By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

sales tips for handling inbound leadsA recent study by Marketing Leadership Research concluded that buyers on average are 57% of the way through buying cycles before contacting vendors. Despite all this buying activity, I can’t help but wonder how many of these buying cycles wind up in “no decision.” According to Sales Benchmark Index, 52% of proposals ultimately result in “no decision.” It would appear vendors and researchers have no visibility to measure how many buyer-initiated evaluations fall under their own weight. It is likely many do before vendors are contacted.

The buying behavior we described in Rethinking the Sales Cycle (McGraw-Hill, 2010) has become a snowball rolling down a hill gaining speed and momentum. Painting with a broad brush, today buying cycles start primarily in one of two (2) ways:

1. A mid-level or lower buyer begins doing research on offerings and vendors leveraging the Internet and social networking. While some executive or decision maker levels may do extensive research on vendors and offerings via the Internet, such cases would seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

2. Salespeople (with or without Marketing support) proactively make contact with Key Players to discuss their business issues.

Many salespeople confuse activity with progress when determining which opportunities are worthy of their time and belong in their pipelines. I’ve come to believe many companies confuse website activity (scored in painstaking detail) with leads. In the same way “bingo cards” were/are followed up after trade shows, my concern is that many of these website leads are with buyers that can’t secure unbudgeted funds. Evaluations are more product than outcome focused and therefore don’t have strong business cases to secure funding.

In facing the reality that a large percentage of buying cycles begin electronically, part of having a sales process is aligning your website with messaging that your salespeople are prepared to execute. One of the first steps in implementing CustomerCentric Selling® is defining a Targeted Conversation List™ for your offerings. These list the high level titles that a seller would have to call on to sell, fund and implement each offering and include a menu of goals (business outcomes) that can be achieved through the use of your products and services.

Buying cycles begin (leads are generated) when a title within a prospect organization is interested in talking about one of more business outcomes. Ideally the title would be a Key Player, but in the case of website activity, a lower level title could become interested in one or more organizational goals. Uncovering goals allows vendors to help buyers realize potential areas of value.

Companies can leverage a Targeted Conversation List™ by having a coherent plan to nurture website visitors over time to realize the business outcomes that could be achieved to more than offset the expenditure that ultimately will be required. I don’t want to understate the importance of grading web site activity, but ultimately feel buyers regardless of level are far more qualified if they can articulate value. Whether they will contact a seller or approach a higher level within their organization to seek funding on their own, buying cycles are less likely to come to abrupt ends.

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