Do you know that Susie Hewer holds the Guinness record in a sport called extreme Marathon knitting? It’s a combination of knitting while running a full Marathon. In 2007, running to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK in her mum’s memory, she managed to knit a 2-metre scarf by the time she hit the finish line.
While we admire Susie for her amazing ability to combine two pretty complex skills, we lull our skulls in amazement when we see how many businesses fall short of their goals by trying to combine obsolete marketing skills in a world in which those skills don’t work.
In the words of the American moral and social philosopher, Eric Hoffer, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
Many businesses fail due to outdated marketing methods.
They have amazing products and services, but are unable to take them to the market.
Many businesses base their operation on 100% outbound marketing, that is, chasing after the market and running the dreaded sales gauntlet…
- Respond to incoming enquiry
- Meet buyer
- Submit proposal
- Revise proposal at buyer’s request
- Re-submit and revise a few more times
- Buyer goes on radio silence
- Chasing buyer
- Buyer vanishes like a grey donkey in the thick fog
- Some more chasing depending on seller’s level of desperation
This shuffling madness of chasing buyers can take as much as 185 hours of human interaction, and the problem is that the people who do the chasing are pretty well paid, so this is a pretty expensive process.
Sadly, many business owners write up this mindless pursuit of business as the normal cost of doing business, and instead of re-evaluating their methods, they just keep doing it… often even harder and longer.
And, while the marketing people, in their posh corner offices on the fourth floor, work on fancy logos and slogans and get praised by management, salespeople, working in their dingy cubicles in the basement, get repeatedly beaten up for pathetic performance.
So, where is the problem?
- According to Hubspot Research, salespeople spend only 34% of their time selling. The rest is eaten up by data entry, researching leads, attending unnecessary meetings, training and reading various paperwork.
- Fewer than 20% of sales and marketing departments are truly collaborative. (CMO Council. “Closing the Gap: The Sales and Marketing Alignment Imperative”. 2008).
- What makes the situation even worse is that 63% of executives believe that the solution is more sales training (Proudfoot Consulting. “2008 Proudfoot Productivity Report”).
They fail to realize that declining sales is the effect caused by flawed marketing.
The other extreme form of marketing is when companies swear by 100% inbound marketing, and don’t do anything proactive. They just sit in their offices and wait for the phone to ring. But it doesn’t ring.
When companies use either 100% inbound or 100% outbound marketing, they have to prepare themselves for long and dragged-out lead nurturing phases, often getting nowhere.
So, we want to increase a few factors here…
- The speed of lead conversion
- The probability of lead conversion
- The perception of value in preparation for the first purchase
So, what is the secret?
Jill Konrath has the answer in her book, SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers.
In a nutshell: To accelerate the sales cycle, you have to slow down the sales process. Well, it’s exactly like dating.
The problem is that many business owners are more faithfully wed to their methods than to their set goals. They’re willing to sacrifice their goals in order to keep their well-worn methods no matter how outdated they may be.
In many companies, unless you make 100 cold calls a day, you get fired no matter how much new business you bring in.
The other problem is that, coming mainly from academia, companies are evaluated on the wrong metrics. Two of the top evaluation criteria are gross revenue and headcount.
A big company with lots of people must be a real success story, whereas a solo consultant is often regarded as a loser who is too stupid to find a job. Even if the consultant far out-earns the big company on a profit per employee basis.
So, how can we slow down the sales process and accelerate the sales cycle?
Inbound marketing is built on this very concept. It speeds up the sales cycle, but from the prospect’s perspective, it’s a pleasant and enjoyable process.
How can that happen?
It’s the perception.
If you drive a Mercedes Maybach at 200 km/h on a notoriously high-quality Autobahn in Germany, you reach your destination quickly but refreshed and energized.
But if you drive the same distance in a Kia on one of the so-called highways in Albania, you reach your destination slowly and somewhat bruised. Maybe even dead. Who knows.
It’s not the speed that kills you (I know this is what the government tells us) but the quality of the vehicle and the road.
In inbound marketing, your funnel is the road and your message is the vehicle that moves prospects forward.
But everything starts with the fact that…
The Internet Has Changed the Buying Process
Once upon a time before the Internet age, buyers depended on salespeople for vital pieces of information on purchases.
In high-tech. for instance, salespeople received preponderance of information from equipment manufacturers, which buyers didn’t have access to.
As a result, buyers were eager willing to meet salespeople to learn about new developments in their industries. And that was also the time when salespeople were trained to use strong-arm techniques and various closing tricks to close their meetings and return to base with signed and approved purchase orders.
But where did it all start?
A Quick Review of How Sales Has Evolved
The Age of The Peddler
This age dates back to the 1950s, but originates from the 19th century peddlers who would drive their wagons all over the land, filled with various products, stopping at towns and hawking their wares.
The goal was to sell the inventory as quickly and in any way possible. The main method was hard-core persuasion. Some books that best describe this age are 1001 Power Closes, The Customer Who Can’t Say No! or Sizzlemanship. Typical movies that represent this age are Boiler Room, The Wolf of Wall Street, Glengarry Glenn Ross or Death of a Salesman.
Peddler age salespeople were heavily scripted and the agendas for sales meetings were whatever salespeople wanted.
Prospects were regarded as deer in the headlight doing exactly what salespeople manipulated them to do.
The main role of the peddler was a persuader.
Peddler age sales training focused on presenting, handling objections and closing.
Sadly, peddler age selling is still alive and well. See car dealerships, telemarketing agencies or multilevel marketing companies.
The peddler age was clearly a win-lose deal. Win for sellers and lose for buyers.
The Age of Scientific Selling
This is the movement that Dale Carnegie started in the early 20th century.
He started taming sales by embedding different phases by building various stages in the process: Rapport- building, fading the prospect’s pain, agitate the pain, present solution, overcome objections and close.
He was also one of the first proponents of the early stage consultative selling: Pretend you’re on the prospect’s side, and she lowers her guard, then bring in your biggest guns and bludgeon her into submission with your closing tricks. Then take and run away with as much of her money as humanly possible.
Then in the 1970s, Larry Wilson (The “Counselor Approach”) Mack Hanan (“Consultative Approach”) started building respect for the buyer into the process.
Hard-core presenting and objection handling was replaced with questioning and listening. The goal of questioning was to fully understand prospects’ problems and give them the best solutions.
The main job of the salesperson in the age of scientific selling was that of a problem solver and in was based on win-win.
Parts of this style of selling is still used, but as buys’ sophistication levels has increased over the years, this style of selling has been modified too.
Objections handling and closing have become subtler, and ever-increasing emphasis is given to listening.
In Professional Services Marketing, authors Mike Schultz, John E. Doerr and Lee W. Frederiksen report that, in the wold of professional services, the top three client complaints are…
- Did not listen to me: 38%
- Did not respond to my requests in a timely manner: 30%
- Did not understand my needs: 30%
All three are sales problems, so no matter how you improve your marketing, the problem is still there.
The percentage breakdown of the first two sales ages are
- 5% Qualification
- 15% Needs analysis
- 35% Presentation
- 45% Closing
Also note that buying decisions are made at the 100% mark, at the very end of the process, after sellers have invested a lot of time, money and effort to discover what buyers want and whether or not they can do business together.
The Age of Trust- And Value-Based Selling
Then the age of trust-based selling came in the mid-late 1990s with tectonic changes.
The goal was no longer how sellers can to hawk as much of their products as possible, but establish whether or not a buyer and a seller have a mutually beneficial basis for working together.
From providers of products or services, many sellers started evolving to the level of source of business advantage and business improvement experts.
Subject matter expertise and industrial experience in their target markets’ industries have become more and more important for sellers.
In the past, marketing was regarded as the brain of the company and sales as the muscle. Salespeople were merely implementers of marketing people’s ideas. And this is why many companies kept sales and marketing people separately and paid them drastically differently.
And when the company fell short of its projections, it was the salespeople who got beaten and penalised.
At this age of selling, salespeople are also considered as strategists, helping their clients to find the best solutions to their problems.
Another huge change is that salespeople start thinking about margins, COGS and other financial data that contribute their companies’ profitability.
In trust-based selling, the percentage breakdown is…
- 10% Discovery – Do we have a mutually beneficial basis for working?
- 40% Diagnosis – A collaborative process of diagnosing the buyer’s current situation
- 35% Design – Highly collaborative and interactive solution design
- 15% Delivery – A co-created solution jointly created and implemented by buyer and seller
This approach leads to much more stable relationships.
Buying decision is made at the 30-50% mark of the process, during the diagnosis.
Trust-based selling also has something other sales approaches don’t: Sellers often reject certain buyers.
Sellers start developing qualification steps, and buyer have to jump through hoops to work with sellers.
Ages of selling summary
(1955 – 1975)
(1975 – 1995)
(1995 – ?)
|Tools||Sales script||Questions||Business diagnosis|
|Skills||Dog and pony show (Present and close, close, close)||Rapport building, product [content] knowledge,||Business skills and project management|
|Role||Persuader, manipulator||Problem solver||Trusted advisor, business improvement expert|
Sadly, many businesses have got stuck in the peddler age of the age of scientific selling, and their “rewards” are RFP battles and the pleasure of chasing after reluctant and often apathetic buyers who to run and hide from sellers.
What we can also state with full confidence is that over the ages of selling, buyers have become more suspicious, skeptical and cynical of sellers’ intentions.
Yes, business is all about buying and selling, but buyers have learnt that many sellers use just about any method to make a buck. So…
Buyers Do Their Level Best to Avoid Salespeople
I’ve found eight reasons, but there may be even more.
Buyers Are Worried About Meeting Aggressive, Manipulative, “Bulldog” Salespeople
According to the IDC Executive Advisory Group’s report, IT Buyers Speak Out, April 2010…
“Sales reps are unable to put aside the generic sales pitch to have deeper conversations with their prospects/customers.”
So buyers’ fear is fully justified.
And when you look at career ads for salespeople, you see the character traits companies are looking for in salespeople are aggressive, persistent, able to handle rejections, good hunter, have a bulldog mentality: Never let prospects go, etc.
Now, after reading this, who in his right mind wants to meet salespeople?
In Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: The Demise of 20th Century Selling & the Advent of Helping Clients Succeed, Mahan Khalsa writes that deceiving sales practices (objection handling, closing tricks, etc.) have created deceptive buying practices (RFPs).
And buying practices can change only after selling practices change.
Buyers Have Access to All the Information They Need
Buyers can isolate themselves from salespeople. Any new piece of information they need is available on the web, so, salespeople have become almost obsolete.
Buyers search the web, select companies and contact sellers when they are ready to buy, not when sellers are ready to sell.
This is also a more powerful dynamic than begging for appointment.
Buyers’ Are Already Incredibly Busy
According to the International Association of Professional Organizers, the average buyer has 59 hours of “urgent” work on her desk at any one time. If you add to this that a typical B2B sale over $10,000 can involve as many as 22 decision-makers on the buyer’s side alone, you can see what sort of proverbial concrete wall salespeople banging their heads against when trying to meet buyers.
And add some more interesting, well, rather scary facts.
A typical B2B sale over $35,000 takes 5.12 sales calls to close, but on a weekly basis, a typical B2B buyer takes 4.61 telephone calls and grants 1.81 in-person meetings with salespeople.
And consider how many sellers “court” the same buyers. So, you can guess your chances.
Buyers Have Lots of Questions, But Salespeople Offer Only Hard Pitches
Buyers have lots of questions to sus out what to expect from the seller company. It’s normal due diligence.
But instead of real answers, all they get is pitch questions, like “What can I do to have you buy right now.”, “How can we earn your business right now?”
Since, due to differences in compensation methods, buyers and sellers have opposing agendas, buyers often conclude that it’s better not to meet sellers at all and hire them through rigid processes, like RFP.
Buyers Are Fed Up with Canned Dog-And Pony Sales Presentations
After having sat through over 1300 hours of sales presentation, I can confidently say they are almost identical.
The same self-centred pablum on nice PowerPoint slides.
In 10 minutes, the audience is bored out its skull.
And the meeting ends on, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you”.
But of course, the call never comes.
Yet, salespeople hope the next presentation would be better.
There Is No Peer-Level Connection
More often than not, buyers are some of the most highly trusted and respected members of their companies looking out for the long-term success of their companies.
By contrast, salespeople are seller company’s lowest level, least trusted, least respected and most rapidly coming and going people looking out for the next sale.
Tom Stevenson and Sam Barcus write in The Relationship Advantage: Become a Trusted Advisor and Create Clients for Life… The incident happened at one of their workshops at IBM.
“That’s us! The first thing we ask new employees in my organization to do when we hire them is to sell! We delegate the responsibility of acquiring relationships to these people, and our top managers assume very little accountability for executive relationships. We have no objective way to measure the quality of relationships they build. We only measure their quota performance. If they make quota for a few short years, we promote them and let them manage. I can see now why we are so overmatched when we encounter consultants in our accounts.”
Buying companies hire consultants as go-betweens to protect buyers from salespeople.
In this new world of selling, prospects want to meet respected experts, not glib, glad-handed salespeople and want to assess chemistry with experts before hiring them.
There is a clear conflict in objectives. Sellers want to make quick and easy sales and swiftly move on to other prospects and flog something to them too. But buyers want to make sure they make the right decisions and buyer the right products or services.
And since salespeople’s commissions are calculated on the percentage of revenues, in order to make the sale, they drop the price as low as they still make money, although the company may lose its shirt in the process.
Buyers Don’t Want to Partner with Sellers
Sellers want to partner with their clients, but clients don’t.
Even if they work towards the same objectives, they are collaborators but not partners.
The shepherd and the sheepdog are collaborators in shepherding the flock, but they’re not partners.
By definition, partners gain or lose together. Salespeople don’t lose when their clients do. So, they can’t be partners.
So, what to do to make sure your salespeople don’t look, sound and smell like hungry peddlers?
- Pay them a decent base pay. In B2B, the courting period (the contact to contract cycle) can be pretty long and your salespeople have to paint your company in the best light. Starving salespeople who are worried about their next mortgage payment can’t do that. They look and feel failure, and buyers instantly pick up the clues.
- Forget about sales territories. Segment your sales force based on buyers’ problems they solve. In an IT firm, salesperson A may specialize in backup and data recovery, salesperson B on web security and salesperson C on Microsoft Office problems… regardless of territory. This way your salespeople become business improvement specialists, which from buyers’ perspectives is more valuable than being a salesperson.
- Develop a multi-step client onboarding process that communicate to buyers that they have to jump through some hoops to meet a business improvement specialist, a.k.a. a salesperson.
- Get your salespeople trained in both subject matter English and boardroom English and including finances (Khan Academy, Lynda.com, etc.), including reading the holy trinity of financial statements (balance sheet, cash flow statement and Profit & loss statement). Remember, buyers include both subject matter and business experts with advanced degrees, and your salespeople have to be able to converse with them.
- Equip your salespeople with the kind of tools and accessories that represent the success level your company wants to project. Buyers form pretty bad opinions of companies represented by worn-down salespeople in cheap suits.
Now that we’ve looked at the sales process from the buyer’s side of the table, we can start…
Stepping Through the B2B Buying Stages
When you look at the B2B buying cycle, you see three distinctive stages: Awareness, Consideration and Decision.
By registering for a piece of content (Qualifying hurdle #1), that is entering the seller’s sales funnel, people enter as unqualified leads. Yes, the registration doesn’t mean much qualification, but something. This is the reason for the seeming discrepancy.
At this stage, they need the kind of content that opens their eyes to reassessing their situation and recognise the indicators that can reveal the kind of problems that your company solves.
For instance, this is where a cardiac surgeon talks about numbness in the lower jaw, and indicator of cardiovascular problems.
After passing qualifying hurdle #2, the leads are marketing qualified. By this time, leads know they have problems, so you have to give them content about solutions. Remember, at this point, buyers want to solve their own problems in-house.
For instance, knowing the astronomical price of surgery, the cardiac surgeon’s would-be patients still hope they can solve their cardiovascular issues at home. In the worst case, uncle Fred, who is a chef, can perform a quick surgery on the kitchen table with a bread knife.
At some point in the consideration stage, the MQL is passed on to sales and becomes a sales accepted lead (SAL). At this point, salespeople start qualifying the lead.
At this point, leads need the type of content that has more copy elements that sells the considered solution. At this point, pure content is not enough.
What pure content does at this point is that it keeps leads at the same point without advancing them towards the decision-making point.
Then, after passing qualifying hurdle #3, the lead becomes sales qualified.
Using dating lingo, at this point, dating multiple partners become a 1-to-1 relationship. By now, the buyer has much more than a passing interest in working with your company. We’re very close to commitment.
At this point, buyers need more information about your process of delivering your product or rendering your service. By this time, content pieces have been replaced with sales documents, like data sheets and proposals.
And the in qualifying hurdle #4, provided your business is positioned well, you, the seller decide whether or not you accept this new client.
This may sound strange, but you should never accept new clients just because they chuck money at you. You should have the spinal, intestinal and testicular fortitude, well, spine, guts and balls, to reject inappropriate buyers. The last word should be yours.
Because there are hundreds or even thousands potential clients in your buyer’s industry, but only one of your company.
Clients must feel privileged to be your clients.
Once people have entered the sales funnel and expressed some interest in sellers’ products/services, we’ve arrived at…
The Stage of Nurturing
In plain English, nurturing is a seduction process to make sure the maximum number of people go through the sales funnel and end up buying something.
Many years ago, French philosopher. Voltaire said, “Sometimes you have to conquer, sometimes to seduce.”
And here lies the purpose of nurturing.
You’ve conquered people when they enter your sales funnel. And from that point on, you have to seduce them to make sure they don’t run away from your funnel. Well, that the nurturing process.
We know that the whole sales process is a function of the relations we can build during the nurturing process.
And the quality of the relationship is defined by the number of touch point over time and the communicated message.
But no matter how many touches you have if your message is a down and dirty sales pitch, like “Hey, wanna buy my stuff?”
Impact on The Sales Cycle
The more intelligent touch points (contact through intelligent messages) you have, shorter you can make the actual buying cycle, without shortening the perceived length of the cycle.
Prospects receive follow-up messages from you fairly often, but due to the nature of the messages, they are enjoyable to read and don’t come across as sales pitches.
Following the Fibonacci sequence (discussed later), in two weeks (0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13), you can send out eight follow-up messages which are more than enough to build a good relationship. From message #4 or #5, you can start inserting a bit more personality. Buyers want to know the person behind the business.
Just like me, many of my clients are military vets, extreme sports maniacs or homestead enthusiasts.
The best comparison I can make is that the buyer’s journey inside the sales funnel should be like lovemaking. Totally enjoyable with the time standing still.
More importantly, buyers feel they are in control and they can decide whether to take the next step forward in the funnel, stay where they are and consume more content or quit the funnel altogether and go to the competition.
And in a good funnel, all three options are carefully choreographed and orchestrated.
And this takes us to…
The Misery, Mystery and Mastery of Marketing Automation
By definition, marketing automation is all about automating rote funnel tasks for more effective performance.
The more you know about automation as an engineering discipline, the better you can automate complex and sophisticated tasks that as far from rote as Upper Wallop, Hampshire, England is from Upper Volta, Africa.
The key is that you build out your process, and start automating it step by step.
Automate one process and test the living daylights out of it. Once it works to your full satisfaction, automate the next stage and test it. Then link it to the first stage and the test the two stages together.
Oh, and also consider that testing usually takes much longer than designing the automation bit. Just think about it. A heart surgery may take 4-6 hours, but the full recovery can take over one year.
The huge advantage of automation is the bottom-achingly wonderful consistency.
People inside your funnel take an action and your system responds to it consistently and predictably.
And since everything inside the funnel is consistent (from the seller’s standpoint) and predictable (from the buyer’s standpoint), the lead to client conversion can improve dramatically.
But everything comes to an end someday, in the last section of the funnel we start the last step in the conversion process…
Sales enablement comes alive when buyers are ready for face-to-face meetings with salespeople. They already demonstrated they want to do business with you and now they’re ready and willing to discuss the details with your salespeople.
Not the sale is not in the bag yet, but the buyers indicate that if sellers can fulfil their buying criteria, they can move to signing the contract.
But this is only one side of the coin.
The other side of sales enablement is that it equips all client-facing employees with the skills, tools and resources to help themselves to have sales conversations with potential clients. It comes from the notions that improving the company’s success, that is, to sell, is not only the salespeople’s responsibility.
Nurture Real Prospects; Stay in Touch with Admirers
Nurturing involves some in person work too. It just doesn’t make sense to fully automate it. Humanization keeps the process, well, personable and flexible.
But there is a limit to the number of prospects you can take by the hand and guide in your sales funnel.
The higher the number, the higher effort you have to exert on nurturing.
What that means is that if you end up with admirers in your sales funnel, they can easily eat up your precious time. Each of them can request several phone discussions with you and then they vanish.
This is why you have to put tough qualifying processes to the front end of your sales funnels, so you can keep non-buying admirers out.
In first year at university, one of the profs told us to look at the person out left and right because one year from then they are unlikely to be there.
And this is something your sales funnel should present: “If you want to complete this funnel and enjoy the pleasure and benefits of working with the Courageous Curmudgeons Coffin Carving Corporation, you have to work for it.”
BANT or Other Forms of Qualification
Thanks to IBM, the BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline) qualification process has been used for many years in many industries, but with the recent great changes in the buying process, it’s time to retire it.
What to use instead?
I have no earthly idea. It would be rather idiotic of me to force your business model into a neat acronym.
Based on your business, you have to develop your own acronym.
I can give you some examples here, and see which pieces from which models work best for you. Then use these pieces information to have buyers become sales qualified leads.
Hubspot’s GPCT Model (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline)
This model starts at a high level (goals) and works its way down to the timeline of implementation to solve specific challenges.
Russell Kern’s APNRP Model (Attributes, Position, Need, Readiness, Preference)
Attributes: Match with the factual bits and bobs of the seller’s ideal client profile. For example, location, industry, revenue, number of employees, etc.
Position: Match with job titles and authority levels.
Need: Match with the expressed interest level. It starts with mild interest (level 1) and goes all the way to wild commitment (level 10).
Readiness: Match with the buyer’s readiness to move forward.
Preferences: Match with the buyer’s preference. What is the buyer’s preferred contact method, and what type of information would she like to receive from the seller in the future?
Wellesley Groups FAINT Model (Funds, Authority, Interest, Need, Timing)
Funds: Unlike budget that focuses on the money set aside to solve a specific problem, Funds focuses on the buyer’s overall financial capacity. I have the funds for a Rolex watch, but have zero budget for a wristwatch. I can’t stand jewellery.
Authority: Is this a real decision-maker with authority over the company’s financial capacity?
Interest. The buyer is actually interested in solving the problem in question.
Need: This is usually a symptom of a deeper problem that you have to dig up.
Timing: Discovering this part gives you an opportunity with a timeline. Revealing the timeline also shows a level of seriousness.
See, Russell doesn’t even care about time line because if the problem is hot enough, the problem must be dealt with as quickly as humanly possible.
From these formats, you can cobble together your own version. It’s highly depended on your industry and business model.
Use the Fibonacci Sequence in Your Emails
Leornardo Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who developed the Fibonacci sequence of numbers that is a close representation of many phenomena in nature, including the number of bracts in a pine cone, the branches on trees and the mating of rabbits. The sequence is…
0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34
Every number is the sum of the preceding two numbers, except the step from 0 to 1.
So, in your email… (there is a tiny Fibonacci cock-up at the beginning of the sequence. Two 0s and one 1. But never mind that!)
Email #1 (Day 0): After submitting the registration form, an automated email goes out with a thank you note and a link to the downloadable piece of content.
Email #2 (Day 0): After about an hour, a real person’s email goes out with 2-3 links to your most relevant content pieces.
Email #3 (Day 1): You send out a personal invitation to an upcoming webinar and some links to some archived webinars.
Email #4 (Day 2): Re-send the download link to the originally requested content piece.
Email #5 (Day 3): Send a link to some industry-specific content and mention that others in this industry have found it valuable.
Email #6 (Day 5): Send an invitation for an initial conversation with a subject matter expert to discuss how the content of the originally downloaded material applies to the prospect’s business and how it can be solved.
Email #7 (Day 8): Make a phone call and discuss with them the type of materials they from you to improve their businesses.
As the space between your emails get longer and longer, your emails can be a tad more persuasive and personal.
The persuasive bits nudge readers forward in the funnel and the personal bits humanize you behind your emails’ “From” field.
Collaborate with Prospects to Give Them the Best Value
As you make your lead nurturing more and more interactive, you start getting more and more valuable information about the problems your prospects want to solve and about the kind of business they dream about running.
One big value piece is to weave case studies into your content pieces.
Talk about the problems clients faced, the solutions they tried but flopped and then describe your solution and how that solution improved the client’s business.
Indicate long-term thinking. Your readers have to pick up from your email that you’re all about long-term success. Besides long-term results, also mention quick wins that motivated your clients’ people to hang in and go for long-term improvements.
Tracking Prospects Inside the Funnel
In order to properly prepare for the first real-time communication with prospects, the more you know about them the better.
It’s a real blessing that inbound marketing is bursting at the seams with big data. But that comes with a flaw too.
Many moons ago Dr. W. Edwards Deming said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
And this is the flaw because Deming never said that, but this is what the big data zealots lifted out of what he actually said, which was…
“It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”
The total opposite of the zealots’ motto.
So, you can have big data up to the ying-yang and you can analyze it until you’re blue in the face and broke, but if you can’t subordinate measurement to judgement and discernment, then you’re doomed.
The better you can make the romance between big data and judgement, the more accurate knowledge you have on your market.
And what you know about prospects’ behaviour inside the funnel can be very valuable to you. You can talk about the consumed content pieces, while avoiding trying to discuss pieces that prospects avoided on their journeys.
Tracking also tells you how seriously you should take any given prospect. In general, highly interactive prospects.
Value Staircase Your Offers
Even if you are such a great brand as Apple, no one buyers your most expensive products/services first. They don’t know you and don’t know what to expect of your offers.
Bur if you have a staircase of offers, starting with an e-book under $50 or a short intro service, like an audit of some kind for $500, you can give clients a taste of what they can expect of you.
Also consider that new clients are more likely to invoke your guarantee and refunding $50 or $500 is a lot easier than refunding $25,000 for a comprehensive service most of which you’ve already delivered.
Make an inexpensive offer and then at the end of that offer, offer the next step.
Not every client will step all the way to your most expensive offers; neither they should. They go as far as they think they need to.
But if you can show them the next level of success, many of them will want you to take them by the hand and lead them to victory.
Weave Potential Objections into Your Content Pieces
When you write to Johnny, gently hint an objection Jenny had about your services in a different context. This way, you communicate the rules of engagement even before Johnny brings them up.
You can mention that, for instance, Jenny found the original price pretty high, but then she was willing to renegotiate the scope of the project based on a lower price tag.
At the same time, you can refer to your “What We Believe” document (your company’s operating philosophy), that those buyers who demand to lower your prices, while leaving the project scope intact, get dumped rather promptly and unceremoniously.
At that point, prospects who are meant to work with you start behaving themselves because they really want to work with you.
Other prospects get upset because they thought they could dictate the terms, you don’t let them.
Pick Up the Phone
The closer your prospects get to the bottom of the funnel, aka the decision-making point, the more likely they’re ready to talk to you.
Be proactive and request calls with prospects.
At one point, prospects’ interest in working with your firm becomes a conditional commitment to working with you provided you can fulfil their buying criteria.
And while many “experts” say that we should practice human-less marketing, at one point it’s important to make the process human.
By now, prospects know you pretty well through your content, and they too are curious to find out who’s behind your keyboard.
And just as turntables and log-play records are coming back, so is old-fashioned humanized communication.
Automate Your Funnel
In fact, the closer to the funnel entrance an event happens the more highly it can be automated. At this point, buyers are not yet ready for synchronous or real-time interactions (phone, Skype, etc.), and asynchronous or delayed (can we call it unreal-time 🙂 ) interactions (Email, fax, carrier pigeons, etc.) can be highly automated.
The other benefit of automation is that, unlike humans, it’s a ruthless qualifier. Just think of online forms. Unless you fill them in properly, you can’t submit them. And you can’t argue with web form and can’t demand special privileges.
Well, technically you can, but then you may get taken away to the funny farm where you can argue to your little heart’s content.
Automation also gives objectivity to lead scoring. Yes, later scoring needs more judgement and discernment, but initially it’s more objective.
The time was January 1983. At age 27, Swedish tennis ace, Bjorn Borg announced his retirement. Then he returned to playing in the early 90s. But he ignored that rackets had improved over his retirement years, and he started playing with the kind of wooden rackets with which he retired almost a decade before.
And what happened?
Unknown players started beating him like a double-bottomed drum. The tools had changed, but Borg refused to retool.
Sadly, this is exactly what waits for businesses that use obsolete, market-irritating marketing methods.
Maybe they could write books about angering prospects that could be bundled and sold with Jonar Nader’s masterpiece, How To Lose Friends And Infuriate People.
Due to its highly automated, hence effective, nature, inbound marketing heavily depends on tools. Those tools make inbound marketing so consistent and predictable, that prospects are willing to ignore the fact that whatever they respect is served to them by a precise and sophisticated machine.
And the machine is here to stay. So, the better you can fine-tune it, the more you can accelerate the sales cycle such that your prospects perceive the mad rush at breakneck speed as an enjoyable pleasure cruise.