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Developing a sales pipeline

Most small firms are run by people with fantastic delivery skills: they’re excellent coders, technicians, coaches. They interview well, and can demonstrate their acumen and routinely get hired to a contract. In short, they excel at the middle of the sales funnel; it’s the top and bottom where they are struggling. Here we’ll focus on developing leads. 

Top of the funnel

When I ask small business owners how they network and market their companies, almost 90% of the time I get the same answer: they don’t. Much of the time it’s a skills issue: they don’t see the value, because they haven’t learned how to network effectively. If your networking experience is something akin to, “I went to a bunch of networking events, and I never got any leads!” then you’re making the same mistake that I and many other professionals are making. Approaching networking from a transactional mindset (meaning intending to transact business), while seeming rational and direct is actually self-defeating. 

Instead of going to a networking event looking to develop leads (looking for something to get), try attending looking to develop relationships (looking for something to give). Instead of talking about your amazing business and how smart your people are, get people talking about themselves and their problems. In the parlance of Steven Covey, Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This requires setting aside your own desires for developing leads and instead focusing on learning the desires of the people you meet, regardless of their utility as customers. 

The same mindset applies to speaking at conferences, another great top-of-the-funnel activity to get leads. Instead of talking about how amazing your business is like so many people do, instead focus on a problem your ideal customers have and give them a tool to solve it. More leads will come of it, and fewer people who aren’t leads will find you boring.

Lead Tracking

If you’re like a lot of technology leaders, you’re introverted (me too!). You get a lot more enjoyment solving problems with your tooling than you do focusing on all the squishy relationship stuff. Yet relationships are where your business comes from, so let’s talk about removing some of the pain and improving your chances. 

Keeping track of all the various leads you’re working through your sales pipeline is a ton of work, and it’s not the kind of thing most people can keep in their heads. Using a tool, like the free version of HubSpot can help offload the mental effort of tracking everyone and prevent you from dropping leads when things get busy. Most allow you to create notes of your interactions, and set a reminder for when you should contact that person next and what to discuss. If you start with just that, you’ll improve your relationships and your sales rates.


Attending networking events, speaking at conferences, and tracking leads all take time, and that time if going to need to come from somewhere. Instead of depriving yourself from time doing what you want, block some time throughout the week to work your pipeline, and honor it. Changing the work that you’re doing from something you’re good at (delivery) to something you’re probably not yet good at (business development), is hard, and people naturally remove hard work to focus on what they’re good at. This is one point where many small businesses get stuck. 

Most owners need some extra support to make changes become habits. If you’re one of them, check out my small business assessment for some free tips on where you can focus your limited energy to help your business grow.