Sales cycles and offerings

So, I’ve been working with a client on his business and he asked a very good question and my response became long winded and rambly and now I’m summarizing it here.

Basically, the client is torn between two options:Offering a lot of free content on his site, or, offering a wealth of information but only after a prospect signs up.

The first option results in no customer loyalty (customers get free information from him and go elsewhere). The second option doesn’t get a lot of prospects signing up, but when they do, they stick and tend to convert. The first option, in many cases, is the most popular one today because a lot of information is freely available. I told my client that if the information he was offering was freely available elsewhere, then he should offer it for free. However, my advice was to offer some kind of unique, differentiating information and require a prospect to sign up.

Normally I might not suggest this for a lot of sites but once his prospects sign up, his conversion process is successful. He’s staying with that model and we are going to work on some ideas that will enable him to convince more prospects to sign up.On its own, that’s an interesting conversation, but it led into a far more interesting conversation and one that is relevant to nearly all of my clients. We talked about the sales cycle and the steps in a sales process.

And above all else, each step that you require a prospect to take in the process to become a customers should be a little, tiny step. In other words, you want to nudge your prospect along the sales process with baby steps so that each contact they have with you they are just slightly more invested than the last time until suddenly they discover that they are so completely bought into you that the next obvious choice is to give you their money.

Lots of companies have a sales process that is extremely basic: “we do this to turn a lead into a prospect and we do this to turn a prospect into a customer”. That might work fine. But it will work better if the process goes more like this: “we do this then this then this then this to turn a lead into a prospect and we do this then this then this then this to turn a prospect into a customer”.

Check out your sales cycle. Do you try to capture 5 pieces of information from your leads before they become prospects? Maybe that shouldn’t be one step but 5 steps. Yes, there are more times to potentially lose them, but I think the net result is actually positive: more people will be scared off by leaving 5 pieces of information than they will if they have to leave 1 piece of information each of 5 times.

Case study: Overbooked

The following is a case study derived from working with a client. To preserve confidentiality, I am only describing the problem and not the client.

PROBLEM: Recently, a client approached me with a problem. He was overbooked. He has a popular, in-demand B2B service and his phone was ringing off the hook. Outsourcing is an option but only in a limited capacity due to the demanding and legislated qualifications of the service. So my client instead wanted to be more selective in taking on customers and needed a process that would allow them to “weed out” undesirable customers.

SOLUTION: We worked on turning them from an “attracting organization” to a “qualifying organization”, two very different kinds of marketing. An attracting organization uses marketing to magnetize clients and draw them in. It’s the most common type of marketing for businesses because most companies need to attract clients. But for those companies that have plenty of prospects, a “qualifying” type of marketing needs to be used to demonstrate why not everyone can get the product or service offered.

Consider 2 restaurants in the same town: One has a lot of empty tables and offers buy-one-get-one-free coupons to attract consumers. The other has a line-up around the block each night so its marketing needs to qualify its clientele by talking about exclusivity and quality. No “BOGO” here!

RELEVANCE TO THE BUSINESS DIAMOND FRAMEWORK™: A lot of the work here is in the To-Market Diamond, since most of it is marketing related. However, there will be some Leadership Diamond changes as an organization switching to become a “qualifying organization” makes some decisions at the upper levels to change processes and vision. And, the Support Diamond is impacted because many support roles will need to change, either to assist in the qualification process or to deliver flawlessly each and every time. The Value-Add Diamond is impacted only in the sense that relationships with high quality suppliers will need to be strengthened to enable flawless delivery of the product or service.

Analyzing and repairing your sales process

I think a lot about the sales process. It’s a key element to using the Business Diamond Framework™ successfully to drive innovative change into an organization. Specifically, I use it to create content strategy, which is a burgeoning discipline that aligns content with your business’ aims. In this blog, I’ll talk about aligning content with your business’ sales process.

One of the strategic tools I’ve used in the past to examine the sales process has been the Flowscape and just recently, I’ve found that I’ve started to use it more and more.

Flowscape is a visual thinking tool by the guy who thinks about thinking, Edward DeBono. (See Note 1). He created this tool to map trains of thought and to bring to light the real issues in a confusing situation… which is exactly what makes it perfect for the sales process.

This is how I use it for analyzing and correcting the sales process:
1. List out all the different touchpoints that you produce or develop or participate in (web articles, billboards, business cards, website, Twitter, etc., etc.) and assign a letter to each. It doesn’t have to be in any specific order.
aaronhoos_flowscape1

2. List how one links to the other. For example, let’s say that Twitter drives traffic to your website and on your website you’ve got a place to sign up for an e-zine. So connect them together by noting how one leads to another. i.e., the website (B) leads to the newsletter (D)

aaronhoos_flowscape2

3. Next, map it out using the connections you’ve identified between the letters above.

aaronhoos_flowscape3

So, you’ve got your sales process drawn out in front of you. Now here is where the fun starts (at least for me).

Watch for warning signs: In the above example, it’s fairly straightforward but more often than not I see sales processes that look more like the one below, with crazy closed loops (F>G>H) or marketing that goes nowhere (I).

aaronhoos_flowscape4

Once you have your sales process mapped out, it becomes so much easier to figure out what to do about it. Find a way to connect your sales process together. Eliminate the parts that go nowhere.

Once you’ve fixed your sales process you can start to improve it. Create analytics around each point and make sure that they are apples-to-apples comparisons (or as close as you can get) so you can track prospect-to-customer progress all along the line.

And, make sure that your sales process doesn’t end (as the above examples do at “A”). Figure out how to offer more products and more services, or encourage users to refer colleagues to also buy. In the above example, there might be an additional ebook (or three or four or more), a paid version of the newsletter, affiliate links, a private coaching program, and so on. In other words, create an ever-growing loop. Below is a new and improved flowscape built from the original but improved to include more traffic-driving elements to the website (B) and then a closed loop to create more revenue per customer (D>A>F>H>G>D).

aaronhoos_flowscape5

Notes

  1. Tools for Thought offers more detailed descriptions and explanations.
  2. Purists will probably note that I have slightly modified the Flowscape. DeBono asserts that one thing will always link to another. And while I think that is generally true in many Flowscape applications, I’d suggest that in the sales process, it should happen but doesn’t… and that’s the purpose of creating a Flowscape to begin with. Start with what you have and figure out how to make it all link together.