How long is your typical sales cycle? For high end B2B sales teams, it can take months, if not years, to finally close that big-ticket sale. In an earlier post this year, I pointed out some passive ways to find the right leads and help them decide to buy from you. In this post we'll take a look at the fundamental reasons for the "close gap" and suggest some easy ways to accelerate buy decisions with inbound marketing and lead nurturing working together with human touch points.
Pricing and competitive factors come into play, but some of the reluctance to close today may not be related to your products and services at all. Here are some common issues:
Now, how can inbound marketing help to reduce or eliminate some of these factors and shorten the sales cycle?
Stop talking about how great your products are and start talking about how they solve problems for your buyers. Demonstrate real examples of success where a customer had these very same concerns (see above) and benefited by a quicker, more streamlined decision. It's fair game to ask your customers for this information, after all, they benefit when their prospects read or hear about how proactive and aggressive they are in their markets.
Invite your customers to participate with you in a webinar that addresses the pain points you helped them overcome and how they did it. Show timelines and results. Talk about milestones and ROI. Your mission is to show the benefits of decisiveness and rapid action. We often talk about the end results, but how often do we emphasize time-to-market or short term gains in market share? Especially for early stage companies, these factors are crucial to survival and next-stage investment. For more mature companies, leanness and productivity improvement are natural outcomes from a more flexible, decisive approach.
You only have so much marketing bandwidth, so allocate it wisely. Is your lead nurturing strategy aimed at pleasing your "fan base," the people who follow you and subscribe to your content but don't necessarily buy? Are you generating lots of content for these folks in the hope that someday they will evolve into customers? Maybe you should spend less time on top and mid funnel content for the general masses and more time on identifying real prospects in your funnel and nurturing them with more targeted content with specific solutions for their needs.
There has been so much emphasis on "touchless" marketing in recent years, have we become afraid to pick up the phone? In the near future we will have personalized websites available for custom user experience, but this is not the equivalent of a real conversation. If a warm lead has converted on several content marketing opportunities and has included a valid phone number, they're inviting you to call them. There should be no doubt that direct communication has huge advantages over email, text and tweets. The sooner you start forging real relationships by phone or in person, the shorter your sales cycle becomes. Having said that, make sure your calls are consultive in nature, not salesy, and don't forget to follow up with valuable BOFU content.
You know that the push-back issues are coming. They always do. Prospects will bring up all of the above reasons for not purchasing now. Some of them are legitimate reasons, others are excuses to postpone a risky decision. If you have a great answer for each pain point, you are ready to move them to the next stage in the sales cycle. An example might be the demo or testing phase. Take away the uncertainty up-front by offering a free trial for a limited time with a caveat that the trial must be accompanied by consulting with one of your sales or services reps on a regular basis. Require that trial users commit to achieving certain goals within the trial period and review them on the phone or in person at the end.
When it comes down to getting buy-in from Senior Management, especially on the big accounts, you need to fight fire with fire. Get your Senior Managers involved and have them meet with their equivalents on the customer side. In most cases, executives will respect each other's time commitment and the importance of the deal to both parties. If they don't, it may be time to cut your losses and move on. Give your prospects a sneak peek at your roadmap to assure them that you are aggressively leading the market in the right direction. Once the sleeves get rolled up, your team can iron out the issues and delays and put together a deal that will close soon and last.
Finally, as in all things inbound marketing, measure your performance. Track the duration of the sales cycle from first touch to signature on the dotted line. Look for relationships with your lead nurturing strategy, content, events and personnel. Shortening the sales cycle has many benefits including profitability, stability, risk mitigation and growth. Don't assume that your sales cycle is set in stone and driven by your buyers. You can be an important part of the solution.
Photo credit: Seth W.
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