Like everything you see or touch, the Internet has had seismic impact on your sales cycle and the purchase process of your prospects. How you deal with the changes that have occurred will dictate your success (or, hopefully not, failure).
Here is the traditional sales cycle for most companies:
- Prospecting/lead generation
- Initial contact
- Qualify prospects
- Communicate value proposition
- Answer questions/handle objections
- Close the sale
That’s the seller’s perspective. The buyer’s perspective is shown in the traditional purchasing process:
- Need recognition
- Information gathering
- Evaluate alternatives
- Purchase decision
- Post analysis
Before the advent of readily available online search, the seller had strong influence in the early part of the processes. They identified target prospects and utilized both broad reach and targeted communications to generate interest and, hopefully, sales leads. Once the leads were gathered the sellers also had the ability to control, or at least direct, the remaining steps in both processes.
That was “then”. Now purchasers can easily and quickly research many different options before any direct contact with a seller. Research shows many purchase decisions are 60% to 80% complete before a direct inquiry is made. In other words, the buyer is in complete control, jumped directly to #5 in the sales cycle and you have not been part of the conversation. Sellers have lost control of the process and the ability to do reliable sales forecasts is greatly reduced.
So how do you get back into the conversation early in the process? The early part of the traditional sales cycle…overt prospecting and lead generation…needs to be more focused on providing high quality educational content that buyers will want to use in the self-directed search. That means you need to know all the critical purchase criteria for your product/service and make salient information relation to that criteria easy to find and easy to access. You also need intimate knowledge of the competition so you can make your meaningful differentiation part of the information.
Your new sales cycle might look something like this:
- Competitive analysis
- Research buyer purchase criteria
- Develop concise, thorough educational material
- Use Google search analytics to perform well in organic search
- Generate leads through response mechanisms in educational material
- Contact pre-qualified respondents, answer questions