How To Ace Top-Of-Funnel In 2016

January 18, 2016 Geoffrey Walters

So you’ve started the new year with renewed zeal that you’re finally going to optimize your business’s top-of-funnel and create a smoothly operating sales machine that hits new conversion heights.

You’re just not sure how you’re going to do it.

The key here, as with so much in life, is simplicity. Refining top-of-funnel is all about making sure that each person’s role, and each process, is clearly defined so that there’s no more confusion - and no more time wasted on inefficient business methods.

We’ll explore a few areas you can tighten up on to make sure that 2016 is the year you finally ace top-of-funnel.

Aligning Sales And Marketing

Sales and marketing often make poor dancing partners—they always tend to be stepping on one another’s toes. Aligning sales and marketing, therefore, is essential to achieving a frictionless top-of-funnel process.

For this, clarity of message is required. One way of achieving clarity is suggested by Macolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. In it, Gladwell talks of an idea’s acceptance boiling down to three factors: the message, the messenger and the context.

Gladwell said that the reason an idea would take off or fail was not just dependent on how good the idea itself was (the message). Success was also reliant upon the delivery of the message (the messenger) and the way in which the message is delivered (the context).

If all three of these facets are carried out in the proper way, the idea can then reach the “tipping point”, where you stop having to try to attract customers because they actively start to pursue your product.

With Gladwell’s theory in mind, make sure the message you are trying to put across is clear, crisp and concise, and delivered in a way that is easy to understand. SDR should be clear on their responsibilities, as should AE. Marketing should also be in the loop so that time is not wasted giving out duplicate information to the customer, and so that the customer is not confused by contradictory messages.

A simple, clear, integrated system that gathers information and indicates whose responsibility it is to dispense it is a good way of doing this.

Historically, the difference between sales and marketing has been that sales pursues customers while marketing seeks to attract them. With an aligned top-of-funnel, the lines between sales and marketing begins to blur: as they pull towards the same goal in a concerted manner, they should soon begin to resemble one another, just as two people in a good relationship often start exhibit one another’s character traits.

Sales and marketing should not only be singing from the same hymn sheet, they should also be looking to add value every time they contact the customer. This means that every point of contact must have an express purpose rather than just being a generic call or email to “touch base”.

At Sales Stack 2015, leading business sales coach John Barrows explained it this way:

“Touching base and checking in—the two most meaningless phrases in sales. Everybody do me a favor, every time you tell a rep to make a phone call, tell them all to start the conversation off with this simple phrase, which is: ‘The reason for my call is…’ Because if your reps can’t finish that sentence, they shouldn’t be making the phone call.”

How do your reps know their reason for making a call? Because they have thoroughly researched both the customer and the marketplace, that’s how. Feedback should be gathered from people who have rejected your product or favored a competitor as well as from customers who have bought from you.

Use the information they’ve provided to work out how why they did what they did and store your conclusions for cross-company access. When a rep goes to make a call, he or she then has a particular picture of a customer and is able to pitch the product in the way most likely to result in a sale.

It sounds counterintuitive, but tell your reps not to focus too much on the product at the top of the funnel. Instead, ask them to identify the problem the customer is having and requires a solution for and have the reps present themselves as the business experts they are, helping the customer with their problem. This will build trust, which then makes it easier to introduce the product further on down the line.

Content on your website and in your official communications should mirror the expertise your sales reps are displaying in their calls with a view to positioning yourself as a “thought leader” in your industry.

It’s about being seen as innovative and forward thinking, so your prospects see you as someone who can offer a guide to an uncertain and shifting landscape; but it’s also about traditional assets like knowledge and experience. John Barrows again:

“[T]here was a report that said the vast majority of executives consider the expertise of the seller prior to making a decision. If you are known as a thought leader in your industry, you’re five times more likely to get the business than if you’re not.”

The best way to position yourself as a thought leader is to create a lot of pithy, quickly readable content in formats that best suit your buyers: they could be infographics, webinars, assessment tools, whatever your research shows is their favorite means of consuming information. Then make sure your content is visible to customers in places they regularly visit, rather than contained only on your website. (LinkedIn, anyone?)

Content like this a great way to show buyers what they are lacking and to offer them a solution for it—without even having to mention your product. Once they have let you identify a problem for them in this way, they will then be far more inclined to buy what you have to offer, while never feeling that they have had a product pushed onto them.

For Ralph Barsi, head of the worldwide sales development organisation ServiceNow, the difference between old-school sales and Internet-era sales is the shift in focus from pursuit of customers to attraction of customers:

“There’s a fundamental difference between the pursuit of a prospect and attracting a prospect and one is, you’re thinking about yourself versus thinking about them. So I think the more salespeople today can face outward and start focusing on the world of our prospects or even the world of the candidates that we want to hire on our team, or leaders we want to bring into our company, the better and the more advantages we’ll have.”

With sales and marketing aligned and able to access a wealth of relevant information that they then use in a clear, concerted way, you’ll have gone a long way towards refining your top-of-funnel strategy.

Efficiency Matters

We’ve touched on collating information into a database that can be easily accessed by SDR, AE and marketing. Lesley Young of Box, the secure content platform, recently did some analysis about the percentage of time taken by reps to prepare for calling a customer and her findings show the importance of speed and quality of information delivery to reps:

“20% of a business development rep’s time was spent doing the research to get on the phone or to send an email. We have a sales efficiency project to reduce the cost of sales oriented around: How do we surface the information for connecting so that reps aren’t spending so much time trying to pull it all into one place? That equated to about $5 million of spend just doing those exercises before they ever got on the phone.”

It’s worth performing a similar survey in your own business and seeing if you can help your reps improve their efficiency. Look at your CRM—is it the best one for your company? (You do have one, right?) Ask your reps for feedback on how they want their information presented and if they have had experience working with better systems elsewhere.

Another question to ask yourself is: How are we collecting data? Are we using the most efficient methods? Review all facets of how your information is collated and presented to reps and you can leave them more informed and with more time to speak to the customer. For Lesley Young, the benefits are clear:

“It’s really not about how many dials you make these days, it’s about the conversation you have, and getting to that conversation was what we were trying to do in spending that time, but we weren’t doing it in the most efficient way. So, really, this year has been all about, how do we apply technology, how can we use the data and deliver it through the systems that we have to the person that’s going to make the phone call?

What’s really great about that is, those folks then become very creative about the way they’re approaching the person they’re pursuing because they have so much more to use than they’ve ever had before.”

Relevance And Education

If you remember science class at school, you’ll know that it’s so much easier to visualize how something works when you have working examples. Business is no different. When your reps contact a customer, instead of them saying, “We can help you,” it’s far better for them to cite an example of a similar company that has benefited from working with you.

This approach not only gives the customer a concrete example that they can cross reference before deciding to give you their business, it can often give you an advantage over a competitor who is unable to give specific examples of businesses their product has helped.

It’s also easy for reps to memorize as they’re working with specific examples rather than abstract concepts. Their ability to detail such a case study in depth will do wonders for their confidence, which will not only help them believe in themselves but help the customer believe in them—and by extension, your product.

Reps will be instantly irrelevant if they show a distinct lack of knowledge about the business they are calling, or if they display a lack of purpose. Phrases that should on no account be in a rep’s armoury include the following:

  • “Hey, I’m just checking in…”
  • “What are your top three priorities for this quarter?”
  • “Tell me a bit about what your business does…”

Key Top-Of-Funnel Metrics

What matters most, quality or quantity of leads? Really, it all depends on what stage your company is at. New or small companies can’t be choosy about what leads they have—they just need leads, and plenty of ‘em, otherwise, what are they going to analyze?

Nascent companies like startups need volume. They need their reps need to talk to a lot of people so that they can try out their story on different customers and find out what is working and what isn’t, so they can find out which customers are interested and which ones aren’t, and generally iron out the bugs in the sales approach.

As the company evolves, the opposite is true. Larger or more mature organisations need to take an approach centered on quality of conversation rather than the more scattergun means employed by younger or smaller companies.

Bill Binch of marketing automation site Marketo, has this advice:

“I can start doing a conversion at the creation of the deal as well as at the close of a deal. What I can do is start preparing over time and see for example, ‘We created a lot of deals that were really big but the closing price was much smaller.’ And I can start having a quality discussion about what the marketing side of the house is creating for us.”

Conclusion

So there we have it. With a simple, well-articulated message, you can align sales and marketing, create an efficient, educated workforce, and make sure you have a unified message on all fronts. It’s a streamlined, straightforward approach that’ll help you achieve top-of-funnel efficiency in 2016.

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About the Author

Geoffrey Walters

A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.

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