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.

In continuing my post from last week, I wanted to share a recap of a couple of the other presentations from the @Marketo Revenue Rockstar tour in Chicago.  The first is from TPG’s own Debbie Qaqish (a.k.a. Lady Qaqish or @revenuemarketer).  I’ve seen Debbie speak many times on these topics but she’s always so engaging I never get tired of hearing her.

Debbie shared some insights on what it takes to become a revenue marketer.  She outlined a journey from traditional to lead generation to demand generation to revenue marketing.  There is a significant jump from lead generation to demand generation that takes the focus from leads and metrics like email opens to pulling leads through the sales process and metrics such as conversion rates and days to close.  You really have to have a marketing automation system with CRM in place to make this leap.  Then the jump from demand generation to revenue marketer is really characterized by making your process predictable, repeatable and sustainable.

According to a 2010 CSO Insights survey, sales are still having to generate most of their own leads and yet sales effectiveness is the #1 initiative for the VP of sales for several years running.  Which means most companies out there aren’t even at that demand generation stage.  Sales is crying out for marketing help and marketing needs to listen and respond.

The next presentation was from Ron Ens from the Lenskold Group.  As I’ve said in previous posts, I love numbers, so this was just a fascinating presentation for me.  The Lenskold Group helps their clients really dig into the metrics and measurement of marketing efforts.  He describes the maturity of measuring as a journey from tactical management, to lead quality, to strategic, to revenue and ROI.  You may think you are measuring revenue today, but trust me you can get much more sophisticated!

One of my favorite graphs Ron showed was a case study of a company who was looking at lead source (by last touch) and thought that their most effective tactic.  Yet when they actually looked at lead source through a shared attribution model, they saw that really direct marketing made a huge impact.  This is really a good example of that lead quality level of measurement – much more than just tactic by tactic.

At the strategic level, Ron’s team helps clients start forecasting revenue and gain insights on the right marketing mix and targeting/segmentation through either marketing mix modeling (using 2 years of previous data) or marketing testing (forward-looking).  And finally, at the revenue and ROI level, you really start to tie financial scenario planning into marketing – understanding both revenue and profitability (as Marketo is doing in their marketing efforts as noted in the case study in my last post).

Measurement, like the rest of your marketing efforts, should be a journey.  As Jon Miller notes, start small, think big and adapt quickly.

Hope this recap was helpful and inspiring.  Try to attend one of these great events or if you can’t there is also a live stream of the New York event on June 7th.

The imagery of a funnel is often used to describe the process that targets go through for marketing and sales.  But it’s not very accurate.  A funnel is technically used to control the flow of something.  Eventually, everything that goes into the top of the funnel will flow out the bottom.  While I applaud the optimism that every target will become a sale, that’s just not realistic.

A better analogy would be a sieve.  Or a funnel that someone poked a lot of holes in.  What happens in reality is this – you send out a marketing campaign and you get some people to respond.  Those people are going to be at varying stages in the buying cycle, or maybe not even in the buying cycle at all.  They may be at an early stage or they may just be browsing around thinking about future products and services.  Or just keeping up on what’s going on in the marketplace.  They may be your competitors or students.  There are going to be lots of people in that first group who you just don’t want to waste your time on.  So your next marketing materials or sales interaction will ideally start to weed out the people who are going to be good prospects vs. those that aren’t.  You get a little leakage out of the funnel or sieve.  Each subsequent conversation should weed out a few more of your original leads until you get down to the very best targets who are highly likely to purchase your product or service.

If you don’t have a leaky funnel, you probably aren’t doing a good job at narrowing in on the best targets for your sales team.  Your sales team has very limited time to interact with your targets, so you want them spending their time on the very best ones that are likely to buy.  If you are just sending them every lead you get, they are probably spending way too much time chasing bad leads and are likely to resent you in the process.  Your job in marketing is to make sales more efficient and help pinpoint the right leads for them to go after.

You won’t always get it right.  Sometimes you will filter out someone who will go buy from your competitor and sometimes you will keep someone in the funnel who shouldn’t be there.  But that’s okay – this is an iterative process.  By doing this over and over again and measuring every step of the way, you’ll figure out how to improve your funnel and just where to poke the holes to make it work well.

So next time you get a conversion rate of less than 100% from one stage of your funnel to the next, applaud your success in helping focus in on the right leads and just keep measuring everything.