Six Ways Marketing Can Shrink the Sales Cycle

Sales CycleI often talk about how B2B marketing and lead-to-revenue (L2R) can be massively beneficial to enabling your sales team to meet its revenue targets. And one of the most important things you can do for sales (and your company) is to reduce the sales cycle. I wrote about this topic in June 2015, but wanted to offer some updated thoughts on the subject.

We define the sales cycle as the time it takes for the average prospect (if there is such a thing!) to progress from initial engagement to close of business. In some industries (e.g. enterprise software or industrial machinery), this cycle can be as long as 12-18 months and requires a large amount of time from the sales team. In others (e.g. Amazon.com), the cycle can be measured in minutes and requires little or no personal time from the seller.

Often, people don’t really know how long their sales cycle is — only describing it as “long” or “too long”. The problem is, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. A manual way to find this out is to take the last 20 or so deals and calculate the average sales cycle by determining the length of time between first contact by your sales team and close of the sale.

Note that it’s important not to confuse the length of the buying cycle with the sales cycle. Prospects may be doing research, perusing your website, reading reviews, etc., for some time before they engage with someone at your company. The traditional sales model utilized reps at every stage of the process, leading to much longer sales cycles.

As the below graphic  shows –  today’s prospect will often engage with you only after completing several of the initial steps themselves. They will have self-qualified, conducted their own needs assessment and educated themselves at least somewhat on the attributes, pricing and other details about your offer.

New Sales ModelThe point is that by the time prospects engage with someone on your sales team, they are often several steps along the purchase path and thus the effective sales cycle is reduced by 50 percent or more. Many of the people who came to your website have decided on their own that your solution is not right for their needs — they have disqualified themselves or postponed their decision. This is perfectly okay and assuming they have opted in for one of your offers, you get the chance to nurture them over time and perhaps make a sale in the future.

So how can you accomplish shrinkink the sales cycle while maintaining a strong close rate? In addition to your digital marketing initiatives, here are six effective strategies that have been shown to have positive impact:

  1. Identify target segments carefully. This is important because the more time sales reps spend with people/companies that are legitimate prospects, the more successful they will be.
  2. Deliver qualified leads. There are two ways to do this. First, by being very specific about who your product/service is best suited for (the prospect self-qualification model). Second, by implementing a lead qualification filter to keep unqualified prospects away from the sales team. You can do this with an automated lead-scoring system (less expensive) or with a more expensive but also more effective personal lead qualification process.
  3. Present a powerful message. As with our first two strategies, the idea is to attract the right prospects and let the others go before they use valuable rep time. Your brand promise, value proposition and benefits must be compelling, differentiated and crystal clear. You can find many good ideas on how to do this by downloading this paper on Brand Awareness.
  4. Understand the buyer’s “compelling events”. By this, I mean the factors that are most likely to lead to a sale.  What are the triggers that can motivate the buyer to purchase now? What are the consequences if they decide not to change? How can we put our offer(s) in front of the prospect when the motivations and/or consequences are greatest?
  5. Let your website do some of the heavy lifting. As illustrated by the second sales process graphic above, the right website content can assist prospects at three or more stages of the buying journey. Particularly useful content includes frequently asked questions (FAQs), product specifications, pricing (if that fits your sales model) and how-to guides (both how to use and how to buy).
  6. Provide the right sales enablement tools. By sales enablement tools, I mean anything that helps sales reps educate prospects or themselves, overcome objections, move the sales process forward and capture relevant information. Examples include product training, sales training, competitive analyses and a “knowledge base” of instantly available content.

Follow these half dozen strategies and watch your sales cycle shrink and your overall results dramatically improve.

Are You Practicing Sales Enablement or Sales Disablement?

Sales GrowthWe marketers like to think we are making a big contribution to revenue, but in fact, we may be doing all kinds of interesting stuff but being perceived as inefficient when it comes to truly enabling sales. The operative word here is “perceived” because regardless of what we are actually doing (and accomplishing), perception is what will guide our future in the organization. To put this another way, we not only have to do the right stuff, but also prove that the stuff we are doing has beneficial impact on sales.

Our job as marketers is to minimize complexity and help simplify the salesperson’s job, not overcomplicate it with more systems, processes and digital paperwork. So what can we do to enable sales without making their lives more difficult? Here are six suggestions that are guaranteed to increase your sales enablement effectiveness and marketing department’s value.

  1. Generate a steady stream of qualified leads. Yes, I know this is easier said than done but good leads are the lifeblood of the B2B sales organization.
  2. Have a great website that educates prospects, makes them more receptive and shortens the sales cycle.
  3. If marketing is responsible for the lead qualification process, do this quickly, accurately and relentlessly. Sales will love you for this!
  4. Help the sales team message correctly – with timely product training and by providing branding statements and messaging templates (e.g. email and presentations) that are compelling and consistent.
  5. Produce quality collateral that helps optimize every stage of the sales process.
  6. Organize collateral in a simple content management system (CMS) that lets reps quickly find the latest assets. Please choose one that is easy to use, not full of overly-complex features.

David Brock, President at Partners In EXCELLENCE, offers a great perspective on sales enablement with his recent post, Stop!, Your Help Is Killing Me!. Paraphrasing slightly, David says that when trying to help sales, we layer on training, tools, systems, processes, programs, and support teams, including content management systems, marketing automation, email, social selling, research tools, account planning, call planning, e-learning, territory management — and on and on. All of these tools are oriented to help sales people be more informed, prepared, productive, effective, and efficient. But in the spirit of being helpful, our own organizations are making our lives much more complex and difficult! Unintentionally, by giving sales people more, we are overwhelming them, often causing them to produce less.

One of my pet peeves is that, too often, the systems we foist upon the sales department are so complex and burdensome that they damage productivity and frustrate reps that would otherwise make their numbers. Marketing ProcessEdward Deming certainly had this right. It is much better to start with simple, efficient processes and then implement the right technology to automate these processes.

In the interest of candor, there is one additional factor to keep in mind. The person/people who will be most vocal about marketing’s contribution (or lack of contribution) to revenue may not always have your best interests in mind. Examples of this include the Sales VP who missed his/her numbers and wants someone else to share the blame, or the CFO who thinks the company finances would benefit from cutting your budget in half. This is why you must be impeccable not only in carrying out your mission but also in collecting the metrics that prove that you are keeping up with the service level agreement (SLA) you negotiated with your Sales counterpart.

How B2B Marketing Supports Sales Enablement

Sales EnablementThere is a lot of industry buzz around the term “sales enablement.” This is terrific because the marketing department should always be concerned about how it can help the sales department achieve its revenue objectives. But truth be told, there is a lot of confusion about just what sales enablement is and how it benefits both sales and the entire organization.

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