.
  5. Extend them value by providing them with free product, financial support or other resources they may need to achieve their personal and professional business goals.
  6. Finally, ask them to promote your brand to their audience.

3. Strategic Partnerships

Businesses, like influencers, can offer you the opportunity to connect with their customers.

Most strategic sales-focused partnerships are typically formed with non-competitive vendors who offer products or services that complement yours. For instance, a provider of organic social media sharing tools can partner with a website analytics firm and a paid marketing agency to share leads or refer customers.

Sometimes, competing companies can create friendly partnerships to help grow each other’s businesses too. Two ways this can work are:

  1. Firms of the same size can pool resources to generate leads through co-branded sales initiatives. When Dharmesh Shah and Rand Fishkin teamed up to create Inbound.org in 2012, the partnership seemed crazy to some. Shah is the founder of HubSpot, an inbound marketing software platform, and Fishkin is the founder of Moz, a direct competitor. But they each realized how this could be a mutually beneficial opportunity. Now, four years later, Inbound.org has flourished into a community with more than 100,000 members who use both HubSpot and Moz products.
  2. Large businesses can refer work they are unavailable to do to smaller competitors and vice versa. Big companies are constantly approached by potential customers who, unfortunately, cannot afford their services. Rather than simply turn those prospects away, they can refer those leads to smaller competitors who may be able to create a package that accommodates the client’s budget constraints. Every so often, small companies also encounter businesses with needs that go beyond the current scope of their offerings. In those instances, they can send those projects upmarket to friendly competitors who specialize in managing larger accounts.

To kickstart your next brand partnership, Forbes contributor Deborah Sweeney recommends a five-step process:

  1. “Look for businesses within your industry.” You will find that there are dozens of brands in your niche that share similar values and an overlapping audience.
  2. “Reach out.” Introduce yourself and be clear about your integrity and goals. High-potential partnerships can quickly be undermined if other businesses feel you are out to steal their customers.
  3. “Propose a cross-promotion.” Suggest simple ways you can each promote the other’s business and exchange value.
  4. “Try it out as a test.” Follow through with your cross-promotion commitments to see how well your audience responds to your partner’s offer. Evaluate whether or not your partner’s customers are receptive to your solutions too. If this experiment proves successful, you can even expand the scope of your partnership.
  5. “Continue working with different partners.” To diversify your lead generation sources and consistently grow sales, find multiple partners to work with.
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Danny Wong

Danny Wong is a marketing consultant, sales strategist, and writer. He is a member of the marketing team at Tenfold, which provides a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Connect with him on Twitter @dannywong1190.