The Shriveling Sales Process, or Who Left the Stove On?

The revolutionary changes in the buying process mean that the sales process seems to be shrinking while the marketing cycle is growing. How do we then stay engaged and determine when the time is right to strike? We need to get involved early — when the buying process begins — by providing educational content that creates a positive image in the buyer’s mind.

We also have to stay in touch with potential buyers, regardless of their time frame to buy — and we need to clearly identify when a company is ready to buy, so we get involved with the right decision makers at the right time. This new approach is demand generation, and email is the driving force in nurturing leads from realization to revenue.

Imagine your marketplace is like a bunch of pots filled with water. Your marketing people provide the heat builds up until the water starts to simmer. When it gets hot enough, bubbles start to reach the top, and it begins to boil. The pots can be different sizes — and they can be filled with different liquids that will come to a boil at different rates.

It used to be that most of these boiling pots were fueled by sales. They found the container, applied the heat and got the pot boiling, and they reveled in the success. Then something strange happened. The liquid in the pots started getting thicker and thicker and harder to manage. Soon, the same amount of heat wasn’t causing the pots to boil.

Customer Engagement

A funny thing happened that mirrors this pot analogy to the tee. Just as the liquid in the example changed, so did buyer preferences. Buyers in the business-to-business (B2B) space have changed in terms of how they buy, act and expect to be engaged. This is due in no small part to how they consume in their personal lives.

We can go online, research the perfect shoe, read reviews, see which of our role models wear the brand and so on. Why, then, would we change our behavior when going to work? We don’t look in the phone book for shoes, so why would we look at a static buyers guide or brochure for software? The short answer is, we wouldn’t.

So we know that we need to “engage” a buyer — that’s become a buzzword. We have to start the heat at a tolerable level, build it slowly and when the water starts to bubble, take the right action. The problem seems to be that most companies don’t really know what type of liquid is in the pot or how quickly to apply the heat.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that we apply heat pretty evenly in some scenarios but then forget to turn the oven on in others. This often has to do with crazy things, like money — meaning the more we spend on reaching the buyer, the more likely we are to turn up the heat. Why does the pot care how much we spent on the stove? It doesn’t. It just feels the heat and reacts accordingly.

The Big One

Here’s the big statistic we’ve all been waiting for: Up-to 80 percent of marketing expenditures on lead generation and collateral go to waste for lack of commitment and discipline.

How can we, with any degree of certainty, know when a liquid will boil if we don’t keep the experiment constant? We have to identify which liquids we work with most often, and then start treating them in a consistent manner If we want to measure results accurately. After all, it could turn out that the high-end stove boils water even more slowly than the model that costs considerably less. This standardization process is called “lead nurturing.”

Lead nurturing is all about creating a bidirectional conversation, or interaction, with the buyer. It’s about building trusted relationships with our buyers. It’s also about building value in our consistency and our knowledge of their needs. Are we responding with messaging that is relevant based on the last interaction? Or are we turning off the stove and trying to start over every day?

Most B2B buyers know that there are myriad solution providers out there that will get the job done. It’s the provider that connects with them on a trust level that gets the opportunity to earn their business. A recent study of B2B buyers shows that salespeople who become trusted advisors and understand the needs of economic buyers are 69 percent more likely to come away with a sale.

Your prospect must be familiar with you and your company and with what you and your company do.

Your prospect must perceive you and your company to be expert in your field.

Your prospect must believe that you and your company understand and can solve highly specific issues.

Your prospect must like you and your company enough to want to work with you.

Trust, therefore, becomes the theme for a new type of marketing — Conversational Based Marketing.

Bubbles Indicate Trust

After applying some slight heat, most pots will start to develop a few bubbles around the base. This is the interest we have been trying to generate. The next touches are crucial. If we turn up the heat rapidly, the pot may bubble over. If we remove the heat, we lose the interest. It’s how we gradually apply the heat, based on the bubbles we see, that allows us to build buyer trust. This balance we term the conversation.

We want to track what factors increase buyers’ movements. Are they attending webinars? Are they viewing content online? Are they opening emails? Are we interacting with them through other channels, like trade shows? Do they use a partner company of ours? All of this information allows us to tailor the next marketing interaction and guides the conversation in a more interesting direction.

Ever notice how when making small talk you tend to poke around until you find a common topic and then dive in once you do? Same with marketing, but because we allow the buyer to determine the conversation topics, we always know where to pursue interest. Has a potential customer looked at your pricing page four times in a week? How about emailing an ROI case study as a follow up? Not many marketers are that savvy yet, but with the right tools they can get there!What’s it worth to you?

Many companies that have been “sales” organizations in the past are beginning to embrace the concepts behind this trend. Few, however, have a cohesive strategy to back the initiative — yet.

Startling as it may seem, research shows that longer-term leads (future opportunities), often ignored by salespeople, represent 77 percent of potential sales.

More than 50 percent of inquiries need follow-up that extends beyond 30 days. That’s a lot of time for your sales staff to spend simply following up with information. Why not bring that task back into the marketing department, let them control the dials and knobs on the stove, and re-pass the truly qualified prospect back to sales when the interest AND the trust have reached the buying point? Sales can then handle the personal areas of true sales, price.

Sketch It Out

An effective plan to extend marketing might look like this:

Day 1 – Webinar invite: industry topic

Day 28 – Email thank you for your attendance

Day 42 – Email recent customer success story using strategy covered in webinar

Day 60 – Email link to demo based on navigated steps on the website

Day 80 – Email recent podcast based on webinar topic follow-up

Day 100 – Email whitepaper download link for webinar topic ROI

Day 120 – Offer to stop by booth at upcoming show

Day 140 – Click though from banner ad based on free report

Day 141 – Prospect reaches qualification point based on behavior: Qualified Lead

A Watched Pot Does Boil

Lead Nurturing works. Nurtured marketing-driven deals can provide a lift anywhere between 30 percent and 200 percent. The average time to close these prospects is 160 days, but because the buyer is shifted back into the marketing cycle, there can be a decrease of more than $60 per lead — that’s 40 percent, based on a client average of $150.00 burdened cost per lead.

Those are big results, but they’re possible in less than six months after implementing a well-rounded lead nurturing program driven by a solid process.

The other area where clients actually cut costs is in relation to those expensive stoves they were using to heat the pot. It’s easy to determine true ROI in relation to trade show expenses, print-based advertising and untargeted SEM (search engine marketing) once you develop a true nurturing plan that tracks point of conversion.

At the end of the day, more and more bubbles are emerging, and it becomes possible to formulate a strategy to know exactly when the boiling point will be reached. That’s a very scientific process that requires an understanding of human behavior — it is not child’s play. When we were kids, we learned that stoves are hot. It’s still worth remembering that lesson — when it comes to lead nurturing, professionals are best able to manage the heat.

Justin Gray is CEO of LeadMD, a marketing services firm he founded in May 2010. LeadMD is focused on organic lead generation and the successful deployment of marketing automation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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