Economic downswings place increasing pressure on sales organizations. When deals become fewer and smaller, sales cycles get longer, and competition intensifies, there’s a tendency for sales organizations to unleash a flurry of activity. Often, however, increasing sales activity without a focused strategy will prove unproductive.
By applying better sales and marketing alignment to the B2B sales function, it’s possible to identify problems at the various stages of the sales process: awareness (top of the funnel), consideration (middle of the funnel), and closure (bottom of the funnel). Identification of leaks or bottlenecks to success is the first step toward reversing the downward trend in sales and profits. Here we’ll explore how top organizations focus on and solve issues at the top of the funnel.
Driving Awareness Through Alignment
The application of a thorough understanding of issues along the sales funnel – and their underlying causes – enables marketers to develop creative, targeted approaches to overcome obstacles to growth. Most important, this understanding enables them to target spending to eliminate the highest-value problems in the highest-potential segments. As a result, they can build sales quickly and effectively.
Bringing qualified candidates into the sales process is critical for any organization, especially new entries. Furthermore by removing any roadblocks to proper entry here will make the entire sales process more efficient, with reduced sales cycle times and a higher close rate.
During the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, your prospects are experiencing and expressing symptoms of a problem. They know they have a potential problem, but they are unclear how to solve it. They are doing research and you must be providing educational content to help them.
Media clutter is often a major bottleneck for brands here. Insufficient intensity or creative appeal from marketing communications can limit growth in awareness. This might include a lack of distinction or relevance to the target audience, driven by gaps in real or perceived brand positioning.
“Overcoming a lack of awareness of your specific product or category is a matter of matching your solution to a pain. Awareness of a product allows the buyer to enter the conversation a little further down the buyer’s journey.”
This is favorable for many organizations as potential customers can join the conversation with minimal education needed. Many times this helps alleviate another bottleneck at the awareness stage which is one of access, or the result of not knowing the right people in the prospect’s organization. Educated customers are often the decision makers, and by making sure your marketing is targeting the personas you’ve already identified as being a good match, you’ll see fewer lost sales.
Be careful not to waste a lot of resources on getting leads lower down in the organization. That tactic works for mature markets, not for emerging ones. Improve how often you get on the right prospect’s shortlist with a responsive sales structure and the right negotiation tactics. This is especially true when customers truly enter at the top of your funnel and need to be educated.
Mark Kosoglow again shares:
“A prospect coming into a conversation with little knowledge can be a positive in the fact that you can guide their perception of what you do and how well you do it. There is no unlearning and re-education required in that scenario. You do have to grab them and their interest earlier than most buyers are ready to be engaged but that can be overcome with a great story and strong tie to the pain they are experiencing.”
It’s commonplace for the actual or perceived branding to be inconsistent with how the sales team conveys your solution. However the sales approach must be aligned with your marketing, since creating qualified leads, who understand the solution clearly, is the only program that matters to the sales representative.
Developing a consistent story to take prospects through is one way to overcome this, and a favorite for many small and growing companies. When that is tied together with a strong value proposition, you’ll be able to move past any level or lack of customer awareness.
Developing this core value proposition is a job for the brains trust. You should develop an industry-wide point of view on the key issue at hand that is truly provocative, and which you can provide a solution to. At the same time, research on each prospect, any blog posts, news releases, and SEC documents available should provide additional material to support the sales team.
Using these resources, they can make sure the prospect has the needed access and help craft the story for the prospect’s own needs. I use several tools to accomplish this: LinkedIn, Datanyze, Rapportive, and Discover.ly.
Segmented and Focused Selling Through the Funnel
Some of the most important insights come from understanding how problems along the sales funnel differ by customer segment. Mere activity aimed at the entire market – no matter how actively it is executed – will not produce the desired results.
Image Source: Rajiv Sharma's 6 Stages of a Standard Sales Funnel by Salesforce Salesforce Canada Blog
At the top of the funnel, the marketing team most likely will have a significant amount of leads. However, these leads may not have the awareness needed to make a decision, or be empowered to do so.
Here’s a common situation companies face when reviewing their sales process:
The sales organization at a mid-sized high-tech company evaluated the sales funnel for its top target 50 accounts. The evaluation indicated that the company was not being asked to bid on as much as 40 percent of opportunities in these accounts. When the company was invited to submit a proposal, however, it was enjoying a 55 percent win rate. The overall share-of-wallet from these accounts was only about 15 percent.
Closer scrutiny revealed that sales reps were more focused on retention of existing revenue streams and managing contract implementation than on identifying new opportunities across other business units of their accounts. As might have been expected, the compensation structure for the sales organization favored the perpetuation of existing revenue streams over the growth of new ones. Additionally, the sales organization suffered from a lack of relationship building skills when faced with new buyers, especially those outside of the traditional buyer set.:
Understanding these sales funnel problems enabled the company to deploy a targeted approach to address the problem areas. One proposed solution here would be that management deploy teams whose sole responsibility involved growing new business by increasing the number of conversations with key decision makers.
Team specialists provided expert support to representatives who pitched solutions to nontraditional buyers. Dedicated sales development staff were responsible for managing retention revenue streams. These actions resulted in a share-of-wallet increase of 7 to over 20 percent in their largest accounts.
As Lovrenc Kessler, contributor at Forbes explains,
“More importantly, though, successful segmentation enables both top management and employees to steer marketing and sales activities in an active and differentiated manner, without having to consider each individual case, thereby promoting quicker and better decisions.”
When the same company evaluated its smaller accounts it recognized that it lacked overall presence in this segment. Here the actions necessary to move beyond the problems were very different from those taken to address large accounts, resulting in more efficiency.
The company initiated a combination of “pull” marketing (sometimes called inbound marketing) among small businesses and alliance building with the mid-market companies to increase mind share. This improved the sales organization’s ability to access the mid-market and develop local account-based marketing programs.
How Will You Adapt?
In the face of economic or an organization’s downturns, sales and marketing organizations must recognize a need to rapidly adjust their selling and marketing models and approaches in order to successfully impact their companies’ bottom lines. Many organizations have found that increasing sales activity without a focused strategy is unproductive, often alienating customers and negatively impacting cost-effectiveness. But it goes beyond that. Leading organizations are aligning their sales and marketing teams as well.
Best-practice companies leverage sales and marketing alignment models, especially in the awareness stage, in order to gain a number of beneficial insights. These include helping sales organizations focus their resources and tailor sales approaches on a segment-by-segment basis. By targeting critical funnel issues to growth at the high-impact stages of the sales funnel – and implementing carefully selected initiatives to address the bottlenecks – these companies build sales, reduce cost, and make an indisputable impact on the bottom line.
About The Author:
George Schildge, Founder and CEO, at Matrix Marketing Group. He works closely with CEO’s and others helping them craft and communicate the company’s vision and brand. Then turning that vision into a long-term strategy for pioneering new and existing markets for the company to dominate.