Long sales cycles are increasingly becoming the new normal. Five and six-figure deals are now requiring much more information, due diligence and internal sign-off before they get the go-ahead.
But, with most complex B2B sales now being sold over extended periods, how can businesses adapt to take advantage of this new situation?
The main challenge for sales teams is working out how and when to position themselves in the long sales cycle and then maintain contact without overloading the prospect during the process.
We've created the following list of things to consider when selling over an extended period of time.
Get involved early
Most people understand a sales cycle to be the time from the first contact to closing the deal including all the marketing and sales team activity along the customer journey.
Ideally, the marketing activity should engage at the earliest possible point though when the client only suspects an issue, way before they start researching possible solutions.
Ever had a sense you've come across something before, a feeling of reassuring familiarity, but not know why? That's what you are aiming for, achieve it and you get the jump on your competitors.
There is no official time to mark this point, but Google did a study in 2011 called the Zero Moment of Truth and identified it as the stimulus point at which a customer becomes aware and if we can identify that and engage that early in the cycle, we become a trusted resource before our competitors get involved in the consideration stage much later.
How to do this? Adjust your strategy to include a new area specifically addressing the symptoms of problems clients experience before they've realised they need your solution. These could be long tail key phrases on Google Ads or pieces of content you created discussing the issues.
Either way, you must ...
Commit to the entire Customer Journey
Client needs vary at different stages of the process and using a blanket approach to engage does not work well. You need to be present for the entire duration of the process with the right information in hand.
Identifying the right content to deliver at the right time, in the right frequency on the right network is key to being successful over longer periods.
For example, a video designed to simply raise awareness wouldn't be useful to a client in the conversion stage as they are past that point.
Here are some examples of what to provide at each stage;
Thought Leadership, Blogs, Social Media Posts and eBooks discussing problems
How To's and Case Studies on Specific Issues, System Walkthroughs
Product Spec Sheets, Video Testimonials
Onboarding Guides, Welcome Packs, Surveys
By committing to the journey with the right type of helpful content, you are well on your way to...
Become a trusted resource
The primary objective of a long sales cycle is to stay top of mind. You do this using great content - just don't overwhelm people because in the early days, it's all about subtlety.
A long sales cycle needs engagement that goes beyond a simple monthly email, and you should start small with the intention of building up to become the first point of reference if a potential client has a question in your business area.
This is achieved by helping clients deal with their problems (identified in your customer profiles) so you add value - you aren't simply inundating them with advertising.
Consider the tasks the client will need to do over the sales cycle and help them. What things do they need to bear in mind with systems like yours? What are the pitfalls they may not be aware of? Give them tips on how to collect the info they'll need and the especially the steps necessary to deal with you as a provider.
Knowing what content to show prospects at the right time and place is only possible when you...
Get your tracking right
Before you start paying for Ads to drive traffic, you need to make sure all your websites and landing pages are set up to track who has visited them, and what those people have done whilst they are there.
This means ensuring your Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel codes are not just installed but correctly configured for each stage of your buying process so the right content is shown to the right person at the right time.
There are many ways to remarket and the number of options available to target a specific audience is incredible. For example;
- Would you talk differently to someone who has seen a lot of your content as to another who is new to your site? Yes of course, you would.
- Would it be useful to follow up specifically with people who had seen your videos with additional helpful information on the same topic? Yes, definitely.
Done correctly Google and Facebook Ads come into their own with Remarketing and it is cheaper - meaning you will get a better ROI - because you are telling the network who to show your ad too instead of asking them to find people.
Remarketing is also a key part of the consideration stage, particularly as …
Your customers are on Google
Even though on the first impression you may think Google Ads are a waste of time because you're a B2B software company with a long sales cycle - just think - when you were last doing research on any new product or service - where did you go? If you're a bit like me, it was Google.
There are some important considerations to bear in mind though.
- At this stage, most people are researching the options - they aren't ready to buy - so drop the aggressive Call to Actions. Anything like 'Buy Now' or 'Sign Up Here' is going to be a waste of money. Don't try to get married on the first date, be a helpful resource for people with relevant white papers, ebooks, webinars or video.
- With a long sales cycle you need to vary your PPC strategy, especially in the early days. Consider the cheaper Google Display Network for Top of Funnel Awareness before using more expensive Search-Based Advertising and Remarketing.
When you successfully use PPC to show up in Search results, on the Display Network or using Remarketing though, you are well on your way to becoming ...
If you are omnipresent you are widespread - all places at all times - and it is key to keep people moving along your funnel and for you to remain Top of Mind as a helpful resource.
Clients today consume information through a number of sources so it is important that your company makes the most of every opportunity with a varied approach.
As soon as the Customer Journey begins - and Google did an excellent study on this - tools need to be in place to maintain your engagement whichever system or platform they choose to engage on and obviously mobile is key.
Expect every client interaction to be slightly different and ensure your content is available 24/7 so if they want to check how your offering compares to a competitor at 3am whilst Netflixing on their sofa, they can.
And, when you are omnipresent, a clients awareness of you increases to the point where your email inbox recognition skyrockets helping you...
Carefully nuture them
Email is the glue which holds all of these elements together. Whether it's automated follow-ups to client activity, personalized pattern interrupts for people gone cold or simple notifications to the Sales Team when a lead scoring milestone has been hit, email meshes our activities together.
Email shouldn't be overdone though.
Potential clients should be segmented by interest and the stage of the process they are at. Emails should be personalized at some level, be from a real person, not necessarily sent by them on that occasion though and relate to that lead.
Email shouldn't be stale though.
Writing with personality and crafting your messaging so it relates to the audience, with their particular language patterns, is the way to go.
As they near the end when the Sales Team takes over, marketing emails should dial it down. We don't want clients overloaded. They need space to build a personal relationship with their new point of contact inside the business.
Everyone loves it when a big deal drops. Big ticket products and services carry bigger profits but the pay off is the long sales cycles you have to go through to land them.
When you are ready to review your sales cycles, we hope you find these suggestions helpful. A clear understanding of what your client needs and how to best deliver it using the tools and approach above, will certainly help you win the long sales cycles game.