We’ve all seen the Sirius Decisions statistic that “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” Even more importantly, “online searches are executives’ first course of action” when considering a purchase.
As a marketing executive focused on demonstrating the value of marketing every day, these stats are important. By understanding the buyer journey and mapping sales and marketing content to that journey, we can build a Contact2Contract strategy that touches a buyer at the first point of frustration, and leads him or her through the buying cycle. A sophisticated Contact2Contract strategy leverages the best tools of content marketing and digital marketing. It also delivers the measurable results to make marketing the most valuable tool of your company’s growth engine.
Following is a step-by-step approach to delivering a choreographed Contact2Contract model that accelerates the sales cycle. It builds on the publicly available Sirius Decisions value stream model.
Step 1: Know your buyers. Every complex sales cycle has more than one buyer. The person with the problem (the buyer), the influencer and the decision maker. Building on Park Howell’s “hero” thinking, create personas for each buyer including:
- Capture the title, function and typical work track
- Identify the ultimate goal
- Craft the buyer’s backstory
- Know what’s at stake
- Determine who could disrupt that goal and why would they do it
- Create a picture of victory (and no, it’s not signing your contract)
- List the functions and resources the buyer trusts
Step 2: Chart the buying cycle (and your selling cycle). Every buyer has a buying process with hard stops in many places. Know it. Chart it. And identify the speed bumps you need to overcome to avoid the hard stops. Start by asking these questions:
- Why is the buyer frustrated?
- What questions is the buyer asking?
- Why are those questions important now?
- What information does the buyer need to hear and why?
- What questions will the buyer ask next?
- Who does the buyer need to convince?
Step 3: Identify and map content types to each stage of the buyer journey. Help each buyer move more quickly through the phases by delivering the right content at the right time. Content earlier in the buying cycle should give your organization credibility (e.g., white papers and blogs). Later-stage content supports a sales objective (e.g., sales presentations and RFP responses). I like to create separate lists of marketing and sales content at each buyer stage. This graphic shows content types at each stage.
Step 4: Create and optimize your content. Content creation is not as hard as it looks. Prioritize the content and create it stage by stage. Identify the delivery medium for each piece so you can leverage digital marketing best practices to get the message to the right buyer. Consider these pointers:
- Reuse content. Use infographics, quotes and proof points as stand-alone pieces and as support for longer content
- Consider the goal of each piece. Use a research report to create fear, uncertainty and doubt; create an assessment to qualify the reader for your solution
- Vary your delivery media. An infographic is perfect for a tweet or LinkedIn update; a podcast or white paper might best come from an email or online ad
- Leverage third-party content when appropriate; this delivers instant credibility (if the third-party is well known)
- Optimize your content for search engines
- Make it easy to share your content. The more your content is shared by online thought leaders, the higher your Google ranking. The higher your Google ranking, the more likely buyers will find your content.
Step 5: Launch your content in a choreographed program that leaves the reader wanting more from you. Make your content work for you by choreographing its delivery. Push content via inbound marketing programs. A CRM system makes this process automatic. If you don’t have a CRM system, you can still do this on spreadsheets. Remember to:
- Personalize the communications
- Put the offer in the first paragraph
- Include different ways your buyers can interact with you; e.g., use mini assessments and follow-on reports to create a sense of urgency
- Capture relevant contact and buyer information from each exchange
- Open the door for the sales person to follow up with an appropriate offer
Step 6: Push ONLY qualified leads to the sales team and stay involved. It’s tempting to push leads to the sales team quickly and then walk away. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember two rules: #1: Only push leads to the sales team that are truly qualified (anything less than qualified and you will only frustrate the buyer and the sales team). #2: Stay involved in the sales process (the content that marketing provides the sales team during the later stages of the buying cycle help ensure a consistent buyer experience and a smooth transition from buyer to satisfied customer). Work with sales to:
- Agree on the definition of a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and a lead qualification process
- Deliver only those leads that meet the qualification; nurture leads that aren’t qualified
- Work side-by-side to provide additional and consistent content to move key buyers to contract. This can vary from developing unique win themes and to customizing proposals and presentations. Again, this can only happen on key deals.
Step 7: Leverage customer successes. The key to a consistent customer experience is to manage messaging throughout the buyer journey and into the implementation and use of the solution. A happy customer will shout your praises from the rooftops (even when they are “not allowed” to). Consider these ideas:
- Create a win press release upon contract signature
- Capture pre-implementation and post-implementation stats to demonstrate improvements
- Create a case study leveraging success stats
- Highlight the customer in a best practice series
- Encourage the customer to speak about their business results at industry conferences
A Contact2Contract strategy done well will accelerate the sales cycle. A well-conceived program will increase the dependency of sales and marketing and change an often adversarial relationship into one of collaboration and respect. Most importantly, marketing’s ability to demonstrate value will cement its leadership position in the company.
To learn more about the Sirius Decisions value stream model see this webinar.