There is a big difference between a company’s sales cycle and a customer’s buy cycle.  A sales cycle is looked at from the standpoint of the company.  What steps does a company need to walk a customer through before they purchase.  A customer’s buy cycle usually starts well before this.  It usually starts back at a stage of understanding there is a problem and what the possible solutions to that problem might be.  If you are lucky, you get engaged that early with your prospect, but it’s hard to do that.  You really have to be in the right place at the right time.

Which is where marketing comes in.  Marketing can help influence in a number of ways across both the buy cycle and the sales cycle.  But first they need to make sure they have both mapped out and clearly understand how each marketing activity is influencing a specific stage of one of these cycles.  Activities that are meant for all stages are typically not very helpful to either the buyer or the salesperson trying to make the sale.  Marketing materials and activities need to be much more targeted to drive action.

In the early stages of a customer’s buy cycle, educational materials are most appropriate.  These materials rarely talk about products or solutions at all – they are more focused on identifying issues and challenges and educating the audience on what the implications are.  Once a buyer understands the problem, they are usually ready to move onto more specific materials around the products or services you offer and how they might solve their problems.  Once they are convinced they have the right solution, only then are they ready to talk about you as a company and how you stack up to the competition.

From the standpoint of the sales cycle, the sales team needs specific materials to support each stage.  Sometimes this is a case study or competitor matrix to help move the buyer to the next level, but sometimes it is as simple as materials that will keep your company’s name in front of the buyer as they try to negotiate the contract.  The sales team needs you to help demonstrate the kind of value that a buyer might get by becoming one of your customers.

So to summarize, here are your action items to start ensuring you have the right marketing activities and materials to meet the needs of both your targets and your sales team:

  • Map your target’s buy cycle and your salesperson’s sales cycle.
  • Map your activities and content to specific stages.
  • Figure out where the gaps are and fill those in.
  • If you have materials/activities that span more than one or two stages, try adjusting them to focus in better on a specific action.