Selling complex B2B financial products is a fraught undertaking, even without the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on target companies’ day-to-day operations. Vendors must endure long and uncertain sales cycles, reflecting tight client budgets, the need to deal with multiple decision-makers, difficulties in getting clients’ attention, and the seemingly endless number of objections and issues to be addressed before closing a contract. And if anything, the problem is getting worse: a survey of B2B buyers (done before the pandemic hit the US) showed that over 60% of respondents said that their purchase cycles had gotten longer.
But the rewards of successful B2B sales are great as well. Once sold, big ticket, renewable products generate chunky revenue streams, and in many cases offer avenues to sell additional products and related services. Successful offerings become deeply embedded in client workflows, leading to high renewal rates and gratifying levels of customer satisfaction.
In this and upcoming posts I will describe how vendors can accelerate sales cycles and increase closure rates via the strategic use of content such as blog posts, case studies, and white papers. Creating content costs money, of course, and the link to revenue generation can be hard to prove. But I believe a compelling case exists that investments in strategic content, done right, pay for themselves many times over.
The term “strategic content” reflects my emphasis on creating and using material that is closely aligned with a vendor’s sales strategy. It also captures the idea that the content should focus on the end clients’ needs, by showing how a vendor’s products can help them achieve their mission-critical goals. This might seem like an obvious point, but I’ve found that it’s often neglected by vendors who, understandably, concentrate on product development, technology, and revenue generation.
The sales pipeline as a blueprint for sales and content strategies
I use the familiar framework of the sales pipeline to describe the strategic content appropriate for each stage of the sales cycle and show the role strategic content plays in getting prospects into a vendor’s pipeline, in removing blockages, and in increasing contract closure and renewal rates. The common language of the pipeline provides a shared framework that ensures that content produced by a firms’ marketing team is aligned with the strategies employed by the sales organization.
The version of the standard pipeline model, which I set out below, differs from other approaches by adding stages to incorporate the need to engage prospects’ attention and to deal with objections that arise as they (hopefully) move towards contract closure. These are common challenges that I’ve encountered over the years in selling complex B2B financial products.
Qualifying prospects: it’s a lot easier said than done
To kick off the discussion, I’ll use the Lead Qualification stage in the schema as an example of the role played by strategic content, as well as the underappreciated challenges of getting clients to pay attention to a vendor’s products in the early stages of the sales cycle.
As a recap, in sales-speak to “qualify a prospect” is to determine if an entity is a good prospect to buy the vendor’s products. If so, they then become a qualified lead, worthy of further investment. How to do this is an age-old problem for the sales profession, one that has spurred the creation of numerous frameworks to systematize and improve the process: a couple of the better known examples are BANT (where, to become a qualified lead, a prospect must have Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing) and MEDDIC (the same concept, but where the criteria are Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion). If nothing else, the marketing profession is not immune to the business world’s love of catchy acronyms.
All these processes rely on a prospect giving generously of their time in order to allow the sales representative to determine if they have the “the right stuff” to become a qualified lead. The problem – which is under-addressed in the usual pipeline framework — is that this is a lot easier said than done. Most professionals lead busy lives and juggle multiple priorities. This is truer than ever in a time of remote working and when clients are preoccupied with recasting budgets and other pandemic-related issues. It’s not obvious to them why they should invest time in a question that’s of much greater interest to a salesperson than to themselves.
Enter strategic content. One way to make the qualification process more efficient is to use content to increase prospects’ interest in a product. By first doing so, a sales organization increases the chances that prospects subsequently will be willing to speak with a salesperson and to open up about their needs. Both are prerequisites to determining whether unqualified leads become qualified ones — or not. I’ll explore this concept further in a future post, but examples of such content include case studies (usually disseminated as blog posts) tied to current and relevant events, and that feature a modest level of information about the product and its relevant features.
In the coming weeks I will publish posts on the role of strategic content at each stage of the pipeline, with the exception of the Proposal and Closing stages where success depends on salesforce execution. I am looking forward to drilling into this less-studied aspect of B2B sales and marketing and hope that the points and conclusions we develop will help vendors get the sales their products deserve.