Brittany Ryan

Times have changed. In today’s fast-moving world of business, the days of betting everything on your quarterly quota are over. If you want to outlast the competition and claim your position at the topic of your industry, you need a steady stream of long-term business.

But consistent revenue requires consistent follow up. And for many salespeople, keeping the pipeline moving is the hardest part of the job. If your sales have plateaued, the problem is likely a stalled pipeline. The good news is, getting back on track is often easier than you think — but first you’ve got to do some triage on your pipeline to figure out what the problems are, and how to solve them.

Here are the 10 most common causes of an unhealthy sales pipeline, and some advice on how to cure them ASAP.

1. No love from your sphere of influence (SOI)

We all know someone. Friends, family, spouses, neighbors, previous clients and the person who cuts your hair. All of these people come together to make up your SOI, a network that is far more powerful than most salespeople give it credit for. Ignore it, and you risk losing tons of great opportunities.

“Reach out to your SOI,” is usually the very first piece of advice given to new real estate agents. But many reps feel uncomfortable contacting personal contacts or clients they haven’t spoken to in years. Don’t fear your network. Since there’s already an established relationship of trust, this is your strongest pipeline — and there’s always a way to connect that doesn’t feel sleazy.

Cause: Despite the fact that 92% of buyers trust referrals from people they know, many reps stay stuck in a fear-based mindset about merging their personal and professional identities.

Cure: Bite the bullet and reach out to your network. That’s what the team at the Graham Seeby Group did and it took them from a list of just 279 names to $90 million in 4 years.


2. Lack of referrals

We all know referrals are one of the most effective, and cost-effective, ways to generate new business, but much like reaching out to your personal network, many reps feel too shy, awkward or scared to ask for one.

But referrals are what separate the sales rockstars from the average performers. In fact, 47% of top performers ask for referrals consistently, versus only 26% of non-top performers.

Cause: Fear of being alienating the customer can keep reps from getting their hands on more referral-based revenue.

Cure: Create a script and system that helps prepare prospects and clients in advance so they’re ready to provide a referral when the time is right.

3. Overwhelm

If there’s anything that’s proven to stunt growth, it’s burnout. Yet almost 65% of a reps’ time is spent on non revenue-generating activities.

Learning how to consistently outstep overwhelm and balance your weekly tasks to put sales first is probably one of the most  — if not THE most — challenging disciplines for salespeople. Between making calls, prospecting, updating your CRM, attending trainings and dealing with the champagne trouble of having to navigate the admin once a deal’s closed, salespeople are natural targets for burnout.

But unfortunately, when we start to get more work than we can handle, follow up is usually the first thing to go. And a stale pipeline will soon follow.

Cause: According to serial entrepreneur and the creator of the Expert Business BlueprintJustin Devonshire, when we experience stress and burnout, it’s because we’ve been investing too much energy and not enough leverage into our business. Justin recommends thinking about time and energy as currency, “The really important currency is energy. Energy is a very important resource. And everyone gets this wrong. Time and energy are definitely linked, but they’re not the same thing.”

Cure: Reclaim your energy. You can do this by hiring a rockstar VA, or trying a number of proven time management techniques to help protect your most sales-focused activities and make sure your follow ups get done.


4. Too scared to hire

Hiring costs money. But losing sales to the competition is also pretty expensive.

The right talent will free up your energy and allow you to focus on generating more income. Unfortunately, this is where many organizations drag their feet. In fact, 71% of companies take at least 6 months to onboard new sales reps. And a third of all companies take at least 9 months or more.

If you’re not nurturing your sales pipeline because you’re in the enviable position of having more deals than you can handle, it might be time to hire your first agent. Admin tasks are responsible for 14.8% of a rep’s lost sales time, but if you’ve already hired a VA and you still don’t have enough bandwidth to get back to your daily rainmaking activities, it’s time to let go of the fear and start building your rockstar team.

Cause: Most solo agents don’t hire because they’re scared of making a mistake. What if you spend time and money only to bring the wrong person on board? It’s an understandable fear, but not a rational one. New blood means new perspectives, and could potentially open you up to a whole world of profit-driving opportunities you didn’t even know was there.

Cure: Work with your admin to create a job description and onboarding guide to help make sure you bring on the right person and that they have everything they need to succeed. A little preparation is the only way to escape the hire to fire trap. One of Inman’s top real estate coaches, Dr. Lee Davenport advises that before firing staff, consider scheduling, training and system issues. Potential is only half the battle. Without the right system, your pipeline will stay stuck no matter who you bring on board.


5. Chasing the wrong leads

It’s estimated that salespeople with a quota of $1 million and an average deal size of $100,000 lost $218,000 over the course of a year because they were chasing the wrong deals.

Spending money on the wrong leads is a sure way to paralyze your pipeline. Even rockstar real estate agents who have built their businesses on the back of paid leads will tell you it’s a risky game. Robert Slack is the Broker-Owner of Robert Slack Fine Homes and he knows from experience. According to Robert, of the hundreds of expensive Zillow leads he purchases, “95% don’t work out.”

So why does he keep buying them? Because he has a system for getting value out of each and every lead in his database, no matter the source.

Cause: Salespeople overspend on leads because it appears to be the easy option. In reality, your network, past customers and website might be a better place to start generating leads, until you have the system, team and budget to make every lead worth your while.

Cure: The problem is less about the lead and more about the system you use for getting your ROI out of it. 61% of B2B companies send all leads directly to sales, even though only 27% of those leads qualify as “serious buyers.” If you don’t already have a system in place for warming up your paid leads, the costs and risks can be devastating to your business.


6. Disorganization

According to the experts at MarketingSherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales, often due to lack of lead nurturing. But we wonder if it isn’t also a lack of organization. After all, chaos is a profit killer.

Poor lead tracking as a result of poor organization means leads are falling through the cracks. And if you can’t find them, how can you close them?

Cause: Creating a watertight lead management system might feel like a luxury you just don’t have time for, but if you keep plowing ahead with a messy, ad hoc system, you’ll end up leaving plenty of cash on the table.

Cure: Get organized. Barry Jenkins is the leader of the #2 Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate team in the US. And he’s practically allergic to inefficiency. Barry uses a smart system of organization and automation to take what he calls the “science side” of the business off of his agents’ shoulders so they can focus on what they do best. “Everything about my business and the reason it’s so successful, is leverage,” he says.

7. Fear of prospecting

So, you met your monthly target. Great.

Can you hit it again next month? And the month after?

Most agents have fallen victim to the dreaded “sales trap” at some point in their career. They get distracted, or worse, comfortable, and stop prospecting altogether. And to be honest, we get it. Prospecting isn’t easy.

More than 40% of salespeople say prospecting the most challenging part of the sales process, followed by closing (36%) and qualifying (22%). But when you neglect prospecting, you put your entire pipeline at risk.

Cause: Whether your complacency comes from a place of having too many deals on your plate, or not enough, the thing to remember is there’s no place for expectations in the game of sales. Or, in the words of Salt Lake City Realtor® and Founder of Search Salt Lake Dustin Brohm, “Most agents are way too short-sighted when it comes to converting leads. They get pissed if the lead doesn’t demand to start making offers on homes on Day 1. That’s like going fishing and getting pissed that the fish aren’t jumping into the boat!”

Cure: Pick up the phone. Salespeople spend just one-third of their day actually talking to prospects. But if you and your pipeline are both starting to rust, reminding yourself how good it feels to connect with and serve your prospects is the best way to get your mojo back.


8. Crappy follow up

50% of your prospects are not a good fit for what you sell.

At least, not right now. It’s important to remember that not all prospects can be slotted neatly into a “good” or “bad” camp, especially at the start of a long sales process.

Rather than blanketing your leads with the same generic drip sequence, why not take a little time to tailor the process? By creating personalized lead nurture drips based on things like lead source, price range, etc., you can provide a relevant experience your leads will never forget. That way, when they’re ready to make the leap, you’ll be the first one they think of.

Cause: Personalized emails generate up to 6X more revenue than non-personalized emails. But over-automation has tempted too many reps into using tech as a crutch, rather than a way to deliver value to prospects.

Cure: Block out some time to think about what your leads want at each stage of the buyer’s journey and use technology to give it to them in a way that’s as value-driven as possible.

You’d be surprised what you can do with even the smallest amount of lead intel. Here’s a great example from  Barry Jenkins.

“When someone checks their home value on my website, they have the option to register with their phone number and email. But many people don’t want to do that. They just want to give me their address. In these cases, the lead goes from the website to Follow Up Boss and then we’re able to send that lead to Zapier which then sends the lead’s address to Thankster, where we’ve got a template for a handwritten card set up. All we have is their address and we know they want to check the value of their home.”

A handwritten card offering to help a lead find their home value, with no strings attached, is a great way to provide value, even when you don’t have a ton of data to work with. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just solve the lead’s next, most immediate problem.

9. Taking leads for granted

For the same reasons reps get sucked into overspending on leads or ignoring their SOI, it can be tempting to take leads for granted.

But just because a lead isn’t ready to “buy now!” doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to hear from you. A classic example in today’s tech-driven world, is that many agents underestimate online leads, when in fact, treating these leads as viable prospects from day 1 is exactly what led team’s like Gary Ashton’s to #1 status.

Cause: Forgetting that all leads, no matter where they came from, are valuable.

Cure: In the words of David Albanese, Broker/Owner of Albanese Realty, the cure is in, “Systems systems systems and I treat every lead as quality.”


10. No accountability

Accountability starts with transparency.

But follow up can be hard. Rejections pile up, the team loses motivation, reps don’t want to pick up the phone. According to CSO Insights, sales leaders are too busy to help team members hold on to their goals. They spend only 20% of their time helping their team close deals.

Additional research from HubSpot backs this up, finding that more than half of salespeople rely on their peers to get tips for improving. If you’re team’s not learning, they’re not growing. And you better believe the numbers will stagnate, too.

Cause: A lack of vision, growth and learning leads to complacency and a lackluster pipeline.

Cure: Co-owner of the #1 RE/MAX team in the world, Debra Beagle offers her team tons of learning opportunities. From taking a Trolley Day to tour the new developments around the city, to bringing experts in-house for dedicated monthly trainings, Debra’s agents always have the chance to learn, which gives them plenty of follow-up ammo to share with their prospects and customers.

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