How Web Content Can Shorten a Complex Sale
complex sales cycles are often misunderstood by marketing staff.
Marketers at companies with lengthy sales processes, such as software
and technology companies, typically focus exclusively at the very top
of the sales funnel, mistakenly believing that their only job is to
"generate more leads."
These misguided marketers happily create expensive advertising
campaigns and execute programs designed to drive more people into the
cycle. Then they simply tie a pretty ribbon around the leads they
generate and toss them over the cubicle wall to the sales department.
This strategy is ineffective.
Savvy marketing professionals understand that sales and marketing
must work together to move prospects through the sales pipeline. This
is especially important in the complex sale, with long decision making
cycles and multiple buyers that need to be influenced. The good news is
that Web content drives people through and shortens the sales cycle for
any product or service—especially complex ones that have many steps and
take months or even years to complete.
First, understand your sales process in detail
All sales processes are definable, repeatable and understandable, and
effective marketers use the Web to move people into and through the
process. You need to get together with salespeople, sales management
and product managers to understand exactly what happens in the sales
You should answer questions such as these: How do people initially
find your company or product? When does the sales person first contact
a potential buyer? When do they talk about your company’s products?
When do they offer a price quote?
Understanding the process in detail allows you to create a
definable, repeatable and understandable process that Web content can
Segment your prospects right from the home page
A very effective technique is to segment prospects by using
"self-select paths" right from the home page. Consider links based on
the buyer persona, perhaps by job title or by industry. A prospect is
much more likely to enter the sales cycle by clicking a link that is
designed especially for her.
Create thought-leadership content at the top of the sales funnel
People in the early stages of the sales cycle need basic information
on the product category, especially "thought leadership" pieces. Don’t
just write about your company and your products at these early stages.
When doing initial research, people don’t want to hear about you and
your company. They want information about them and their problems.
Make Web content, at the early part of the sales process, free
The job of Web content in the early stages of the sales
consideration process is just to get a prospect interested in your
organization. The best way is to provide valuable content that
addresses their problems. You want to build empathy.
At this early stage, avoid forcing people to register their name and
contact details. The best thing at that point is for your prospect to
think: "These guys are smart. They understand my problems. I want to
Provide compelling and detailed content to get people to ‘raise their hand’
Once you’ve developed an online rapport through Web content, it is
time to deliver something of value that you can trade for a
registration form. Remember, if you are asking for someone’s name and
contact details, you must trade that personal information for something
of equal or better value to your prospect.
At this stage, a compelling white paper, online event (such as a
webinar), or online demo is appropriate to move your prospect further
down the sales process—and she will happily "raise her hand" to express
interest by filling out a form. At this point, you’re still not ready
to sell a product or service (yet).
When you pass a name to the sales department, provide as much detail about the prospect as you can
Congratulations. Now you’ve gotten the name of a prospect that a
salesperson can contact. But you need to provide sales with as much
detail as possible based on the content your prospect accessed.
Together with the form she filled out, tell the salesperson details
like "She clicked the ‘I’m a financial executive’ link from the
homepage and then requested our white paper." When your salesperson
contacts the prospect, he will already know details about her besides
those just on the lead form.
Now that you’re working the sales prospect, offer even more content
When a prospect is actually talking to sales, your marketing job is
not done. Those further along in the process want to compare offerings
and need detailed specifications and lists of features and benefits.
You should create Web content to help your sales department move the
prospect toward a close. Add her to your email newsletter list. Invite
her to a webinar. Alert her to your corporate blog. Working with your
salesperson, offer her online ROI calculators, feature comparison
charts and other tools for the middle and latter portions of the sales
And don’t forget to make certain that your salespeople know about
the content you’re providing so that they can coordinate by pointing
prospects there, too.
Measure and improve
Measure what content is being used and how. Understand through Web
metrics what’s working, and constantly tweak the content to make it
better. Meet regularly with salespeople to gain insights into the sales
cycle and how your Web content is helping the process. The good news is
that the Web is that it is iterative—you can constantly make
adjustments on the fly.
* * *
In an increasingly competitive marketplace with a complex sales
process, Web content will unlock success, even in highly competitive
industries where smaller players are beset upon by larger,
David Meerman Scott is a thought-leadership strategist and the author of The
New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use news releases, blogs,
podcasts, viral marketing and online media to reach your buyers
directly. Check out his blog at www.webInkNow.com.