If you’ve spent a mere millisecond in any kind of B2B sales environment in the last 20 years, you’ll have heard “sales cycle” many hundreds of times. Everyone loves it: salespeople, sales management, B2B marketers, investors and analysts. It’s easy to get caught up in the action.
It’s been a neat way to define how long opportunities take to close and the nuances in decision-making units. It also happens to have been misused by more under-performing account managers and business development managers than there are stars in the sky.
It all needs to stop. Immediately.
Marketing and sales people: it’s about your customers, not about you.
So what does an inbound mindset give you that a sales cycle mindset doesn’t?
You solve the customer’s challenges rather than yours
Being successful is about solving your customer’s challenges and providing them with value. That judgement can only be defined by them. Your subjective viewpoint is of no relevance here.
You can’t rely on chance. Through a sales cycle lens, you have a product or service, a sales process and a customer challenge that either fit neatly together or they don’t. Sometimes it can be a beautiful. Often it isn’t. With a sales cycle view you’ll never actually know.
A buyer’s journey always begins with the prospect experiencing symptoms of a problem. At that point, they don’t even really know what the problem is half the time and often have no understanding of the range of solutions that may be able to help them, or the different companies that provide those type of solutions. A sales cycle needs to involve the company, a buyer’s journey begins long before a company even comes into the question. This means the buyer’s journey is far better placed to deal with the customer’s challenges. Value is exchanged and competence on the part of the company is proven far earlier that it would be in the sales cycle model.
You obsess over customer’s journey instead of the business’
When you focus on what you need to do internally, the battleground of a B2B account manager or business development manager becomes saying whatever you need to say to get through your monthly pipeline meeting with the sales manager. The numbers are taken in a holistic sense: in the context of the the salesperson’s whole pipeline, the department’s revenue number that month or the business’ performance that quarter. Individual customers’ drives, challenges, pain points and triggers are forgotten about when you’re in the mither of internal process management – which is ultimately what a day-to-day sales cycle is when you take a helicopter view.
Inbound marketing concentrating on the buyer’s journey can never forget specific factors because your role throughout is to facilitate movement rather than force it. If you fall out of touch with such factors, you fall out of favour with the customer or prospect. These individuals engage with you early because you help them name the problem they are facing. You help them consider the range of solutions available and you show compelling reasons to buy the solution you provide because it genuinely provides a great fit. There’s no getting lost in the process, as the process is handled through marketing automation and a tight integration between sales and marketing. It all seems very personalised and specific to the prospect, and is scalable and efficient for you as the seller. It’s a win win.
It doesn’t scare people off with premature moves
When you concentrate on the sales cycle, you’re obsessed with moving people along in the sales process to suit individual, team or organisational goals. This is natural for any individual or business. If the endgame of the sales cycle is gross profit, then you focus exclusively on that – often to the detriment of anything else. This can lead to premature movement through the stages and ultimately sales engagement that peaks too soon – putting off what should be a warm lead from engaging with your business. After all, there’s nothing more off-putting for a B2B organisation than an overzealous sales person. When you look at things through the buyer’s journey, your focus becomes helping them get to the next phase of their journey. They’re in control of the pace. Assuming you have the right content that gives value throughout the buyer’s journey and a sales engagement model that comes in at the right time everything will be cool. The prospect gets everything they need from you and the relationship is off to a flier.
You miss out on fewer opportunities
If you’re thinking about the sales cycle, and you’re consumed with getting them to move to the next sales stage, this can lead to customer insight problems further down the line. In considering individual sales people, this can often mean qualifying the bare minimum amount of information to move the opportunity on in CRM. Just receiving a single sniff that a contact wants pricing can lead to a full proposal being issued. When fast tracking through this process, it can mean that vital insight data is being missed about your customers and prospects. This may or may not cause you problems immediately, but when you want a customer to become an advocate for referrals, to be your next superstar case study, or to deep dive into your data to build a cross sell campaign for a hot new product or service next year – you’re screwed.
Using an inbound methodology that focuses on the buyer’s journey, a prospect will not move to the next stage of the process unless you capture the right information from them and use that information to serve them content of value. It is this commitment of value from marketing, with the right kind of sales engagement coming at the right time, that means it’s all tied up neatly into a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and MAS (Marketing Automation Software) setup that provides a full holistic view of what the customer is up to.This lays solid foundations for you to use this customer insight to create advocates from your customer base and provides traction for sales teams to cross sell higher margin products or services, or go in and talk about a new blend of services to sell.
You end up with a repeatable process
When you concentrate on the sales cycle, it inherently sounds like it’s going to be repeatable. Cycles go round, they come full circle again at some point and begin the process again.
Better sales cycle models may have a retention element, but it’s not a given. Often when you concentrate on the selling part of customer engagement not the buyer’s experience, it’s not repeatable. An end-to-end sales cycle ends with closing the deal (BOOM, High five etc) and handing it over to someone to deliver it. As such, it’s about what’s on the table at the moment. It’s about prioritising, spending your time on the opportunities that are here closing this day, month or year. That all well and good for well qualified marketing leads that are at that stage, but what happens before that? What happens to leads that aren’t ready for sales engagement yet? Those prospects who are experiencing the symptoms of an issue they don’t yet truly understand? With a sales cycle mentality, they get forgotten about – left to rot in the unqualified section of a pipe then deleted during a big CRM data purge when it’s quiet.
Building an inbound marketing funnel based on the buyer’s journey is designed to be scalable and repeatable. That’s the whole point. Nothing gets forgotten about, nothing gets left to fester, because everything is designed to be funnel-oriented. Marketing take responsibility for leads that don’t need sales engagement- they take responsibility for generating warm sales-ready leads only. Sales then engage with the ones that need sales engagement. This relationship between sales and marketing is something we’ll explore in a follow-on blog – but it drives everything about marketing through the buyer’s journey lens. Overall, inbound is a holistic consideration of all of the leads and opportunities within the funnel at any one time and ensures that, through marketing automation, they’re getting repeatable marketing messages delivered in a format which works for them.