A great read from a past edition of Connect magazine. Things have changed in the buyer’s journey and the time to adapt is now. It is more important than ever before that marketing and sales work together seamlessly.
First, the bad news: The sales cycle still requires a lot of time and money. Speaker and marketing and sales consultant M.H. (Mac) McIntosh says a study conducted a decade ago holds true today: It takes about five calls to close one sale and $350 or more per call in resources/man hours to make it happen. And it still requires finding leads, convincing them to meet, qualifying, getting and closing the opportunity and convincing the customer
to buy again.
“The steps are the same as they were 50 years ago, but the environment you’re selling in is vastly different,” says Linda Bishop, sales expert, speaker and author. But there’s good news: Through advances in marketing products, automated tracking tools and just plain better communication between team members, an organization can improve on its prospecting and the overall efficiency of its sales cycles.
Perhaps the biggest advantage today’s companies have is an increased scope of marketing tools. Variable data, automated systems and better ROI tracking help find qualified prospects quicker and begin the “dating” process of the sales cycle sooner. Marketing creates awareness, educates buyers prior to the sale about benefits and advantages and increases mindshare – so you are remembered. “All are required to get a serious shot at new business,” Bishop says.
Marketing should play an integral role, especially at the beginning of the sales cycle. “The idea of using marketing to handle the earlier parts of the sales cycle – prospecting, nurturing and qualifying steps – makes economic sense, because it frees up the salespeople to focus on being with prospects who are most likely to buy and do the demo, propose and close steps,” McIntosh says. “Those are where their one-on-one efforts are best invested.”
Replace a couple of those traditional sales calls with marketing activities, and you’ve saved hundreds of dollars and increased sales efficiency by 30 percent to 40 percent.
Marketing’s role is the macro side of the business – viewing clients as the herd. Pat Pallentino, director of the FSU Sales Institute at Florida State University, says you must ask what the herd behaviors are and the direction and overall size (value). “Sales” role is the micro side of the business – the hunter who is armed with all of the marketing’s intelligence and can, in the most efficient way, single out and capture the biggest prize in the herd.”
McIntosh says increased success with marketing also has led companies to consider the cost involved with other tactics, such as cold calling. “In my opinion [cold calling] is pretty much dead. It’s one of the most costly lead generation tactics today in B2B. People use it because they have nothing in the pipeline, and they can generate some results because they are playing the numbers game. If you call enough people, you might find interest.
But the cost per lead is really high. McIntosh says what works better than cold calling is integrated calling into a multi-touch system, meaning maybe you start with email with a respond call back, or continue to email and use direct
mail. He recommends a follow-up call once a quarter to see if you can engage and qualify the prospect.
But email can be a double-edged sword. “You have to be smart about how and when you send your emails,” McIntosh says.
“Sending useful, relevant content a couple times a month is better than emailing every day.”
The increase in emails has led to the resurgence in a more traditional tool. “Use letters as a way to introduce yourself,” Bishop says. “Buyers receive lots of emails. They don’t get many letters, so a letter stands out.”
During the recent “Great Recession,” sales teams were desperate for any sales and, thus, loosened their criteria for what counted as a qualified lead. Improvements in the economy and prospecting, in general, have allowed them to be more selective in what counts as a sales-ready lead. McIntosh suggests sales and marketing teams create a framework that gets approval from management on standard qualifications, but also allows room for flexibility.
Indeed, once a lead is generated and a prospect qualified, the hand-off shouldn’t be the end of communication between marketing and sales. Marketing should be able to use the company’s CRM system to see what’s working in generating leads.
“That’s sort of the closed-loop process of tracking and measuring activity,” McIntosh says. “Instead of bugging the sales folks for information on every lead, if they’re using CRM to track their own activities as sales management
is requiring it, they can often get that information right out of the CRM without having to ask the sales team.”
Intangibles in motion
Even with advances in technology and marketing techniques, a successful sales cycle still requires the intuition of a sales rep.
On one hand: “People are busy, they’re not sitting by the phone waiting for your call,” McIntosh says. “You have to be intelligent and diligent about your follow up.”
On the other hand, Bishop says, it’s important to recognize that if you’ve let too much time go by between calls, you’ll likely end up starting over.
A successful run through the sales cycle depends on individual talent, coupled with mastery of skills. “Some people can get the first meeting, but are weak at closing,” Bishop says. “Other salespeople struggle to get first meetings, but
find it easy to get an opportunity once they’re in the door. There is no single answer because people are selling, and everyone is unique.”