Exposing the hidden sales cycle
Enhancing your brand’s visibility and influence earlier in the buyer journey can bring substantial commercial benefits. As well as delivering more high quality leads, it can reduce the length of the overall sales cycle and directly impact net new revenue growth.
But what’s the best way to go about it? Simply generating and sharing content isn’t enough. An intelligent hidden sales cycle strategy goes beyond this to ensure activity is deliberately aligned with buyer journey phases and tailored to address individuals’ needs and motivators.
Hidden sales cycle strategy
Step 1: marketing manages the hidden sales cycle
Naturally, sales and marketing need to collaborate. But that also means having defined roles and responsibilities. General management of the hidden sales cycle needs to come under the remit of marketing. Having the sales team engaged too early is an ineffective use of their time, and it can interfere with the nurturing process. Marketers need to take ownership of aligning data and content to ensure the right things are said to the right people at the right time. Then high quality leads can be passed on to sales people when the buyer is ready to purchase.
Step 2: use content for better results
On average it takes ten touches for a lead to progress through the funnel to become a closed opportunity. Ensuring these interactions are welcome and efficient requires a blend of art and science. Clever content can implicitly convey important messages and position your brand as the expert in issues or themes likely to be researched by target audiences. Once new prospects enter the funnel, combining this with automation ensures relevant content is delivered more quickly than would be possible via human touch points. This can help accelerate the buyer’s decision making process.
Effective use of data is critical here. At the outset, it plays a vital role in persona development, informed content creation and model profiles as well as sourcing contacts, measuring intent and scoring leads. Once leads are qualified, salespeople can be armed with buyer preferences, relevant conversation topics and up-to-date contact details.
Step 3: right content to the right person at the right time
According to Aberdeen Group, best-in-class companies ensure their content is precisely aligned to target audiences’ buyer journeys. This relevancy facilitates a smoother transition through the sales funnel and can result in more conversions.
A good starting point is to segment the buyer journey into three distinct phases:
- Top of the funnel / initial research phase: blogs and infographics exploring broad industry issues can be very effective here. It’s fine to draw on third party research, but it’s not fine to start selling – save the product info for later.
- Middle of the funnel / exploring solutions: as buyers dig deeper into ways to address their business’ pain points, in-depth content such as White Papers and ebooks comes to the fore. It’s important to invest in your own assets here, rather than relying on third party material.
- Bottom of the funnel / selecting a vendor: now you can begin sharing more detailed product collateral, as well as case studies and ROI tools.
Step 4: score leads to generate more revenue
It may contradict existing practice in your organisation, but lead quality has to come before lead quantity. Handing a high volume of unqualified leads over to sales runs the risk of low conversion rates because a significant proportion of buyers won’t be ready to purchase. The upshot is that buyers could feel pestered when the sales team contacts them – and when they are ready to buy, it won’t be with you. What’s more, the sales team will associate marketing with the delivery of low quality leads.
Ideally, methods for scoring leads should be agreed in collaboration with the sales team. Criteria might include how well leads fit with established ‘best customer’ models or implicit factors such as social interactions, as well as traditional data surrounding demographics or budget.
A longer period of strategic nurturing by marketing results in a more efficient and successful sales process. And that’s got to be better for everybody.