— August 2, 2017
Hello everyone! I’ve been spending a fair amount of this month relaxing poolside, cocktail in hand, celebrating my birthday with loved ones in Hawaii. Lest you think I was completely idle during that time, let me assure you: I was.
But occasionally, I devoted some quality clear-headed time to thinking critically about Spring Insight. As we’ve been tailoring our packages for a number of small businesses, some of our clients have asked why we recommend a particular suite of digital strategy options over another.
It seems now is the time to discuss the length of your sales cycle and how it impacts your marketing decisions.
Sales Cycle 101
The sales cycle is the entire process a company undergoes when selling a product to a customer. It is all of the activities associated with closing a sale. Simply put, customers just think longer about making some purchases than others. It turns out that the length of the cycle itself impacts your marketing strategy.
In general, the shorter the sales cycle, the more important it is that you’re the first option potential customer sees. And the longer your sales cycle, the more important it is that you remain relevant.
Let me explain.
Say you’re a dentist. Someone looking for your services is going to make a decision whether or not to hire you pretty quickly. This is intuitive: Someone Googling around for a root canal is in something of a hurry. Even in a non-emergency situation, you can see that there’s a pretty short period of time between when someone decides they need the services of a dentist and when they choose which dentist to see (which in this case is the “closing” of the sale).
So which marketing strategies are best for the short sales cycle businesses?
Short Sales Cycle: Be the First in the Room
To capture these types of customers, a marketing approach should focus on being found and seen first. In the digital world, this is all about search engine marketing – think Google ads – and
search engine optimization (SEO – the art of directing unpaid search traffic). If someone’s searching crown repair in greater Milwaukee, and you’re an oral surgeon in the Milwaukee area, it is critical your office pops up in the client’s initial search.
The relative immediacy of the need impacts the types of research a customer undertakes. For short cycles, this is why reviews are so important. A person looking to satisfy immediate needs will be looking for quick, pre-packaged information. Reviews are so important for a business with a short sales cycle that businesses regularly offer incentives to customers to encourage them to share their feedback.
So if you have a short sales cycle, focus on a paid and unpaid search strategy that provides visibility when your customers need you. As an added layer, incentivize your customers to share their experiences, so that future customers can quickly and easily access information about your business – and quickly and easily decide to hire you.
Long Sales Cycle: Be the Last in the Room
Of course, many business transactions do not operate on such a short sales cycle. My own business – digital strategy – operates on a much longer timeline. Someone who is pondering a website overhaul or considering the next steps in their marketing strategy is likely to deliberate, and will rely on different types and sources of information than someone looking for more immediate help.
This is where you want to be the “last person in the room.” You’ve probably heard that, when policy decisions and other big controversies are at play, the person who manages to catch the boss’s ear last (be they the CEO or president) is the one whose viewpoint will carry the day.
When it comes to these longer sales cycles, there are many tactics to help you be the last guy or gal in the room. One of our favorites is content marketing. Content marketing focuses on building trust, rapport and brand loyalty, rather than on individual direct sales. To do this, an effective content marketing strategy will provide something truly valuable to a customer – say blog posts, newsletters, infographics, quizzes, or how-to guides. In exchange, your business can gain a little bit of info about your customer – most commonly, his or her email address. Now you can stay in touch, and remain top of mind.
Further, when customers are in the market for your business’s products or services, they already have the information about your business – the information you’ve been providing, along with the trust you’ve building – that they need to make a purchase decision. For products on a longer sales cycle, this source of information can be more valuable than a 3.5/5 star rating.
Determining the Length of Your Sales Cycle
You probably have a pretty strong intuition about the length of your sales cycle. In general, a decision process that lasts two weeks or less would be considered a shorter sales cycle. Anything outside of that is a longer sales cycle. Urgency is one factor which determines a shorter cycle, but there are others. The more customized your product or service, the longer your sales cycle is likely to be. If a customer is looking for something requiring a big investment or some customization – a new car, a wedding cake, or a digital communications strategy – the sales cycle involved is going to be more complex, rely more on the development of a relationship, and, in general, be longer, than for an off-the-rack or low-investment item.
The scope of your sales cycle is just one aspect of targeting your marketing dollars effectively.