Imagine you’re heading somewhere new with only an address on a sticky note: 123 Main Street. Do you know how to get to 123 Main Street? Do you know the different steps along the way? In many cases, navigating a sale is a lot like finding a building with only the address.
In sales, you know the destination: a conversion. Have you memorized all of the steps needed to get there? And is your internal compass keen enough to detour around obstacles? It can be dangerous to be totally dependent on memorized steps: identify lead prospect, schedule a phone call, qualify, present and hopefully close.
Every business has a typical sales process or pipeline. But it’s best that salespeople and managers know how to wiggle within those parameters, shimmying one way or another in order to uniquely accommodate each prospect.
Knowing both the destination and the best route for each trip there—adjusting to the distinct conditions presented by the prospect—is the not-very-secret secret to excellent salesmanship.
Prospects don’t often bite—or give you much of anything for that matter—on first interactions. Closing requires great intentionality on your part and clarity throughout the process for both you and the prospect. Nurturing is needed. And identifying best practices is absolutely necessary.
That’s what we’ll do here. Onto sales cycle optimization:
Identify the perfect customer for your sales cycle
You probably have an idea of your perfect customers, whether they’re a business, an individual or a non-profit organization. Dial that in a little more: What kind of budget do they have for the product or service you’re offering? Where are they located? What is their level of income or what is the size of their business? How old are they?
Now, share that with your team. Your salespeople should know who they’re targeting so they don’t waste time and money pursuing dead leads. Your marketing people should know—to a tee—who they’re aiming to engage when they put together campaigns.
The more specific you can get with this, the better.
Create prototypes. Give them names, income levels and motivations. How does that customer ideally progress through your cycle? What triggers advancement? How long are they in the cycle from start to finish?
Many businesses use customer relationship management (CRM) software to answer these questions, but startups may need to start from scratch. Also, many times, different products and services will be best-suited for different individuals and businesses. Keep that in mind as you develop your customer personas.
Below are some key criteria to consider when determining your perfect customer for both individuals (B2C) and business entities (B2B).
- Income level
- Education level
- Occupation – position, industry, division
Business/ organization, B2B:
- Years in operation
- Annual revenue
- Do they have an existing comparable solution to your product or service?
Who’s the decision maker?
You’ve pinpointed your ideal customer. Now, are you selling your product or service to the person who can make the ultimate decision? Are you sure you’re talking to the decision maker, not to a lower-level person who will have to regurgitate your pitch to a superior? They will never be able to pitch as well as you.
A lot of the time, it’s apparent if somebody is a decision maker or not. But there are instances which may require you to ask your contact directly. Be upfront; you work for a small business and your time is a precious commodity. The non-invasive way to find out who the decision makers are is to ask the following: "Let's wave a magic wand. In a perfect world, what would it take to get the deal done? What's your internal approval process?" In asking this question, you are giving them the opportunity to tell you how they go about making the decision. More often than not, you will discover who the decision makers are.
Begin with education
Once that’s understood—and only once it’s understood —the pitching begins. The sales cycle accelerates. And it should not begin with a hard and fast pitch or even a description of your product or service. Instead, give prospects something free: Education.
Teach potential customers something. Offer them valuable, relevant information. If in a business-to-business relationship, make sure your content offering is applicable to their particular industry. If working with an individual customers, make sure you educate to their interests.
Preparation here is crucial. Treat the customer like a hiring manager with whom you’ve scheduled a job interview. In other words, show up prepared, knowing the company’s history, core values, mission and vision statements. You might have even researched the person who was interviewing you, where they went to college, how long they had been with the company and whatever other information you could find.
Just the same, when selling to a prospect, the more information you have, the better.
Once you get to a place where you feel comfortable making your pitch, unapologetically show the uniqueness of your company. Don’t beat around the bush. Show prospects how you can help by offering a tangible and relevant solution to their problem. Sell the value that they receive.
Then, wherever the process goes next, continue to sprinkle in educational bits. Education is they way to stay in touch with the prospect through the sales cycle. Continue to build rapport, aiding the prospect even once the deal is closed. Check in, follow up, listen, and support.
To recap, here are some key considerations for your pitch point:
- Make sure you’re speaking with the decision maker
- Freely educate and inform with prospect-relevant particulars
- Be clear: Spell out your unique value proposition
- Educate and inform more, even post-transaction
Optimize the sales cycle through automation
You have your sales road map. You have a trip route and you’ve foreseen as many roadblocks as possible. You know the metaphorical speed limits after each turn. Now, how would you like to turn on autopilot for a while?
Here are three steps of the journey which can be easily automated to provide efficiency:
1. Nurture the decision makers
Most sales cycles include some kind of nurturing period—a time during which you slowly develop prospects into customers.
Salespeople like to use a drip program to nurture leads who have shown a little bit of interest in your offer but who aren't ready to buy. Drip programs allow your company to stay on the minds of prospects while building rapport. This is sales automation at its finest.
Email-based drip programs allow businesses to strategically architect their contact schedules, emailing leads with a decided frequency and specific content.
White papers are commonly used in drip programs, as they establish legitimacy while offering the valuable information to leads. Case studies and other research-based forms of content are strong go-to options in the same philosophical vein.
Perhaps the most advantageous part of drip programs is the ability to track a prospect’s interactions with your content. Did they click the link in the last email you sent? Maybe they’ve been clicking links since the program started. Is there a pattern? Are they warming to your business?
All of this can inform your route toward a sale.
2. Follow through until the decision maker becomes a customer
Perhaps your prospect is stalling and not yet sure of you, your company or your product or service. While it’s important to remain persistent with them, that doesn’t sum up the approach. Yes, be persistent, but be intelligently persistent.
As you roll out your drip program, don’t make it so automatic that you disregard the data that a prospective client might be presenting you through their activity—or lack thereof—within the program.
Watch closely as leads open or don’t open your nurture or drip program emails. Watch as they click through or don’t. What was the subject matter of the email? What was the subject line?
Work with your marketing team to carefully craft your drip campaigns. Analyze, tweak, and follow through—winning your prospects' intrigue and trust and, ultimately, their business.
3. Watch customers become advocates
Sales never ends with a conversion. Automate contact with customers to provide the follow-up services required to transform one-time customers into long-time customers and, if you do it right, advocates.
Set up post-sale drip programs (probably with a lower frequency than the pre-sale nurturing campaigns) to remain on the minds of customers. Ask questions. Engage. And make sure they’re the first to know about new product offerings.
Intentional contact with your customers through automation could take your brand to the next level—dispatching a troop of advocates for your products and/ or services.