I’m going to talk about conducting online commerce today. And with the exception of this paragraph, I’m not going to mention shopping carts or credit cards . . . SET or SSL . . . shipping dates or catalogs.
I’m going to talk about the sales cycle. About companies that sell million-dollar satellite payloads, or $250,000 enterprise software licenses, or fleets of 18-wheelers, or nationwide ATM installations. About sales forces trying to uncover, pursue and close qualified leads. About companies whose sales process has nothing to do with online transactions and everything to do with shortening the amount of time it takes their professional sales force to turn a lead into a customer.
I’m going to talk about shortening the sales cycle, and about how online marketers like us can help.
CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
I often hear complaints from marketing groups about how the sales force hates them. And I often hear complaints from the sales force about how the marketing groups don’t support them. The marketing folks think the sales force is short-sighted. The sales force thinks the marketing folks are trivial.
But really, there’s a common enemy . . . and if we turn and focus our attention on that enemy, everyone’s going to win. The common enemy is not the competition … or lack of good collateral … or high barriers to entry … or limited press pickups … or ineffective lead generation methods … or lousy booth positions … or overly strong prospect resistance levels.
The common enemy is time.
THE SALES FORCE’S FOCUS
For your sales force, there are two defining moments in the sales cycle (we’ll talk about that cycle in a second):
- The Moment of Qualification, when a qualified prospect is identified from the herd of leads generated by marketing.
- The Moment of Closing, when a deal is signed.
Everything else — all the hassles and questions, hand holding and hoop jumping, meetings and letters, credit evaluations and proposals — everything else your sales team must endure between those two key moments takes time.
Time your sales force should be spending pursuing the holy grail of Qualification and Closing.
Time you can use the web to eliminate.
LEARN THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR SALES CYCLE
Marketers: Sales cycles vary dramatically from industry to industry and situation to situation; they’re influenced by many factors. Have you asked your sales people to chart the model of their sales cycle? If not, you should. If you have, my guess is it looks something like this:
FACES AND PHASES
Once you’ve modeled your sales cycle, profile the people who drive that cycle — your sales force meets different groups or individuals at different points along the buyer’s cycle. And these people have requirements. Delivering what they want — before they tell you they want it — is where this web strategy really pays off.
What follows is my own broad characterization of the influencers your sales force will meet along the way, and what they’ll want. (Knowing this information about your company is critical to effective strategic marketing, online and off.)
Satisfying all these needs takes a ton of time. Time to deliver on promises made in meetings. Time to set up demonstrations. Time to gather supporting data — even competitive data. Time to sit with purchasing agents and contract managers. Time to write and rewrite proposals.
Time your sales force would be better off not spending.
Time you can remove by web-enabling the buyer’s cycle.
LET THE WEB SPIN THE WHEELS
Now we bring in the web, to bring together the cycle and the people who drive the cycle.
A web-supported sales cycle can help your sales force develop a faster and deeper understanding of the habits of your prospects.
For instance, much of my own sales cycle occurs on the web. All my proposals are delivered online, in secured areas. I know (through my access logs) the exact moment in time when someone’s read the proposal. (So my follow up never has to begin with the phrase, “Have you had a chance yet to read .”)
I know which areas of the proposal are of the most interest, and can interpret what that interest means in terms of my next approach (someone who goes to the “Cost” area first has a different mindset than someone who goes to the “Goals” or “Strategies” section first). I know which areas have no interest (if they don’t download a PDF file of my designer’s portfolio I can assume they will be looking elsewhere for tactical resources – an important piece of intelligence). That makes my entire sales process more focused and efficient from the moment it begins.
Just because you’re not selling products with low price points and commodity structures — products with prices that end with “99” to the right of the decimal point — doesn’t mean you’re not — or should not be — conducting commerce on the internet. As online marketers, our mission is to apply the internet to our business. And that includes supporting the field-reps and their prospects in their sales cycles.
As marketers, there are a number of things we can do to support the sales force in accomplishing their vital sales goals. If we did more of that, I daresay we’d convert the sales force from the enemy camp to the allied force.
If we did more of that that we’d have them eating out of our hands, instead of just trying to eat our lunch.
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