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The longer it takes to convert a lead to a client, the more resources (both tangible and intangible) are drained from your firm. Unfortunately, the average sales cycle has slowed down by 22% over the past five years. We know some of the reasons: Well-informed buyers are taking time to research their options, and slow economic growth makes buyers hesitate to commit.
The slowdown doesn’t show signs of stopping, but there is good news: Strategic use of content can speed up your sales cycle.
The Sales Cycle
There’s a content strategy for all of the phases that leads go through in the typical sales cycle:
Awareness and education: During this stage, buyers learn about you through your marketing and social media. While they’re familiarizing themselves with your brand, it’s your job to dig deeper into who they are, what pain points you can solve for, and who else has those same needs. Then you can learn from other industry analysts, gurus, and trusted thought leaders.
Consideration and validation: While buyers are considering their purchases, you want to think through how you can specifically address their needs. Third-party validation is crucial at this stage to demonstrate your credibility.
Evaluation: At the end of the buying cycle, your prospect has all of their top options laid out, and it’s on you to close by demonstrating why your firm offers the most value.
Tracking Buyers’ Journeys
If you know exactly where your buyer is in the buying cycle, you can continually send them the next appropriate content, materials that both satisfy the requirements of their current buying stage and move them to the next stage.
Verbal cues can often be misleading; it’s how buyers consume your materials that’s the true indicator. For example, a buyer might say she just wants general pricing for your broader services, but the five minutes she spends reading a whitepaper about a specific service line shows that she’s interested in that particular offering. Along with your pricing structure, then, you can send her the content that shows the value of that service line.
When you have insight into how buyers are consuming content — down to the page-by-page level — you won’t miss these nonverbal cues. You’ll know exactly where buyers are in the journey and what content can help them move to the next stage.
A Content Map to Shorten Your Sales Cycle
Here’s how you can use content to shorten your sales cycle:
- Home in on hot prospects.
Identify your most engaged prospects, measured by how they consume your content (not just by opens and clicks). As you gather data on their engagement, add it to your CRM so you can create a richer profile for each prospect. Some marketing automation systems — Salesforce, for example — can do this for you automatically as buyers engage with your content. You’ll also want to implement a lead scoring system to help identify the quality and stage of each prospect.
Once you know who your hot prospects are, you can develop better-informed personas and journey maps. Plus, you won’t have to waste time on prospects who aren’t ready to buy or for whom your product is not a fit.
- Leverage multi-thread connections.
It often takes multiple people within an organization to make the final purchase decision — including influencers, decision makers, approvals, and others.
But too often, sellers will have just one inroad into the organization and will get blindsided when a prospect goes dark or when one of the final decision makers was not “taken on the journey.” Looking at the overall engagement data — from meetings, content consumption, and emails — for an account of individuals’ engagement will give you a good indication of a single-threaded sales cycle.
- Map content to sales stages.
Create content that correlates to each of the sales stages, with “awareness” including the most generalized content and “evaluation” the most buyer-specific. Then, you can layer on the demographics of your audience.
For example, say you have a prospect in the financial services industry in the “awareness” stage. You would tailor content specifically to the financial services industry — including terms they use, unique business pains, and use cases. Then, you’d customize even further to the individual’s job function (like wealth management, trading, operations) and, finally, layer on a behavior view (what type of content that person is consuming). The buyers will feel like you are taking the time to understand them and build a trusted advisor relationship, rather than a buyer-vendor transaction.
Other businesses’ sales cycles may continue to slow, but yours doesn’t have to. By understanding your audience and each stage of the sales cycle, you can map your content strategy to prospects’ behavior — and send them the content they need, when they need it.