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ImageRecently, I had a conversation with the President of a digital signage company who is becoming increasingly aware of a disturbing trend in sales.  He has recognized more and more of his customers are skipping his sales process.

The news sales reality is this: once a potential customer or client has identified a need, they turn to a search engine to collect information.  Let’s face it; there is so much information on the world wide web, most potential customers or clients can self educate without the help of a salesperson.  Not only can they collect and assimilate information, with the help of reviews, they can better understand the needs, experiences, issues, and satisfaction of existing or previous potential customers.

Prospects are showing up at your door ready to purchase, ready to negotiate, ready for delivery and guess what – they have never talked to anyone at your company.

This is disturbing to our digital signage president because he is not getting the chance to educate his prospects, communicate his true value, or explain his differentiation.  Prospects are smart and getting smarter, however, sometimes the information on the internet is not entirely correct, complete, or causes the wrong conclusion to be drawn.

Sometimes this shortened sales cycle is beneficial to a prospect because it decreases the time to purchase. Some buyers are more comfortable making decisions on their own without outside counsel. Other times they miss something. They miss the vast knowledge a seller has regarding a customer’s circumstance and what issue they might be solving.  Remember, sellers talk with hundreds or sometimes thousands of customers.  Sellers have amassed a great deal of information and knowledge about a variety of company goals, expected results, and defined successes.  Sellers understand there are issues and obstacles and have the experience to help customers achieve their objectives.

Most marketers will tell you to have any impact at the beginning of the new sales cycle; you need to get as much information into the market as possible. Hopefully, with enough information in the right places, potential customers will have what they need to make the right decision. My late friend, Joe Vales used to call this “Marketing Tonnage.”  Joe would try to get as much information into the market as quickly as possible through every available marketing channel.  Given our new sales cycle, this is not a bad approach but I would deplore you to do this in a coordinated manner.  Different buyers or different types of buyers pay attention to different channels and different messages.  Some are more social media centric, others more new sales centric, others more visual, while others more fact-based.  Whatever their preference, you need to make sure your message is finding the right audience via the right channel.

I know, creating all of this content sounds like a ton of work. So how do you start?  Simple.  Look to your existing customers.  How did they buy, what channels do they listen to, and what messages resonate with them?  Don’t know the answers here? Ask them.  They will tell you.  Collect enough information and you can build a marketing strategy and activities best suited to communicate with prospects and create opportunities for your sales organization.

Long before we encountered the new sales cycle, I was with a major technology service provider.  Information technology services are complex, follow a 9 month to a year long sales cycle and a considerable amount of work happens inside an organization before they would contact a service provider.  Essentially, our prospects were exhibiting behaviors of a prospect in the new sales cycle.  I kept thinking there must be unseen circumstances driving the need for an organization to seek out the services of an information technology company.  I started digging, asking questions, looking at data, asking more questions.

What I discovered was interesting.  There were some very clear triggers in a company’s financial performance or organizational structure indicating an opportunity.  A new CIO almost always signaled a change in how IT business would be conducted.  Poor financial performance over a period of time was a contributing factor.  There were other more subtle signals such as the age of existing hardware or software systems, the announcement of several new product launches, or a growth strategy dependant on acquisitions.  If several of these factors were in play, it was a good bet there were internal discussion on how to reduce costs or deliver more efficient IT services.  I also learned which triggers were nmost likely to be the catalyst for change.  This knowledge helped to prioritize opportunities based on a prospect’s need for our services.

Understanding these leading indicators helped me elevate “being in the right place at the right time” to an art form.

This brings us back to our digital signage president.  If he could understand the leading indicators in his market, he could look out and identify potential prospects at the beginning of the sales cycle or even before the sales cycle has started.  The real benefit of a pre-sales cycle conversation is they tend to be more relaxed, more in-depth, and hold greater value because there is an uninhibited exchange of ideas and information. It also allows you to help solve issues based on your knowledge and experience, communicate your true value, highlight your differentiation, and find the most appropriate solution. To me it’s more beneficial to both the prospect and seller not to skip or shrink the sales cycle, but to start the sales cycle – new or old – at the beginning.