Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Helping shorten the sales cycle

I have a client with a relatively high cost, enterprise level software product - and the usual attendant lllloooooonnnngggg sales cycle. I've lived through this before, and every time I end up scratching my head and asking myself just what marketing can do to help shorten the sales cycle.

Sometimes these things just have to run their course, things take time, the larger the organization the (likely) greater the purchasing bureaucracy, etc.

But here are a few things that marketing should make sure are on hand to help nudge that pokey sales cycle along:

  • Reference customers. Not just customer success stories, which have probably already been used in the mix to move the prospect to the stage they're at. How about a real reference customer. Sure, the prospect will ask for references when they're good and ready  - often before you're good and ready, in fact - but how about the idea of offering to have a customer call the prospect to talk through any issues the prospect may have. Okay, this can be risky - you need a customer who's knowledgeable, articulate, and supportive of you. But if you have someone who you think might help close a sale, now might be the time.

    Getting references out of the selling organization is often like pulling teeth. How refreshing when one gets volunteered?

    Make sure that you don't over-use your good references.  But if you have folks that know your product, like working with you, etc. - and they're willing to spend a few minutes with a prospect. Go for it.

    Hint: if you have a User Group, these folks will be your best bet. Also keep in mind that, although many companies don't allow their name to be used in case studies, they are okay with talking to prospects on your behalf. So just because someone turned you down for a success story, doesn't mean they won't talk to a prospect for you.
  • FYI: Something in the news that might be of interest to your prospect? An analyst report, a survey, some industry finding? It doesn't have to be about you and your company and your product. If there's something that's genuinely germane, make sure that your sales folks are armed with it.
  • Newsworthy news: If there is something that's newsworthy and new about your company or product, make sure that sales has that, too.  New release. Product of the year award. Big win.
  • ROI: I am not a big believer in ROI tools. Even when a "neutral" third party has produced yours for you, the answer always seems to be the same: buy this product and save BIG. But most big ticket decisions require some ROI analysis, and if you can provide some sort of calculator that at least illustrates where to look for savings, you'll be ahead of the game.  Case studies that attest to savings and returns are also good to have on hand. In fact, I much prefer them to the ROI calculator.
  • Incentives: This is B2B enterprise sales we're talking about, so you're not going to start shouting "Buy One, Get One Free." Or "Order now and no payments due until 2009."  But marketing may want to package up a few things - just so that sales doesn't start running amok with the discounts. (Not that I've ever seen that happen.) There may even be marketing-related incentives you can add to the mix. Maybe if they sign the deal by the end of the month, they can send two folks for free to the User Group meeting...

Remember, marketing doesn't end when the lead hits the funnel. You've got to stay right in there with sales. The longer the sales cycle, the greater the risk that the competition prevails - or that the prospect does nothing. Anything that marketing can do to move the sales cycle along will prove extremely valuable.

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