First, the bad news: The sales cycle still requires a lot of time and money. Speaker and marketing and sales consultant M.H. (Mac) McIntosh says a study conducted a decade ago holds true today: It takes about five calls to close one sale, and $350 or more per call in resources/man hours to make it happen. And it still requires finding leads, convincing them to meet, qualifying, getting and closing the opportunity, and convincing the customer to buy again.
“The steps are the same as they were 50 years ago, but the environment you’re selling in is vastly different,” says Linda Bishop, sales expert, speaker and author.
But there’s good news: Through advances in marketing products, automated tracking tools and just plain better communication between team members, an organization can improve on its prospecting and the overall efficiency of its sales cycles.
Perhaps the biggest advantage today’s companies have is an increased scope of marketing tools. Variable data, automated systems and better ROI tracking help find qualified prospects quicker and begin the “dating” process of the sales cycle sooner. Marketing creates awareness, educates buyers prior to the sale about benefits and advantages, and increases mindshare – so you are remembered. “All are required to get a serious shot at new business,” Bishop says.
Marketing should play an integral role, especially at the beginning of the sales cycle. “The idea of using marketing to handle the earlier parts of the sales cycle – prospecting, nurturing and qualifying steps – makes economic sense, because it frees up the salespeople to focus on being with prospects who are most likely to buy and do the demo, propose and close steps,” McIntosh says. “Those are where their one-on-one efforts are best invested.”
Replace a couple of those traditional sales calls with marketing activities, and you’ve saved hundreds of dollars and increased sales efficiency by 30 percent to 40 percent.
Use letters as a way to introduce yourself. Buyers receive lots of emails. They don’t get many letters, so a letter stands out.Linda Bishop, Sales Expert, Speaker and Author
Marketing’s role is the macro side of the business – viewing clients as the herd. Pat Pallentino, director of the FSU Sales Institute at Florida State University, says you must ask what the herd behaviors are and the direction and overall size (value). “Sales’ role is the micro side of the business – the hunter who is armed with all of the marketing’s intelligence and can, in the most efficient way, single out and capture the biggest prize in the herd.”
McIntosh says increased success with marketing also has led companies to consider the cost involved with other tactics, such as cold calling. “In my opinion [cold calling] is pretty much dead. It’s one of the most costly lead generation tactics today in B2B. People use it because they have nothing in the pipeline, and they can generate some results because they are playing the numbers game. If you call enough people, you might find interest.
But the cost per lead is really high. McIntosh says what works better than cold calling is integrated calling into a multi-touch system, meaning maybe you start with email with a respond call back, or continue to email and use direct mail. He recommends a follow-up call once a quarter to see if you can engage and qualify the prospect. But email can be a double-edged sword. “You have to be smart about how and when you send your emails,” McIntosh says. “Sending useful, relevant content a couple times a month is better than emailing every day.” The increase in emails has led to the resurgence in a more traditional tool. “Use letters as a way to introduce yourself,” Bishop says. “Buyers receive lots of emails. They don’t get many letters, so a letter stands out.”