If you missed my first two blog posts, we’re halfway through a stretch of learning how to nurture a lead through a long sales cycle. To catch up, take a moment to read my overview blog and my blog about what you need to know about buyer personas.
In every industry, in every business segment, and in every company, each sales cycle is unique. Every company does something different to nurture a lead, which is a part of a company’s USP. Despite the differences, however, there are things that don’t vary in relation to long lead cycle nurturing: the number of sales necessary to achieve your goals, when to effectively nurture leads, and keeping reasonable expectations.
How Many Sales Do You Need?
Before you do ANYTHING, you need to understand your sales goals and how many prospects you need to close to reach them. It’s easiest to do this backward.
Say you need to close 10 new business deals in the fiscal year to reach your sales goals. On average, you close 10% of the leads that come through the door, which means you need to generate no fewer than 100 leads to be in that 10-new-business-deals window.
Keep in mind that if your sales cycle is 16 months, your company will need ramp it up to realistically achieve this goal. So if you’re just getting started with a marketing strategy in 2018, you’re really preparing your 2019 sales pipeline, too.
Nurturing the Prospect's Way
The biggest mistake companies and marketing agencies make is selling a prospect versus nurturing, marketing, and educating a prospect through their buyer’s journey. As you get deeper into the buyer’s journey, near the end of the consideration stage, this will shift, but consumers don’t want to be sold. They want to buy. If you went into Home Depot and were immediately accosted by an employee who was hard selling you on upgrading your kitchen, pushing you to buy today – you’d probably walk out, try to shake them, or tell them to shove it, right? That’s what I mean: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Prospects want to be treated as people, not just as another notch on your sales toolbelt.
Buyers want the power and control to make the best decision for them; they’re doing their due diligence to find the solution to their problem. Your job? To provide the education and resources they need to decide. But how do sales come your way if you’re simply educating them, you ask? Well, they like you. And they trust you.
If you’re new to inbound selling, this may have your head spinning. But think of it this way: would you rather have a customer that was essentially coerced into buying from you – or would you rather have a loyal customer from whom you’ve earned their undying trust? With the second option, you have more than a customer – you have an evangelist of your company, a walking testimonial for your business, practices, and ethics.
Set Your Expectations
Marketing is not a quick fix to fill the sales pipeline. Marketing takes a ramp-up period. That’s not an excuse on my part to delay tough questions from my clients – it’s just the truth. I have a client who’s average sales cycle is 18 months. It’s mind-boggling to me, and sometimes I have to reset my brain when leads aren’t closing as quickly as I’d like.
Sometimes your sales cycle will fool you. For my 18-month-sales-cycle client, for example, they closed a prospect in 3 months, and the new customer was a game changer for their business. It DOES happen, but don’t let exceptions cloud the rule.
If your average sales cycle is undefined, take a hefty sample of your client base (or all your current clients), and add the amount of time (days, weeks, or months) that it took to convert them from a prospect to a customer. Then divide that number by the number of customers in your sample. For example: 1,023 months divided by 66 clients = 15.5 months. That’s the average sales cycle. But remember – this is without the research phase, which is often unseen because the prospect has not raised their hand or expressed their interest to you.
Now that you understand the expectations you’ll likely face, you know your sales cycle, and you have your goals set, let’s talk about how to market to prospects.
When to Market
First, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the buyer’s journey and its three stages: the awareness, consideration, and decision stages.
The awareness stage is where a prospect is getting enlightened (for lack of a better word). They know there’s a mishap or a challenge in their business, and while they may have an idea of what’s going awry, they don’t have it defined quite yet.
In the consideration stage, the prospect has defined their challenge or mishap, and they’re researching multiple solutions to solve their problem.
In the decision stage, the prospect has narrowed down the possible solutions and is deciding, likely between two to three options.
It’s important to match content based on where your prospect is in their buyer’s journey. For instance, it would be a major turnoff to a prospect if you sent them a case study if they’re in the early part of the awareness stage.
I’ll talk more about this in my next blog, but this is where it’s crucial to have sales and marketing alignment. The sales team can help the marketing team by providing insight and content suggestions about common questions that prospects have during each stage. By teaming up and working together, the sales team can help the marketing team create the most beneficial content pieces, and the marketing team can provide qualified, well-educated prospects, based on the well-constructed content marketing pieces.
To tie it all together, it’s very important to know the length of your sales cycle and have reasonable expectations about how long it will take to nurture leads. As it relates to nurturing the sales cycle, keep the buyer’s journey in mind and provide content that’s closely related to where the prospect is in their journey. Don’t rush them; educate and nurture them through the end of their buying journey… and beyond!
Stay tuned for next month’s blog, where I’ll talk more about sales and marketing alignment and how this synergy relates to nurturing a long sales cycle.