B2B marketing and the long sales cycle

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When companies are faced with extended sales cycles (two to three years), it can be difficult to keep the momentum going with a prospect. Employee turnover, economic realities,  regulations and technology are just a few things that further complicate an already complex situation. How many times have you witnessed a ‘done deal’ fall apart with the simple change of management? How can you stay visible and relevant to your prospect in the face of so many challenges?

If you look at the challenge as a marketing opportunity, you’ll see the sales cycle in a new light.

The sales challenge:

In general, sales teams continue to act alone, more often than not. There are some practical realities to this, of course: They are often traveling, they are under pressure to perform and they believe they know what they are doing – often preferring to work alone.  Although there is no question the front line sales team is going to be the group most likely plugged-in to the realities of the market place, it doesn’t mean they are being effective.

The sales opportunity:

From a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective, the sales team is a company’s most vital pipeline to market place intelligence. That’s the kind of information your marketing team craves, yet the ‘loner’ reality of the typical sales environment can make sharing information difficult. Sales may not identify an opportunity that marketing identifies – and vice versa. But if they aren’t actively speaking to each other, who’s going to maximize any opportunity? When management adopts a policy encouraging regular, organized communication between sales and marketing departments (throughout the sales cycle), guess who wins?

The technology challenge:

Because of the explosive growth of computer technology, there are so many tools available to sales teams, they can easily become overwhelmed and neglect using tools that are specifically designed to help them.  They may not even know they exist. More often than not, sales professionals will do what works best for them, but that doesn’t mean it works best for the company or the sales cycle. If you don’t have a long-term plan that includes specific technology, you are swimming against the tide for no good reason.

The technology opportunity:

The upside of having a lot of technology? You have a multitude of tools available to help manage and support the long sales cycle. Tools like Salesforce can show a sales manager who is doing what, when and how often. It can track success rates and provide a multitude of data that is rich with information that helps fine tune processes. Software like Prezi allows for beautiful presentations that engage your audience and frankly, put PowerPoint decks to shame. Web CMS solutions like WordPress allow for easy creation of custom content that can personalize the sales environment for the prospect. Back end tools like Google Analytics provide crucial data that can help identify further opportunities.

Of course this is just scratching the surface. The point is: There are many strategic ways to attack a long sales cycle and there are clearly enough tools. What is needed most is a business development plan that involves integration of marketing and sales efforts in a meaningful way – throughout the sales cycle. That plan should include regular communications between sales and marketing. It’s simply not enough to say marketing will support sales. They have to support each other, you have to define how they will do it and then stick to the plan.

The term, “integrated marketing” gets thrown around a lot today. By definition, it is the integration of marketing into every aspect of your brand. This is often misunderstood to mean that marketing is ‘sticking it’s nose where it doesn’t belong’. It is also something that most companies believe they are doing (even when they’re not). If you consider that the entire point of marketing is to create and sustain environments conducive to sales, it simply doesn’t make sense to use them sporadically throughout the sales cycle…especially the long sales cycle.

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