One of the problems that we hear about quite frequently: sales cycles are getting longer and longer and that it's taking too long to close. That's not just a problem that you’re facing, it's an industry-wide economic condition. It has nothing to do with macro conditions like recession or depression.
General trends are moving towards buyer decisions being made more by committee, more people being involved, purchase cycles being pushed out even longer. People are becoming a lot more risk-averse. Much of it has to do with the new buyer's journey.
If you look at how obsessed we've become with our mobile devices and how we’ve become heavy users of search engines and social media, pretty much every buyer's journey now starts with somebody asking a question. They ask a question on social media; on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. They ask a question of a search engine or an assist like Google, Bing, Siri, Cortana, or Alexa.
What are they asking about? They're asking about problems that they're trying to solve. They're asking about questions they want answers to. They’re asking about goals. They're asking about challenges. The key thing if we want to understand how we can best accelerate our sales cycle, we need to really nail two things. We need to understand who our buyer personas are, and we need to understand their buyer’s journey.
Understand Buyer Personas
A buyer persona as a semi-fictional representation of one of your ideal clients based on research and educated speculation. For most small and medium-sized companies that are brand new to this way of thinking and brand new to the strategy, start with simply having a primary buyer persona and a secondary buyer persona. Other people that are your third, fourth, or fifth priority, put them in a parking lot and come back to them in six months to a year.
First get the basics down with your two most important economic buyers. At the same time you're thinking about your primary and secondary buyer personas, you may also want to think about who is an absolute trainwreck to have as a client. Do you want to segment them out as rapidly as possible so you don't waste marketing and sales resources on that person?
Understand the Buyer’s Journey
Once we understand our buyer personas, next we need to understand the buyer’s journey that they go through in between when they first learn about your company to when they become a paying customer or paying client.
The buyer’s journey is the active research process that someone goes through between the time when they first learn about the existence of your company and when they become a paying customer.
The buyer’s journey can be broken down into three broad categories:
In the Awareness stage, which is the longest part of the buyer’s journey, people have a symptom, they have a problem, they have a goal. They have something that they’re trying to solve. They may not be able to articulate it as well as you would like them to be able to articulate it. But they know how to articulate it in their own words. That's why it's super critical that we don't guess what those words are -- we must get their own words.
When our ego gets in the way, when we get lazy, when we make assumptions that's when things go off the rails. That's when we don't have a snowball's chance in heck of trying to figure out how to master the buyer's journey, be relevant to the buyer’s journey, or accelerate the sales cycle.
It starts with understanding the buyer persona. It also starts with understanding what they look at next after Awareness. In the Consideration stage, usually they're starting to compare their different options that are out there. They have a name for their problem, and they’re looking at different ways they can solve it.
The Decision stage is where they're starting to look at specific companies and specific products. The problem is, for most companies that are new to doing this, they don't have a good digital media strategy, and they don't know much about content marketing or inbound marketing.
Almost all of the content on the website and almost all the content on their social media and digital presence focuses on the Decision stage, and it makes a very flawed assumption that every single person that comes through the door is ready to buy immediately which we know is absurd. Sales cycle acceleration is all about understanding who the two most important economic buyers are right out of the gate (primary and secondary buyer persona) and understanding those three stages that they're going to go through (Awareness, Consideration, and Decision).
The Bottom Line
If you think about two buyer personas and three stages of the buyer’s journey, we have a two by three matrix, similar to a Tic Tac Toe board. The better the job that we can do with filling up those six boxes with content that is relevant to each of those buyer personas in each stage of the buyer's journey, the better the job we can do in accelerating the sales cycle.
If you skip this there's not much you can do to accelerate the sales cycle, short of doing silly things that are destructive to your margins or destructive to reputation. Everyone can dangle discounts and promotional pricing -- all kinds of fake promotions and other nonsense.
But if you truly want to be received as a thought leader, as an industry expert, or if you really want to understand how to add value to that buyer’s journey and accelerate the sales cycle, it's critical that we understand who our buyer personas are and the stages that they go through in the buyer’s journey so we can truly accelerate the sales cycle.
How do you define sales cycle acceleration for your business? Share your thoughts in the section for comments below.
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