How to get to customers earlier in the buying cycle

October 16, 2017: One of the biggest challenges facing sellers today is how much harder it is to speak to customers before they have already made up their minds.

Customers are on average 68% of the way along the buying process before they contact a sales organisation, according to the expert research group Forrester. The wealth of data online allows customers to fact-find in the privacy of their browser, and make their own decisions about the type of product they think they need.

The digital revolution has transferred power from seller to customer, and has reduced many sales conversations to mere haggling over price, rather than more fruitful talks about the solution that will be most valuable for the client.

What do sellers need to do to shift their customers back towards the start of the buying cycle? Two accomplished professionals offered differing real-life approaches at an engrossing and well-attended seminar arranged by the Association of Professional Sales.

Each solution fitted a different profile of customer and deal, but the common thread in both presentations was the idea of co-operation between marketing, with its early contact with clients, and sales, which manages the later stages of the sales funnel.

As APS group managing director Denise Bryant said: “Salespeople want to be given leads that are generated at an earlier stage in the sales cycle, so they are able to influence it more and have a conversation based around value as well as price.”

Andrea Clatworthy of Fujitsu outlined how her company had boosted revenues by adopting Account-Based Marketing, a practice where sales and marketing work together on key accounts.

Andrea Clatworthy, head of account-based marketing, Fujitsu

Andrea Clatworthy, head of account-based marketing, Fujitsu

Research showed that if a sales organisation managed to get involved 10% of the way into the sales cycle, rather than 68%, win rates improved to “a whacking 80%”, said Andrea, now Fujitsu’s Head of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Deal-Based Marketing, EMEIA.

Setting internal rivalries aside, marketing and sales intensively studied the client’s needs, challenges and marketplace. Marketing technology (martech) was used to dig out and analyse information. Small but crucial details were unearthed about individual stakeholders – what approach would make them most receptive?

For each account the Fujitsu team created a joint plan, rolling it out over months. The strategy moved from building confidence in the brand to presenting an innovative solution, seamlessly anticipating the client’s needs and connecting them to Fujitsu’s offerings.

Trialled part-time in 2014, the approach worked so well that it was expanded the following year and made full-time. It was rolled out to some of the company’s Top 100 clients, and used to focus in the shorter term on individual deals (DBM) as well as on entire accounts over several years.

Ms Clatworthy described how Fujitsu had used ABM to transform dramatically its relationship with a major German retail bank.

During research, Fujitsu’s team realised that the bank was nervous that its clients didn’t trust banks.

The team commissioned a special marketing tool just for that client, a cartoon animation featuring an imaginary customer called Karin, who had started her own business selling coffeemakers, and was supported all the way by her bank as the business grew. The cartoon stressed how Fujitsu was helping the bank to support Karin.

The approach was so successful that senior bank staff took to asking “What would Karin think?” in strategy meetings, Ms Clatworthy reported.

She added with a smile that the ABM initiative was partly funded by cancelling demand generation and lead generation on the target accounts. “Nobody noticed!” she chuckled.

ABM was flexible enough that any sales organisation could choose some of its concepts to adopt, said Andrea.

The second speaker was James McCarthy, from digital consultancy Brightfly, which is pioneering new digital techniques to influence clients earlier in he buying process.

See what he said here.

Andrea Clatworthy and James McCarthy were speaking at an APS seminar called Uniting Sales and Marketing held on September 19, 2017 at Oracle in central London.

APS members can watch their presentations by clicking here, and logging in.

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