You’ve probably heard the phrase, “slow and steady wins the race,” and it’s especially true if you’re in B2B sales for a complex industry. The process of selling a $100 gizmo or $10 commodity might take minutes. However, selling a $100,000 software solution or landing a $1 million equipment manufacturing contract could take months or even a year or more from the time a sales qualified lead fills out a contact form on your website.
How do you keep leads engaged and guide them on their buyer’s journey during that time — one that leads them right back to you?
If you’ve got an inbound marketing strategy, chances are your answer involves creating engaging content and nurturing those leads. But what does that actually look like and how can it help you shorten the sales cycle? It takes a two-pronged approach that goes beyond sales enablement, and one that many often get backwards.
How to shorten a B2B sales cycle:
- Build relationships internally first
- Promote cross-departmental conversations to ensure your content actually attracts and converts leads
- Keep your CRM updated by integrating with your marketing and website CMS
- Build relationships with prospects by building trust
- Provide engaging content, including video in the sales process
- Be relevant by providing answers that help the lead at each point in their journey
- Be engaged by tailoring interactions to each lead’s situation
- Be available by using sales automation tools like chat and meetings links so the lead can engage on their schedule
1. Build Relationships Internally First
Before you can expect to nurture leads, you need to capture those leads. And if you know anything about B2B inbound marketing, it undoubtedly involves a content marketing strategy. It’s easy to jump right to creating a list of blog ideas, advanced content topics, and what to include on conversion forms. Oh, and don’t forget about overhauling your website that’s still rockin’ that 10-year-old color scheme.
Stop. Take a deep breath.
Before you jump to the fun and creative part of inbound marketing in an effort to wow potential leads, there are some foundational steps that need to take place if you truly want to accelerate your sales cycle. Yes, you’ll need to identify your buyer personas and map out their buyer journeys, but there’s an absolutely critical element of an inbound marketing program that often gets overlooked.
Promote Cross-Departmental Conversations
I’m not just talking about healthy conversations with external leads; I’m referring to engagement that need to take place with your internal teams. Your inbound strategy needs to start there.
If everyone on your sales and marketing teams isn’t on the same page and working together toward the same goal, your sales won’t just take longer, there will be fewer of them. That’s the bottom line. And, if your content isn’t based on questions those on the front lines are actually hearing from prospects and customers, it’s going to fall flat.
But I’d propose that these conversations need to go beyond sales and marketing; ideally, everyone in your organization is on board and playing a role in capturing and nurturing leads.
We recently met with a client for a content brainstorming session and there were representatives from every department in the company, including the CEO and vice president. The engagement in the room was energizing, and their collective contributions helped generate ideas that the sales and marketing teams wouldn’t have thought of on their own.
The most successful inbound programs aren’t just a sales and marketing strategy, they’re a company-wide initiative that everyone embraces.
Another idea for creating internal buy-in and keeping the conversation going include leveraging a communications app like Slack. Create a channel dedicated to your inbound efforts where employees can share new insights while they’re top-of-mind, such as:
- Customer stories
- Questions asked by customers and prospects
- Survey results and chat trends
- Common misunderstandings about products or services
- Challenges that may need to be addressed
- Insights about competitor activities
- And more
Keep Your CRM Tool Updated
Once you have buy in from all departments, you’ll need to create processes to support your lead generation and lead management efforts. Those processes need internal buy in, too.
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools are commonplace in many businesses, allowing them to keep their contacts organized, track deals and more. Since CRMs are often stand-alone software, integrating your CRM with your content management system (CMS) is a critical part of any inbound strategy.
To gain the full value from your CRM requires that it is updated with the latest information gleaned from contacts’ interactions with your inbound campaigns. But you’ll also want to use the system to make notes about particular leads, document conversations, signal alerts for follow up and more.
The leading marketing automation tools, like HubSpot, integrate with most CRM systems and perform many of these functions automatically. It’s important to note that if you’re considering upgrading your current system, HubSpot offers a free CRM that easily integrates the data between the content management and customer relationship sides of things.
This type of integration ensures that many of your CRM updates occur automatically when contacts engage with a piece of content on your website, fill out a form, or open one of your emails. This allows you to focus on nurturing those leads instead of performing mundane administrative tasks.
2. Build Relationships With Prospects
Chances are, your company has been known to emphasize how it’s “focused on the customer.” Spoiler alert! We hear that from nearly every company we work with.
Saying your company is customer-centric isn’t a differentiator these days. What really matters is proving it.
To do that requires building trust with potential customers over time. How?
Go Beyond Blogs and eBooks
In the early days of inbound, there was a heavy emphasis on blogs and gated advanced content. Those types of content still remain a core part of inbound marketing, but the most successful marketers leverage additional ways to engage and nurture leads and speed up the sales process.
Using video to demonstrate your value is a must in today’s B2B marketing, especially if your product or service is highly complex. Seeing is believing for many buyers and, with a growing number of younger generations moving into decision-maker status at their companies, the need grows with it.
There are a lot of impressive statistics about B2B video, and we’ve seen first hand how it can give a brand a voice and a personality. It helps build rapport and trust with prospects, ultimately leading to faster sales cycles. Don’t forget to also leverage tools like webinars, free trials, social media, and community discussion boards to connect with prospects on a deeper and more personal level.
Being relevant doesn’t just mean having a nice website that features the latest design trends, although it certainly is a very important element if you want to be taken seriously. Beyond the look and functionality of your website, the content featured on it needs to be produced in a way that addresses your prospects’ paint points and answers their questions. Pay close attention to your workflows and nurturing campaigns to ensure you’re not bringing someone back to square one rather than leading them toward a solution.
As with any relationship, building rapport with a company requires getting to know their priorities and values. Is cost your prospect’s main concern, or do they want to simplify their supply chain or increase capacity? How you approach each situation will be different, and you’ll want to provide answers with their core strategies in mind.
If you haven’t quite identified where the lead is at, try different ways to interact to see what works best. Do you have a community for your customers? If so, invite them to join. Do you sense that a lead isn’t a primary decision maker? Equip them with the tools they need to share information about your company with others involved in the decision making process. Truly engaging someone requires getting to know who they are and the role they play in their organization.
We all know the importance of not allowing customer support inquiries to slip through the cracks and how it can negatively impact customer retention. When it comes to customer acquisition, response times are equally important. Leverage tools to engage with new sales qualified leads. Determine the best time to reach out when new information or updates related to their company become available, but don’t focus on selling to them; focus on helping them. Use a “schedule a time with me” tool to make it easy for your prospect to connect, and use sales tools to automatically get notified when a lead revisits your site, clicks on an email link or engages with social media.
The bottom line? A delayed response will inevitably lead to a delayed sale or missed opportunity.
Focus on connecting, not selling. There’s a lot more to be said about shortening the B2B sales cycle, and we’d be happy to talk through your specific challenges and how to overcome them. Request a free consultation to see how a B2B inbound program can boost engagement and speed up your sales process. Also check out our Guided Tour of a Sales & Marketing Service Level Agreement below to help get everyone on board with your growth strategy.