Think about the last time you bought a new car, was your first stop at the car dealer? If you are like most buyers your search likely began on-line. You probably spent considerable time researching things such as available options, safety features, financing plans and reviews from current owners. You wanted to make sure you were fully informed before you drove onto the new car lot and started the formal sales process.
This hidden sales cycle (a term introduced by Aberdeen Group) is occurring in every B2B sales environment. The hidden sales cycle did not happen overnight, it has been evolving steadily as the Internet makes more and more information available to buyers. If you are running a sales ream it means that once a prospect is identified and qualified this prospect is well into their research and decision making process. Marketing organizations must adapt to this Hidden Sales Cycle and increase both the quantity and quality of top of the funnel leads. Fortunately there are proven best practices to do just that!
Inbound Marketing More Important Than Traditional Approaches
This trend requires changes to the way B2B marketing engages with prospects. Brand image and marketing collateral are still needed as part of the marketing mix but CMO's must implement programs that can capture a prospect's attention and shape their decision process well in advance of actual need identification. Investment in new technology and processes like marketing automation are necessary to switch from speeds and feeds marketing approach to a fact based content driven approach.
Prospects will willingly accept information and messages that help them solve problems but consistently reject those messages that feel like a sales pitch. In fact, in a recent Aberdeen study 58% of a 137-person CMO study indicated that improving marketing content was a high priority for 2012. A renewed focus on quality content should not be done in a vacuum; the sales team must be part of the process as they are constantly receiving feedback from clients on their problems and issues.