This week I’ll continue my look, started with last week’s Blog, at Marketing’s contribution to sales pipeline and how the customer’s buying cycle must drive how Marketing interacts with them and helps Sales to identify and develop sales opportunities.
The simple buying cycle I set out in Part 1 is as follows:
- Understand Buyer behaviour
- Be found
- Convert interest to action
- Create a community of interest
- Nurture leads to create sales opportunities
- Support the sales process
- Retain and develop customers
I talked about the first three stages last week. These are about understanding and segmenting potential buyers; creating communications that enable your company to be found; and capturing interest so that it can be nurtured and developed into a sales opportunity.
Communities of Interest
I think of business communities as a self-selecting community with a set of business challenges and/or responsibility for operational or strategic assets which leads them to seek further information with which to educate and influence their purchasing decisions. They may be involved in a purchasing cycle, but typically community behaviour is more likely prior to formal acquisition processes and particularly post-sale. Today generalised social communities such as Facebook and LinkedIn exist, within which communities of interest (‘Groups’) can be created. In B2B high-tech circles, media groups, such as TechTarget, continue to promote subject-specific communities. But the challenge facing Marketing is to use this community paradigm to nurture its own database of opted-in contacts. With the right content and a good understanding of information needs – based both on behavioural tracking and the information volunteered by respondents – we can push out relevant information, or make it available on a personalised landing page URL (PURL) and track response.
What is a lead?
This may seem like a strange question, but I can guarantee that what Marketing calls a lead and what Sales expect from a lead are two different things. This handover point from Marketing to Sales is always a bone of contention, often exacerbated by Marketing having to hit lead targets that bear no relationship to sales outcomes. If Marketing is the owner of prospect ‘touches’ until such time as the prospect (or more accurately to this point, the ‘suspect’) is ready to consider alternatives and shortlist, then how to identify this point is a priority and can only be achieved when Marketing and Sales sit down together. In a complex sale, the nurturing process can be measured in months, so it requires a comprehensive nurturing strategy from Marketing using multiple communications channels and highly focused content. Twitter, Blogs, news stories, white papers, newsletters, video and interactive media are likely to be key content/ channels along with email, events and seminars. Contact-level database tracking and lead scoring will be essential to manage the nurturing process.
Support the Sales Process
Sales will pick up and continue the dialogue with prospects that Marketing has started. Particularly at the initial sales engagement, whether by telephone and email or in person, the messages must be consistent and deliver on the brand promise carefully developed over weeks and months. All sales support material must facilitate this process and be developed in close cooperation with Sales. Later in the sales engagement, Marketing should be working closely with Sales to understand how it can support pipeline velocity: opportunities can get qualified out, slowed down or lost. Marketing has an armoury of weapons to help with opportunities that get stuck at various points in the sales process, such as ‘short listed’ or ‘proof of concept’. By automating the end-to-end pipeline process, Marketing should have a real-time dashboard that provides data on what is going on and provide input to Sales and Marketing discussions about what is being done. This is not just a Sales management responsibility. Rejected leads, opportunities qualified out and lost deals should be recycled and inform the marketing strategy.
Retain and Develop Customers
Realising customer value, building customer loyalty, and thereby expanding deployment of products and services in B2B environments is a key strategy for high-tech suppliers. In fact, in such a highly innovative industry, with the resulting short product lifecycles, this ‘land and expand’ strategy is critical to reduce the on-going costs of customer acquisition. Often profits are lower on the initial sale with an expectation of growing this business. Marketing needs to understand how this strategy will be deployed and how interaction with customers is different from that used with prospects. It requires a more joined-up approach since the customer’s day-to-day experiences will now be handled by Operations (or Support and Services). How do today’s customer interactions help identify opportunities for expansion and how does Marketing leverage these? Internal seminars, Intranets, executive events, case studies, networking and internal success stories can all be used in post-sales situations, but the focus once more has to be on engaging with Sales and Support to incorporate Marketing communications into the overall customer engagement strategy.
Marketing can often get hung up on short term tactics and short term targets which are not aligned to actual pipeline performance. By understanding the customer journey throughout his buying cycle, tactics can be better targeted at particular stages in the journey to meet specific quantifiable ends.