With the democratization of the Internet, businesses of all shapes and sizes have the same opportunities. This also means that every business is completing against corporate juggernauts in the Fortune 500. Businesses not operating at peak efficiency will soon find themselves going under.
Smart marketing and analytics, however, helps digital marketers know what customers want, and what they don't. From click-through rates on advertising to bounce rate on web pages, there are many metrics to let the savvy digital marketer know what their customers are thinking. Digital marketing campaigns, in conjunction with web analytics, allow digital marketers to optimize business strategies in real time - a step that many unwieldy corporations have not yet taken.
We talked to Bob Apollo, founder and CEO of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, an expert in building and implementing B2B sales and marketing systems, for some tips on how to streamline the sales cycle.
One of the major challenges of the sales process is customers being unsure that they have a problem significant enough to warrant the purchase of a product. What are some signs of a client who is ready to purchase versus one who is just researching?
As with all of these questions, I'm thinking of a typical complex high-value B2B sales environment when I offer my answers. It's all too easy to confuse a prospect's interest in learning more about your solution for an intention or ability to purchase. So I'd always recommend that salespeople take time to explore what caused the prospect to reach out in the first place, and to understand the issue the prospect is hoping to address. If there is no compelling issue to address, then there's unlikely to be a purchase.
Here are some excellent diagnostic questions:
- What caused the customer to start researching solutions?
- What business issue(s) are they trying to address?
- What impact are these issues having on their organization?
- Who else within their organization is affected?
- How is this issue impacting costs or revenues?
- How is this issue impacting the efficiency of their operations?
- How is this issue exposing their organisations to risk?
- Is this part of an already funded project?
- If not, how will the project be funded?
- How does this issue compare with the other significant initiatives their organization is planning to implement?
- What would happen if the current situation were allowed to continue?
Another challenge in sales is dealing with customers who do not have the authority to make a purchase. What are some ways a business can identify which customers can make purchases and ones who can't?
The answers to many of the questions I've listed in the section above can provide some very valuable indicators. It's also often helpful to ask some additional questions that go beyond just the obvious "do you have a budget and have you got the authority to buy?" question:
- Who else is typically involved in a decision process of this type and value?
- Who will represent the interests of the department(s) that will be using the solution?
- Who will be reviewing the project from an IT perspective?
- Who will be reviewing the project from a legal perspective?
- What role will your procurement people play, and when are they likely to get involved?
- What are the key steps in the formal approval process for projects like this?
- Where have projects like this got stuck or come undone in the past?
- Have there been any recent changes to the way in which your company evaluates projects like this?
Another reason clients sometimes balk is a reluctance towards change. How can a salesperson preempt that anxiety - or maybe even turn it into an advantage?
The best way to address this issue is to (1) identify and amplify the cost of inaction (i.e., what will happen if they stick with the status quo) and (2) acknowledge that any change of this nature involves some elements of risk and explain how your organization's approach is specifically designed to help eliminate or mitigate these risks. The bottom line is that you have to ensure that the prospect (and their colleagues on the decision team) believes that the cost and consequences of sticking with the status quo are going to be far more painful than the costs and risks of change - and that your approach is the least risk of all the options open to them, including sticking with the status quo.
One solution to shorten the sales cycle is to always have more clients in the pipeline. How can a business achieve this volume of potential new customers? Where should they look?
The more prospects you add to the top of the funnel, the more you can afford to qualify ruthlessly and eliminate all the weak ones early on. Those that remain - because they are better qualified - have a better chance of closing faster. To attract more of the right sort of prospects and qualify the weak ones out early, it's critical that organizations have a clear sense of what their ideal customer and key stakeholder profiles look like.
Customer Relations Management (CRM) software is a valuable time-saving tool that can streamline the sales cycle. Are there any software or apps that you use or recommend? How does CRM software optimize the sales process?
CRM is not a magic wand. In fact, a significant majority of CRM implementations fail to deliver the hoped-for impact on revenues. Many are at best grudgingly adopted by salespeople. It matters less which CRM platform you use than how you choose to implement it. The key things you must do include:
- Design your pipeline stages around the key steps in the typical buying decision journey for your market, and not just on the actions of your salespeople
- Implement clear milestones based on buyer behavior to determine when an opportunity is ready to be promoted to the next stage
- Measure time in each stage and pay particular attention to any opportunities that have been "stuck in stage" for longer than normal
- Embed your optimized sales process into the CRM system
- Make it clear what you need your salespeople to know and do at each stage in the process
- Make it easy for salespeople to identify and access relevant sales tools at each stage
- Insist that your salespeople systematically requalify opportunities throughout the process
- Make salespeople responsible for the quality, accuracy and timeliness of their information
- Make managers responsible for reviewing their salespeople's information on a regular basis
- Invest time in coaching
Another way to shorten the sales cycle is as simple as clients using electronic signature forms. Are there any good free e-signature platforms that you'd recommend? Are there any other simple tools to shorten the sales cycle that people might be overlooking?
Electronic signature solutions are a nice-to-have rather than a must-have tool. It's far more important to have (and use) a solid sales analytics package and to equip your salespeople with electronic playbooks that make all the information they need to conduct an effective sales campaign available at their fingertips.
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