Before investing in a CRM system or organizing your customer base to improve the management of your customer customer acquisition or customer service processes, you’ll want to get a good handle on the foundational building blocks of your sales funnel to best manage your pipeline and your overall sales team. Although you can further describe your sales resources in infinitely granular terms, you’ll want to consider the following core concepts and common means of categorizing information and customize your CRM lead status field values.
If your business is struggling to deliver a growing pipeline of new business or drive consistent cash flow, the solution might require improving your ability to advance inbound sales opportunities with the leads that you already have, rather than finding and forcing more leads into a slow or leaky sales funnel. Since most B2B solutions require a consultation of some kind, the process of driving revenues is equally dependent on the ability to connect with prospects and demonstrate relevant and personalized solutions.
Instead of controlling the sales process or convincing prospects to buy from you, an inbound approach empowers buyers with information to help them make the right purchasing decision. What is inbound sales? It’s the guiding methodology behind simultaneously targeting, empowering, and advancing customers through the sales journey.
Empower buyers as a trusted advisor
Buyers can readily access all of the information they believe is necessary to evaluate potential providers. By the time that your business development team identifies a prospect, a significant portion of the buying research process has been completed (approximately 60%). They don’t need you, at least not yet, because buyers can complete the primary research on their own. However, at some point, they will need to forge a relationship with sales resources who can demonstrate an understanding of customer’s goals and can provide personalized recommendations. This is where inbound selling comes in.
Connect with prospects early in a buyer’s journey
Whereas inbound marketing is effective at profiling and attracting highly-targeted prospects and then converting them to leads, a final sale requires a certain amount of human intervention. This vital link in your revenue chain is vulnerable to the effectiveness of your selling process because customers expect a person to listen and advise or recommend a solution that is customized to the client’s business needs. Waiting for prospects to reach the end of the sales funnel to request a proposal means fewer opportunities and longer sales cycles. This affects both your revenues and cash flow.
Inbound sales is a process
Getting involved in the conversation with a prospect at the right time is critical, but demonstrating your value is just as important as showing up early. Sales teams that rely on canned, one-size-fits-all value propositions rather a consultative approach to uncover the client’s challenges and provide trusted advice are at risk.
Like the inbound marketing process, the inbound sales process provides a framework to help sales teams usher prospects through a buyer’s journey by assisting targeted customers with challenges that are relevant at each stage. This process is not an elevator pitch or a value proposition, but it does help you evaluate the readiness of each lead, and implement a strategy to help educate the buyer and advance to the next stage. The two methodologies are closely aligned with insights about buyer personas and buyer journeys.
People buy from people – Humans are required
Inbound “selling” occurs in a 1:1 consultative dialogue with a buying person, rather than a buyer persona. Selling is a dynamic process that happens across a wide range of digital channels. Interacting with prospects on social channels or answering questions from chat bots on your website or having a phone conversation – they present opportunities to guide the process by asking questions, demonstrating active listening, and gathering important information to help qualify opportunities and personalize solutions.
Inbound sales helps companies build trust
Most B2B purchases involve financial risk and professional credibility. Hiring an engineering firm or selecting an integration partner, or an industrial supplier, may require significant resource investment. A poor selection might jeopardize a project or a career. The opportunity to respond to concerns and objections and then educate buyers can help minimize perceived risks and differentiate your firm as a trusted advisor.
In previous blogs, we’ve covered setting your goals, knowing your story, and defining your audience through your Buyer Personas. We’ll call that the foundation to your Inbound Marketing. Now let’s put all that hard work into action with targeted campaigns designed to move prospects all the way through your sales funnel – from visitor to lead to customer.
The success of your Inbound campaign can be represented with the three C’s: Content, Calls-To-Action, and Close.
Attract Visitors with Content
Today’s audiences are remarkably informed. They’ve already done their homework long before they land on your page. With so much content vying for your potential customer’s attention, your content needs to be fresh, timely, and most of all, relevant to your Buyer Personas.
By knowing who your ideal customers are – their goals and challenges – you are able to produce content tailor-made for them, demonstrating that your company understands what motivates them. This content can take many forms – blog posts, eBooks, checklists, how-to guides, case studies, white papers, and videos. There’s just one rule: the content has to be of value to your potential customer. These are the topics that will catch their attention. These are the things they’re already searching for.
Blogging, in particular, is highly effective in driving quality traffic to your site. Let your Buyer Persona insights guide your subject matter (as with all content), and keep publishing on a regular basis. One blog view may lead to another, which may lead to further exploration of your site, which, in turn, may lead to interest in checking out your additional resources.
Your SEO strategy and social media publishing serve to point strangers to your content, driving them to your website to access it. This is powerful stuff: strangers have clicked on a link directing them to your website because they realized that you have what they’re looking for. This is the first step in a successful full-funnel campaign. The next step is to give them what they came for.
Convert Visitors to Leads with Calls-To-Action
A Call-To-Action (CTA) is designed for one very specific purpose: move website visitors further down your sales funnel by converting them into leads. With blogs, your CTA is providing an option to subscribe. For every other piece of content, a little more information is required before the visitor can access it.
This is called the value exchange – an offer for valuable information in exchange for the visitor’s contact information. If a prospect wants to download your free eBook, he first has to provide his name and email address. If another prospect is interested in something more thorough – like an in-depth case study or white paper – then you may require that she enter her company or industry information as well.
Once you have their contact info, they are officially leads. And not just that – these are high-quality leads because they sought you out, visited your site, and downloaded your content. They’ve shown you that they’re interested in what it is that you have to offer.
Close Leads Into Customers
You’ve gained visitors. You’ve qualified your leads. Let’s close some new business. Continue to engage the lead and nurture them through a sale. There are a few different ways to do this.
Calls-To-Action are good for more than just converting visitors into leads, they can also be utilized at the bottom of your sales funnel to close a client. If a lead originally downloaded an eBook, include a CTA for the next stage in the Buyer’s Journey on the download page, offering a free consultation or estimate.
Personalized Email Workflow
Once you have a visitor’s contact info, they’re a lead. And once they’re a lead, you use that contact info to send them personalized emails with – you guessed it – additional CTAs and content offers.
With powerful inbound marketing tools like HubSpot, you can automate this part of the sales process, incorporating follow-up directions for if/when scenarios. For example, if a lead downloaded your project checklist, then a follow-up email could automatically be sent that includes another offer for a higher-end project management resource.
And after you close a new customer? You continue to use your content to delight and inform them, transforming them from clients to promoters. They’ll share your content with their own contacts, driving new visitors to your website and starting the process all over again with a new batch of prospects.
Not all visitors will become leads, and not all leads will become customers. But by utilizing the full-funnel approach to your Inbound Marketing campaigns, you are offering the right content to the right people at exactly the right time. This effectively guides your prospects step-by-step through each stage of the Buyer’s Journey – from stranger to satisfied customer.
For every customer, there is a journey that leads a purchasing decision. A customer recognizes wants and needs, becomes aware of brands, seeks out recommendations, and compares features and so forth. You’ve seen this model before; if not, visualize a funnel with a sequence of stages that describe how a buyer advances through the process of evaluating competing offerings until a single surviving brand is rewarded by a satisfying purchase, “cha-ching.”
If you’re visualizing a way of looking at the buying process for the first time, the funnel is a good place to start. It provides a framework that helps link marketing strategies to customer objectives and helps advance the user from one stage to the next. If you’re syncing marketing objectives to customer experiences, you’re already avoiding the first obsolete convention, distributing dollars to different kinds of media.
Pushing potential customers into your marketing funnel doesn’t ensure that they will naturally fall all the way through and result in a sale. Highly valued customers need to be engaged with highly-relevant content and then nurtured with specific strategies at each stage of their journey, from awareness to consideration to the moment of a purchasing decision, and then ongoing loyalty and advocacy.
What to Mix with Your Media
In a 2012 advertising campaign, General Motors claimed the response from its Facebook advertising didn’t meet their expectations. As a result, they publicly withdrew their plans to further their advertising investment. There’s nothing unusual about a large corporation switching changing direction, but big spending doesn’t always lead to big results. Just ask GM. Ford, on the other hand, saw their competitor’s departure from Facebook as a big opportunity and they’ve got the customer engagement to prove it. Instead of treating social media as a straight-forward media buy, Ford saw opportunities to attract visitors by combining the ads with relevant content and unique storytelling.
GM might have been right. Their efforts weren’t working, but it might have had something to do with, not understanding the customer’s journey or the unique kind of interactions and experiences on Facebook. Not taking for granted the complexity or competitiveness of the automotive industry, there’s a lesson here for businesses of all sizes. If you know your buyer, and you can visualize their journey(s) as they interact with brands and other users via varied online channels, you can incorporate their own voice in your messaging with content that inspires advocacy and action. An integrated advertising approach can greatly expand the reach of your efforts.
It’s Their Journey, Not Yours
The customer’s role has changed and so has their journey. Customers are better informed and they actively seek out information and opinions from a wider range of influential sources. By the time that a customer comes into contact with your brand, the majority of the selling process is complete. For example, in many categories, a typical customers arrives pre-loaded with familiar brands. As they seek out potential alternatives, the number of competing brands increases. Even simple buying decisions are considered hours or even days in advance and the number of influences has nearly doubled from 5.2 to 10.4 sources. Source: Google Shopper Sciences, The Zero Moment of Truth.
This idea of a “customer’s journey” was conceived by consultants from McKinsey and Company, who led a study to examine the buying processes of 20,000 consumers in several different categories. They found that there are multiple battlegrounds that marketers could win or lose along the way. Even though consumers started the journey with brands that they were familiar with, as they sought out feedback from other authorities, the numbers often increased and new entrants sometimes displaced established ones.
Furthermore, purchasing wasn’t the end of the journey. As customers evaluate their purchasing experiences they have become allies and advocates or even detractors. They joined communities of similar buyers to share stories about their experiences, thus influencing a new generation of potential buyers.
Start Your Journey with a Buyer Persona
A buyer persona, a fictional example of a real and highly-valued buyer, provides marketers with insights that can help them understand, not only your customers’ pain points, problems and objectives – personas can illuminate the key steps and potential motivations to advance along the journey. Personas can provide inspiration for key content strategies, media channels, and communities, and their decision-making criteria.
Many B2B buying processes are long, complex and involve many different kinds of decision makers. Developing your sales and marketing strategy requires that you can target them effectively, but that can be a challenge because job titles and authority aren’t consistent from company to company and it’s hard to figure out who’s calling the shots in purchasing decisions. Some companies knife through the layers of bureaucracy and hand over authority in unconventional ways. Others follow a more traditional framework with recommendations that flow up the chain of command to an ultimate decision-making executive.
What’s important for B2B marketers is understanding the decision-making authority of the buyer personas involved in the sales process, with the flexibility that the sales team can update the buyer’s authority in the client’s CRM system, as the prospect is being qualified. This framework provides enough agility for the marketers to develop positioning content and inbound marketing strategies to attract target stakeholders – but empower the sales team to override the model and decide how decision-making works in each prospect’s company.
A Framework for Identifying B2B Buyers
Understanding the roles in the buying process is critical for your buying decision maker research and your inbound marketing strategies. The following buyer framework can help you look across different segments and consolidate different kids of stakeholders for the purpose of determining the unique buying processes of each industry.
There is a careful balance in determining the similarities and difference between the different segments that you work with. What you’ll probably find is that by inventorying the stakeholders in each industry or buying process, you can better map out an inbound marketing or automation program to better respond to your customers’ needs and create a more consistent brand.
Who Has Influence in B2B Sales Environments
The following B2B purchase decision making roles represent the most-likely decision making unit that you will encounter across your unique B2B buying segments. By understanding the various roles, you can begin a deeper research process into the needs and perceptions of each persona, and then improve your marketing to drive more leads and create deeper engagement with your prospects.
Sponsors are your champions
A sponsor or champion is the drives the buying process. This important stakeholder establishes the framework for the search and the initial requirements. A sponsor has a personal stake in the success of the buying process, either as an internal stakeholder or an outside consultant. In most cases, internal and external sponsors are concerned about the longer-term value. This person advocates for the solution that offers the best value for the company, and his endorsement will go a long way to furthering your proposal. Though well-intended, a champion is often biased with his or her reputation on the line.
Gatekeepers Can Break Your Deal
Gatekeepers are skeptical resources involved early in the process. They may serve in subordinate roles to the sponsor or come from different functional parts of the company. In some cases, gatekeepers gather lists of potential solution providers, and weed out the ones that they believe are a poor fit for the opportunity. They are empowered to say no or maybe, but rarely, “yes.” Gatekeepers may offer new perspectives, but they might also lack nuanced insights about the problems and potential solutions.
Reviewers are always involved in B2B purchasing
Reviewers are often part of a team-based purchasing process that requires the sponsor to vet his recommendation with a group of knowledgeable resources. They have insights regarding the holistic objectives and challenges of the company and they may participate in finding and evaluating your proposal. A reviewer’s approval is critical as it is unlikely that a sponsor can push a proposal through the buying process without the endorsement of the reviewing team
Executives can show up at any time
An executive can participate at any level of the business to business decision making process, even a gatekeeper – rejecting potential solutions, but delegating the final decision-making process to the sponsor or review team. An executive challenges the sponsor and review team. An executive is the stakeholder who can always say, “yes”.
Architecture and Engineering teams must continually ensure that the leads they generate are properly nurtured and converted. New customer acquisition can be a long, labor-intensive and cumbersome process. Business development cycles for professional services firms in the construction industry are longer than most, and your prospect development stages and processes must be clearly defined or you’ll easily lose out on opportunities.
Prospects must be properly nurtured from the initial contact all the way to closing the final proposal.
Unfortunately, a number of A&E marketing teams fail to define how this happens. They know their job is to secure the lead, and keep the lead engaged, but the structure of their funnel and sales process lacks specifics. Here are some tips to reverse engineer your sales process in order to stay on track with your end-of-year goals.
Understanding historical indicators is critical to duplicating future results.
1. Start With Sales Actions and Goals: Lagging and Leading Indicators
Lagging indicators represent the sales and marketing actions that led to past sales and revenue. Leading indicators represent the future actions you must take in order to duplicate your past results and improve upon them. So, if you know how many calls you made, meetings you secured, quotes you submitted, and sales you closed over a regular reporting period, you can begin to define the number of digital marketing and sales actions that must occur in the future.
In this case, you’re using past indicators and sales metrics to define future actions in order to meet or exceed sales goals. Start with previous sales actions, then backtrack them to outline the future actions you must take to improve results.
2. Defining Opportunities
Not every lead becomes qualified and not every qualified lead becomes an opportunity. You need to define what your company considers a real opportunity. Is an opportunity a chance to bid on a new architectural design? Are engineering and design proposals to existing customers considered opportunities? Your AEC marketing and sales team must clearly define what they consider to be real opportunities so that this portion of your sales process and funnel is easily understood.
3. Defining a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
A prospect may meet all the AEC marketing criteria to be considered a lead, yet not be qualified by Sales. This is because a salesperson is able to discuss the customer’s particular requirements and assess their relevance. Make sure you come up with relevant sales criteria so that sales can move an SQL to an opportunity.
Reverse engineering your sales process is guaranteed to reveal some inefficiencies.
4. The Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL)
This is the portion of the process where a prospect has taken an action that has driven them to your company. It might include a prospect downloading a whitepaper off your website, an incoming lead generated by a pay-per-click (PPC) digital marketing campaign, or a lead generated through a webcast or podcast.
This lead has expressed an interest in your company, its design competencies, and its engineering capabilities. As long as your AEC marketing team produces focused content that generates targeted traffic, then the quality of your marketing leads won’t be in question. However, if this portion of your sales process continually falls short, an assessment and revamping is in order.
5. Prospects, Leads and Top-Level Funnel/Sales Activities
Ultimately, it’s a question of having a focused, digital marketing message, one that is geared towards your target audience and one that will motivate customers to take action. The more accurate your sales and marketing strategies are, the more likely you’ll secure high-quality prospects and leads.
The goal is to make sure that your top-level activities focus specifically on your target audience. When the top of your sales process and funnel is focused on high-quality prospects, C-level decision makers, and highly-valued influencers, what moves past this point is much easier to manage.
Ultimately, reverse engineering your sales process means determining how many sales were closed, how many opportunities were created from SQLs, how many SQLs were created from MQLs, and how many prospects and leads entered your sales process and top-level portion of your funnel. Once those numbers are determined, establishing what needs to happen moving forward is much easier.
Can an argument be made that the most important part of your marketing funnel is the bottom? Well, if winning business and keeping customers is vital to your company’s long-term future, then yes, what emerges at the bottom of your funnel is most important. Now you need to outline the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure and track how you’ve managed, engaged and motivated leads into becoming customers.
Your marketing solutions must continually motivate customers to buy.
Costs of Conversion, Acquisition and Retention
Your KPIs have to track the costs of turning prospects into leads, leads into customers and customers into loyal customers. Defining your conversions rates at each stage is critical. However, equally important is understanding what your company’s costs of customer acquisition (COCA) and customer retention (CR) are. This comes back to the age-old statement that it costs four or five times more to find a new customer than to keep an existing one.
When a customer emerges at the end of your marketing funnel, it’s incumbent on your team to do everything it can to keep that business. You must apply a dollar value to the costs of winning new business, while also using KPIs to measure and track the variances in these costs from month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter. In this case, if the costs of winning business are too high, then there’s no reason to make the sale.
Sales Cycle Times and Churn Rate
Your sales cycle times and churn rate are great indicators that define whether your customers are engaged and buying, versus whether they’re no longer buying and uninterested. This comes down to having KPIs that track active versus non-active customer accounts. For instance, if your average sales cycle time is 2 months, then any existing customer that has reached the 4, 5, or 6-month mark without placing an order is one that needs to be captured. The goal is to be proactive in customer account management in order to avoid elongated periods where customers could become dormant.
New Customers, Revenue and Referrals
Ultimately, the goal of your marketing funnel is to win new customers. This is an essential KPI that’s easily tracked by totaling the number of leads generated in a given period versus the number of customers that emerged from the funnel. Additional performance measurements include new revenue won by month or quarter, new sales by customer and by product, in addition to the number of referrals and positive reviews from existing customers; increased customer engagement means a customer is happy with your service, is consistently buying, is vocal online, and most importantly, is more than willing to refer your business to other contacts.
A customer base that shares is one that cares.
Customer Loyalty and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
Customer engagement points the way to increasing customer loyalty. Special offers, discounts and incentives can all be leveraged in order to increase loyalty and build more brand champions. However, measuring customer loyalty doesn’t merely involve asking your customer if they’re happy.
Defining customer loyalty involves outlining how much of your customer’s business you’ve won versus what remains. Your customer lifetime value (CLV) is a critical KPI as it sets a benchmark by which all accounts are measured. A truly loyal customer will continue to be loyal month-after-month, quarter-after-quarter and year-after-year. KPIs that define loyalty and customer value are an absolute must within your marketing funnel.
Remember, it’s what emerges from your marketing funnel that indicates whether your B2B marketing strategy is working or not. A high incidence of new business won means nothing if your marketing solutions aren’t built around keeping that business.
The best business leads are already sold. They’ve pre-qualified themselves because they’ve bought into your company and closing is easy when you’re the right fit, at the right time, and they “get it.” However, if all you do is sell features or use your product’s price as the lowest common denominator, then you’ve set the wrong conditions for winning business; jostling back and forth in a never-ending price war or arms race with competitors rarely works. So, what’s the solution for companies who haven’t yet learned to adopt solution-based marketing strategies?
Drive Profits by Repeat Customers
Closing the first sale isn’t enough; keeping customers coming back is achieved by focusing on the customer’s evolving problems and not your product’s features or sticker price. Features are easily replicable by a competitor and differentiating your business on price is a “race to the bottom.” If you want to drive profits, your greatest opportunity is increasing the coveted metric CCLV (Customer Lifetime Value) and the primary driver of CCLV (Try Our Online CLV Calculator) is repeat business. Here are five solution-based marketing approaches that will generate better business opportunity leads and help you retain customers, long after the whiz of your widget or the pain of your price has long faded. Become that missing piece your customers are looking for.
Steer Clear of “Me-Too” Declarations
Your customers have heard it all before. Everyone claims to be the best. Everyone claims their product will get the job done. However, your customers need something more substantive than a generic, all-too-familiar declaration. They need to know why they should deal with your company. “Quality” is one of the most misleading offenders of “lies companies tell themselves.” (( Quality )) by its definition is an entirely subjective endeavor, defined entirely by the consumer ( someone other than you ). It’s relatively easy to scan the landscape of competing offers and insert your company in the “me-too” category. Sure, that kind of thinking will get you a seat at the table, but the problem is that the table is already crowded with hungry patrons and you’ll end up sharing a seat with an unpleasant guest who will, metaphorically, eat off your plate. That’s just rude.
The real problem is that you’re sitting with all of your competitors instead of the table with all of your customers and the reason that you get an invitation to their table? It’s because you share the same values and you can participate in a conversation that’s entirely relevant and interesting to them.
The most complicated markets are mostly governed by the social capital of real world relationships. Business relationships are governed by the same principles that personal relationships are based on: empathy, understanding, relevance, and trust.
Focus on your core competencies as they specifically relate to identified customer needs, problems, and expectations, and then justify your quality by your record of exceeding customer expectations. Use this as the basis for defining why your company is different. This is your value proposition and it must be fleshed-out in order to appeal to your business audience.
Avoid Buzzwords and Overused Jargon
Making outrageous claims that can’t be substantiated is not what your customers are looking for. They need something more definitive about the solutions your company brings. Speak to your existing customer base. How would these customers define your value? Why do they return again and again? What makes these brand evangelists so loyal? Once you have those answers, then you’ll have a better idea of how to market to future prospects. Language is important and industry jargon can do more to hurt your perception than it helps. When you speak the language that your customer speaks, you are able to relate to them in practical terms.
You will need the courage to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, “how do our customers perceive our category?”, “What do they believe now?”, “What do we want them to believe?”, and “Why will they believe us?”
Evidence is plentiful if you can define what you want your customers to believe. Once you know what “they value” you can operationalize the process of documenting and promoting the things that are directly relevant, interesting, and valued by your customers.
Don’t be Afraid of Openness
Don’t hold back on offering your most coveted information and downloads for free. Use them across all your business marketing platforms. Showcase your skill-set on social media and don’t assume that showing too much will give your competitors ammunition. You aren’t marketing to them. Accept that your best efforts will be replicated and adapted by competitors. This is the nature of business and you should share in equal proportions as you are willing to steal. Now, I don’t mean that in an unethical way, but I encourage you to benchmark your own business by how relevant, engaging and competent your top competitors are to the same customers. If your business is in a fortunate leadership position, you will constantly be innovating and looking to solve the problems of tomorrow.
You are marketing your abilities to future customers, ones who are looking for companies just like yours. It’s common to think that showing too much is a bad thing. However, your customers won’t see it that way. They’ll come to see your company as an innovative solutions-provider.
Get to Know Your Market’s “Personas”
Defining your market’s unique customer personas is critical to generating business leads. This means fully understanding all the different decision makers you sell to. You need to know how they make decisions, what concerns and fears they have, how they go about bringing on new vendors and how they make a go/no-go decision on a purchase. Understanding these customer personas will allow you to tailor a marketing message at the right time to the right people. If you really understand your ideal buyer, then you understand their attitudes, concerns, and decision criteria. This isn’t an easy research process, it takes direct experience with your customers to observe and understand their processes and perceptions.
Become a Broker of Capabilities
Finally, be sure that the network you build is a valuable one. This means establishing contact with market influencers who have a direct outcome on not only winning business, but providing solutions for your clients – even those transactions where you earn nothing but the goodwill and the high-five of a great referral. Unfortunately, a number of companies assume that generating business leads through networking is nothing more than a numbers game. It isn’t. It’s about connecting with the right people and being able to connect people to the right solution.
The best companies are forward-looking. They take an entirely different approach to generating business leads. They know that winning business is done by engaging buyers at the right time and having a ready-made solution that appeals to their audience.
If you need guidance on how best to reach your target audience in a way that that maximizes your business opportunity leads, then download this 10 SEO Mistakes to Avoid eBook.
Ready to peel away your existing perceptions and take a long-hard-look in the mirror and get a real-world perception of your organization’s unique capabilities and readiness? If so, take 15 minutes to participate in a thoughtful marketing assessment and get better insights about how you can compete more effectively and build a more profitable enterprise.