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Buyer behavior has changed, marketing strategies have changed … has your sales cycle?
The power of the information age has changed the way people find products and services. With an endless supply of information available online, people no longer rely on sales reps to help identify problems and solutions. Instead, people do their own problem solving—analyzing product or service features, doing price comparisons and reading customer reviews.
According to a study by CEB, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to sales. Of course, this isn’t the end of the road for sales and marketing teams — far from it. The shift in consumer preferences has prompted many companies to change the way they promote products and services. According to HubSpot, 93% of companies that are using inbound marketing have increased lead generation.
By providing more information to the consumer upfront, inbound marketers help customers make decisions while still having an influence in their decision making process. However, this new method of targeting and helping potential customers has overlapped into traditional sales roles.
Here are four ways inbound marketing has changed the traditional sales cycle:
Instead of traditional prospecting through networking, cold-calls, or drop-in sales visits, inbound marketing draws prospects in by providing relevant, helpful content online that prospects are already searching for. In a survey by Roper Public Affairs, 80% of business decision-makers said they prefer to get information via articles. Inbound marketers study these decision-makers and the topics they’re interested in, then produce blog articles and other forms of content that are keyword-optimized to be found organically through search engines. Whether it’s through a search engine or shared via social media, prospects find the inbound content and are driven back to a blog or website for more content. Not only is this information intended to be helpful to prospects, it’s also helping marketers and sales reps build their database of contacts, and they can begin establishing a connection with them.
Inbound marketing delivers relevant content based on the prospect’s stage in the typical buyer’s journey. Throughout the decision making process, prospects within the marketing funnel are interested in different topics. First, they may be more interested in high-level topics that help them identify their exact problem or opportunity. Once identified, they may move on to topics that help them consider ways to solve their problem or seek out the opportunity. Finally, prospects begin to compare products and solutions and start to make a purchase decision. Inbound marketers are there every step of the way by identifying what stage prospects are in, delivering the right content, and offering the next step towards a solution. When prospects are qualified and deemed ready, they are handed off to sales. With a large enough inbound marketing funnel and enough content to nurture prospects into leads, the need for sales to manually qualify leads reduces. Forrester Research and Annuitas Group report that, when nurturing prospects, organizations can generate up to 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost — and those leads make 47% larger purchases, too.
By collecting the right information (such as pain points, business problems, etc.) from prospects throughout the inbound process, sales reps will have most of what they need for their initial conversation with leads. Sales reps can tailor their approach based on buyer needs before they even talk to the lead — reducing the amount of time needed to ask discovery questions. Of course, a big part of the sales process is building rapport and establishing a relationship, so asking the right needs-based questions and getting on the same page with potential customers is important. The point here is that, with inbound marketing, sales reps have more information about the prospect’s needs as they go into the first conversation.
In the shift to inbound marketing, marketing departments have a larger, more direct role in the sales cycle. Instead of simply collecting names and handing over to sales with little context, inbound marketing sets marketing and sales departments up to work more cohesively.
Both marketing and sales teams have insights on the best personas to target, the topics that will resonate with them, and how this information can be best summarized. By sharing these insights with each other, the two teams can collaborate together and use that information to develop content that will resonate with the targeted audience. Another benefit to creating the content together is that both teams will be aligned with the overall message behind it. So, when prospects read content, move through the funnel, and end up speaking with sales, the message and value proposition remains consistent.
When sales and marketing teams share the same tools, such as the HubSpot CRM, they can increase collaboration as well. Prospect, lead and customer information can help both teams understand the customer acquisition process, their role within it, and possibly ways to improve. If the sales department is getting more leads than they can handle, but they aren’t converting at a high rate, the marketing team could spend more time nurturing and qualifying. If the sales pipeline is dry and marketing has tons of prospects in the funnel, marketing could reduce the amount of qualification and start delivering more leads that may be less qualified. The point is that there is an optimal balance between the two departmental roles and it’s found more easily when both teams understand the process and work together.
Mike Wolfe is an associate consultant at SmartBug Media helping clients find success through inbound marketing.