Columnist Jim Williams explains how advocates can help you fuel a healthy sales funnel by putting an end to the fear that stops your customers from buying.
Your sales pipeline is in danger. Whether you know it or not, there’s something lurking in the shadows that threatens to bring the whole thing down — one lost deal at a time. It’s something your team can’t possibly face alone, no matter how much marketing, nurturing or social selling you hurl at it.
Its name is F-E-A-R, and your customers are deep in the throes of it. They don’t trust your marketing. They don’t trust your salespeople. And they’re scared to death of risking their company’s financial resources, and their professional reputations, on the wrong decision.
Need proof? According to a global SAP survey around the future of sales, B2B buyers state their biggest risks in making purchasing decisions include “wasting company money” and “losing credibility internally.”
Make no mistake: The fear is real. And if you don’t do something to stop it, you won’t have a pipeline left that’s worth saving.
So many choices
Not to be confused with the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) tactic that marketers used in days past to make consumers question their choice of a competitive solution, today’s fear is largely self-inflicted.
With access to online reviews, product features and social chatter around your brand (or lack thereof), buyers can tap into to an unprecedented amount of information, learning everything about your product and company without ever talking to your sales team.
In fact, compared to a year ago, 80 percent of B2B buyers say they spent more time researching purchases, and 73 percent use more sources to research and evaluate purchases.
The problem is, with so many choices, buyers are terrified that they’ll make the wrong one and end up losing business, their jobs, or even worse, the respect of their peers. And with every negative online review they read, every missed opportunity to catch a positive comment from a happy customer, or worse, the absence of any social mention around their potential brand of choice, their terror intensifies.
Changing the conversation around your brand to give buyers the confidence they need to choose your product or solution isn’t something you can do alone. You’ll need help from your advocates — your most satisfied customers who can spread positive word of mouth about your product and brand at every stage in the sales funnel.
With your advocates in your corner, you can avoid potential conflicts with sales around the quality of leads you’re feeding them, and instead concentrate on moving the revenue needle in the right direction.
How advocates contribute to a healthy funnel
When sales and marketing work together, they can develop a funnel that connects prospects with advocates throughout the sales cycle. Advocates cannot only handle sales objections, but also move people through the funnel more quickly.
Here are a few ways they accomplish this:
- Advocates provide warm referral leads
Among B2B companies with formal referral programs, 71 percent see higher conversions, 69 percent close faster, and 59 percent report higher lifetime value.
As buyers increasingly rely on peer recommendations to make decisions, chances are your next lead will come from the network of one of your advocates. And that’s good news, considering that you’re 4.2 times as likely to get an appointment if you have a personal connection with a buyer.
- Advocates provide a steady stream of references throughout the sales cycle
Many sales reps struggle with having enough references to help push prospects through the funnel. Call on a variety of advocates to act as references for target accounts so they can share their stories with companies similar to their own at every stage of the buying process, and help you close deals faster.
- Advocates surround your brand with social proof
If your brand has been plagued with negative reviews — or no reviews at all — it’s time to activate those advocates. With 55 percent of buyers consulting online reviews to help in their purchase process, brands that don’t take advantage of them will take a hit to their pipeline.
Align your teams around advocacy
Companies that align sales and marketing are 67 percent better at closing deals and generate 209 percent more revenue from marketing. With an advocate marketing program in place, these numbers can certainly climb higher.
Aligning your teams around advocacy begins with a conversation. Get together with the head of sales, so that each of your teams understands how the buying process and the sales process fit together. Assign roles throughout the funnel, so you can visualize how advocates can contribute to closing deals at every stage of the cycle, not just at the end.
When talking to sales leaders about the value of advocacy, appeal to what they care about most: warmer leads, faster deal velocity, larger deal sizes and the tools they need to hit their quotas.
No more fear
As you can see, advocates can help fuel your pipeline, align sales and marketing teams, get you to higher revenue numbers faster and help quash the fear that prevents your customers from buying.
But advocacy isn’t all about taking. You need to be sure you give back to your raving fans by rewarding them in a way that is valuable to them. Help them build their personal brands by including their testimonial or story in one of your publications. Promote their status as a thought leader by inviting them to speak during one of your conferences. Or simply appeal to their need for appreciation with a handwritten thank-you note for their efforts.
For marketers, it’s difficult to swallow the fact that buyers largely ignore your carefully crafted blog posts, white papers and case studies in favor of peer reviews, while sales reps may have a hard time accepting that buyers would rather talk to a colleague than draw on their expertise about a product or service.
However, if you’re serious about eradicating the silent killer in your pipeline, let your advocates take center stage and watch the buying begin.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.