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Pipeline Management

For Practitioners

A Thoughtful Approach to Building and Managing a Pipeline

Prospects vs. Suspects

What is a pipeline? In short, it is a listing, filtered by variables such as time, stage, assets, revenue, likelihood, etc. of prospects you are pursuing. Ah, but what is a prospect? The misperception of what qualifies as a prospect is where too many advisors mislead themselves.

In a recent engagement, I was presented a “prospect list” containing scores of names. Initially, I was quite elated, as it appeared that the group was well on its way to growing their client ranks significantly. However, after a more critical review of the list with the team, my sanguinity faded. This was not a prospect pipeline. This was a suspect list.

Let me first define what three measures must be met to qualify as a “prospect”:

  1. They qualify (by whatever metrics your organization uses) for the services you provide

  2. They have a need or desire for these services

  3. You have engaged them in a meaningful conversation about the possibility of retaining your organization for said services

I would suggest that there are additional criteria a firm should add to this, but these are the “must-haves”. Without these, they are not yet truly a prospect.

So, what was I viewing if it was not a prospect pipeline? It was a “suspect list”. Don’t misunderstand my position, a suspect list is highly valuable, as I will Illustrate later. Furthermore, I would theorize that the most successful teams/organizations spend a meaningful amount of time developing their suspect lists. Why? Because, when done correctly and prescriptively, these lists become the source material for your prospect pipeline.

Notwithstanding, it was evident that there was, in fact, very little on the report that could be considered an active prospect, and those that could were very much in an inchoate stage. At this juncture, the likelihood of achieving plan was fading.

Converting Suspects to Prospects

In absence of a strong pipeline, one must consider, as an element of their client development activities, constructing a suspect list. But here the effort has just begun. From this list, the team must gather all the knowledge that they have on the suspect and carefully construct a plan. What do you know about the suspect? What is important to them? Who is/are the current provider/s? What do you know about them? How do you demonstrate a value-add that is meaningful enough to motivate them toward change? The more information you possess, the more likely you are to develop an effective plan. Furthermore, by compiling this intelligence, you are further able to determine if they should be a prospect. Too often, advisors confuse a suspect’s level of wealth with their level of appeal as a client. This is entirely misguided. An ideal client is one that ascribes value to the services you provide and the manner in which they are provided. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “advisor, know thyself and to thine self be true”. Otherwise, you are squandering time and resources pursuing someone who won’t (or worse, shouldn’t) be a client.

Once this detail has been amassed, you can prioritize based on factors such as immediacy and opportunity. Now and only now, do you have the plan from which to engage the suspect in meaningful dialogue to determine if there is an opportunity – and, at what interval – to engage more deeply in furthering the conversation.

Remember, it is the rare occurrence in which a prospect does not initially start as a suspect. So, building proficiency in this process has a deep and profound effect on your practice in toto.

Hope is Not a Strategy

To succeed, you must be deliberate in your actions. To build a perpetual pipeline, a disciplined approach is paramount. What this team possessed, at the very least, was a compendium of names they could pursue to develop prospects. They could hope that the stars would align with a suspect or two, or they could aspire to get lucky with an introduction at some juncture. But hope is not a strategy and luck is not a factor in enduring success. Your strategy must be deliberate and focused on the outcomes you desire. Our ability to control our results does not rest in hope or luck. It is the actions we take to execute a well formulated strategy that does.

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