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Chapter 17: The New & Improved Sales Process
“You ready to talk about sales?” I said to Chuck.
“Only if you’ll tell me something I don’t know.”
“That’s a challenge for somebody with your experience, but I’m up for it.”
“Who’s the most important member of your sales team?”
“That would by Marie Han. She could sell tennis shoes to a donkey with no legs.”
“Okay. I’ll bite.”
“I’ve seen the numbers, Ryan. Marie wins by a landslide. We’re talking Reagan second term landslide here. Hands down.”
“That’s because you’re not using your website correctly. Used right, your website will manage leads automatically, 24 hours a day, without charging you commissions. It will respond immediately to consumer inquiries, and sort leads by quality. All for free.”
“So, you want me to replace Marie?”
“No. I want you to set up your website so it makes Marie even better and more efficient at her job. Your income rises. She gets more commissions. Everybody wins. Here’s how.”
The classic noir movie The Way of the Gun includes the line “The greatest distance between two points is a kidnapper and his money.” They were close to right, but really the prize goes to the distance between a lead and a customer.
One of the few drawbacks of the inbound marketing method is how far along that distance somebody is when they first make contact with your company. In the old days, 57% of people who contacted a company had already made up their minds that they were inclined to both buy from and do business with that vendor. A higher percentage of closes came out of each contact, though the model left less opportunity to influence somebody who hadn’t yet made a decision to buy.
Modern profit engineering makes first contact with a potential buyer far sooner. This earlier acquisition is as much of a game-changer for the lead nurturing and close process as the internet was to the attraction stage.
How It Was
The traditional model of working a lead to a sale ran through three steps:
An interested lead would call in directly to the sales department, or fill out a form requesting a call. The salesperson built rapport, answered questions, offered discounts, presold, made promises, tested closes, and generally spent time nurturing a lead. The discussion might take one call, or might take several conversations, including some on-the-house drinks and/or dinners — depending on the potential value of the sale.
The final stage of this older model was the sale itself. That stage didn’t change substantially from era to era, with one huge exception. In the Old Way, the sale was the end of the process. Modern sales require nurturing existing clients just as you would leads.
We’ll talk about that part in another chapter, but here we need to look at how the process has changed from beginning to end.
How It Is
If you’re selling cars or life insurance, the old adage “Always Be Closing” is exactly what it sounds like. Every sentence out of your mouth, every action, should move leads one step closer to signing on the dotted line.
That’s because those models bring potential buyers to the door much closer to the buying stage than does profit engineering. Similarly, those B2C are dealing with lower stakes and lower budgets than the B2B decision makers you deal with.
For those reasons, the process here is an iterative series of contacts. Each of those contacts also moves toward a “close,” but until the very end, that close isn’t a full purchase. Here’s how it works.
Page View → Contact → Qualify → Value Added (loop) → Sale
Let’s look at each of those in turn: what they are, why they exist. and how they work.
This is the most important part of understanding how to manage leads in a modern, inbound profit engineering system. Inbound leads have a 1% to 10% close rate on average, depending on the industry and how a company handles their sales cycle. This is not because inbound leads are less effective. It’s because inbound sales hook potential buyers earlier in the game.
Why hook people so much earlier in a process, at a time when they might not even be close to ready to buy? Because research shows that 35% to 50% of sales go to the vendors that customers contact first. Put another way, no matter how far from buying somebody might be when they access your online content, when they do buy, they’ll buy from you…
…if your online content is memorable and powerful enough for readers to remember you when they’re ready to buy. This means the first job of your online content is to hook and groom readers for later interactions with your sales team.
Because of what we just talked about, having your sales team contact everybody who viewed your page would waste company resources and frustrate your salespeople. Before that first contact happens, you must leverage one of the hidden superpowers of well-executed digital marketing. Remember a few chapters ago when I described your company website as the best salesperson in your company? This stage is why.
A well-designed, well-executed inbound marketing system guides buyers from casual interest to ready-to-buy before your human salespeople ever make contact.
It does that automatically, 24 hours a day, while costing you nothing for all the extra hours. It’s not free to set up, but once the system’s in place, the actual cost per qualified, interested lead is negligible.
That well-designed, well-executed system performs this impressive task by doing the following things:
- Capturing the attention of casually interested readers via high-value content
- Guiding readers to further information automatically with calls to action and internal links
- Identifying where readers are along their buyer’s journey
- Assessing whether or not a lead is qualified
- Leading qualified buyers to an offer that delivers value and triggers contact from your human sales team
Such a system lets your salespeople work smart instead of hard. If they had to contact everybody who visited your site, the close rate would embarrass them. More importantly, they wouldn’t have time to give your qualified leads the attention they need and deserve. By letting your automated inbound marketing system sort visitors, you set up your sales team to call only the leads most likely to result in a sale.
The other hazard of hooking in people earlier in the buying process is that fewer of them are confirmed qualified buyers. This is the first stage in which that closing toward something that’s not quite a close really starts to both become clear and show its power.
As a premier Phoenix marketing agency, our approach at Nuanced Media is to set a meeting with potential clients and show in detail how, what and why we do what we do. This is only done after a potential client has seen enough of our content to want to sit with us and find out what we can do for them. We won’t work with a client unless we can project at least a 3x return on investment for them.
As that meeting draws to a close, we offer to build a market velocity action plan (MVAP) with the potential client. During this process, we sit down with the key decision makers from the now “partners” team during a series of meetings and discover the top opportunities for their company based on industry research, standardized sales pipeline metrics, historical data and their highest margin product or service line. After discovering their top financial and operational opportunities, we lay out a strategy to execute on these opportunities and project low, medium and high financial returns. If the medium projection exceeds a 3x ROI, then we will recommend that we work with the partner to execute the MVA.
This process works for a number of reasons.
First, it gives massive value to our potential client. Our MVAP includes expert strategy, industry benchmarks, financial projections, and a list of top growth opportunities. Any client could take the MVAP and use it to engineer their profit destiny without our help…but they won’t, because it demonstrates how well we do the job they are considering hiring us to do.
Second, it lays out for our client the costs, initiatives, risks, and rewards of working with us. It allows an educated decision with reduced risk.
Third, it helps us make a final qualification check on the client. If they are unable to afford the MVAP, or unwilling to follow through on our recommendations, or if our two companies are simply a poor cultural fit for one another, we can know early on that this partnership won’t work well enough to delight the client. It lets everybody pull out before things start to go wrong.
After years of giving away something slightly less labor-intensive for free, we found this works better.
It works better because anybody who can’t afford the MVAP absolutely cannot afford our core product. It’s better to know that early in the process, so you waste neither the lead’s time nor your own efforts.
This doesn’t mean you just drop an unqualified lead. It’s rude, and they can still help your business grow. But because the later steps in this dance cost you time and money, it’s best to make sure you take them only with qualified partners.
The Value-Added Loop
In the bad old days, discussion was limited to face-to-face meetings where the sales rep spent the whole time looking for a solid close.
In a well-engineered system, discussion happens in two parts:
- The part you’re already familiar with: the discussion between a live sales representative and the lead. This requires no real explanation to the kind of business leader who reads this book, but do understand that it happens second chronologically.
- The part that happens automatically, via an email lead nurturing system. We discussed this in detail in earlier chapters.
The details of these points are what we’ll spend the rest of this part of the book discussing. Right now, the important thing to keep in mind is that you’re in for more than one discussion.
Again, because leads start the journey much farther from ready-to-buy than in earlier modes, it’s best to look at discussion as a loop. Each content with a lead adds value to the relationship and looks to move one step closer to a solid sale…but can also lead to another discussion of either type.
That’s why we call this the “discussion loop.” You’ll move through several iterations of the loop with each lead. Some might go through just once, while others will go through it several times — each of which is unique and adds value — until finally being ready to buy.
And how do you keep track of each lead as they move through these iterative discussions? I’m glad you asked…