Winning the Marathon

“When your message aligns with the buyer’s priorities, your lead is more likely to act.”

Marcia knocked on Brian’s office door with a grin on her face. “I sold MegaCorp,” Marcia said. “They just gave me my first job.”

“That’s great,” Brian said. He was the VP of sales at Big Print, and Marcia was one of nine sales representatives who reported to him.

“I almost can’t believe it finally happened,” Marcia said. “More than once, I was ready to give up. But every time I wanted to quit, you convinced me to keep going.”

MegaCorp buys lots of printing and deeply cares about quality and service. “We should be a good fit for them,” Brian said, turning to his computer screen to do a quick search. “According to the CRM, you were assigned to MegaCorp in 2017. That was only last year.”

“It feels longer, but chasing this account taught me one big lesson,” Marcia said.

“What did you learn?” Brian asked.

Marcia thought for a moment, and replied, “When sales cycles are longer, you need to be smarter about which leads to pursue because you’re going to have to invest to win.”

Imagine this. You have a prospect named Taylor. She prints with the competition, but isn’t thrilled by its quality or service. In fact, she spent her lunch hour complaining to her co-worker, Kate, about how difficult it was to produce her last brochure.

Taylor isn’t happy, but she won’t take a meeting with you. Why? Because she is crazy-busy planning new collateral for a product launch to coincide for the biggest tradeshow of the year.

Here’s the truth about selling in 2018. In many instances, your biggest barrier to getting a meeting with a prospect isn’t his loyalty to existing suppliers. The brick wall you have to bust through is the prospect’s belief that he barely has time to manage his existing priorities.

Buyer angst about lack of time isn’t changing anytime soon. To open a new account, you must be pleasantly persistent and put in the work it takes to win the buyer’s respect. You also need a plan so the buyer remembers you and understands enough about your company’s value to agree to a meeting when the timing is right.

If you have to chase a lead for a year (or two), you must decide if the account is worth the investment. To do that, ask three questions:

  1. How much time are you willing to put in on a monthly basis to nurture a lead?
  2. What is the potential payoff for success?
  3. What do you need to communicate in your messages so the lead finds value and is receptive to a meeting when the timing is right?

Investing time
At Thought Transformation, our best practice is to make a concentrated push to get a meeting over a set amount of time—either 90 or 120 days. During this time, we contact the lead anywhere between 12 to 20 times. If the lead doesn’t respond during the push period, we move them to a nurturing phase.

During nurturing, we continue to keep in touch, but with a reduced level of contact. If the company doesn’t have a formalized nurturing program set up, the simplest way to do this is using the Thought Transformation 3-in-30 Touch Cycle™. The 3-in-30 uses three types of touches:

Send a piece of mail—It can be as simple as a sample with a handwritten note
Email to follow up with information about the sample and a statement about a benefit
Call to see if the lead would like additional information

Time these three touches out over the course of a month so the lead hears from you approximately every 10 days.

Along with touching the leads in your nurture cycle on a regular basis, take a few minutes to stay on top of any news about your lead and his company. Check LinkedIn to determine if your lead was promoted, left the company or changed his job title. Is there anyone new at the account with a title that justifies an investigation?

Skim news announcements about the account. Watch for trigger events like new product introductions. When there’s a change within a company, it can act as the catalyst that causes your lead to decide today is the day to investigate new options.

Nurturing a lead requires an investment of time. I recommend planning to spend 45 minutes to an hour for each lead in your nurturing program. You’ll have enough time to execute the 3-in-30 Touch Cycle, plus time for research, too.

For busy sales professionals who are already working multiple accounts, finding time for nurturing activities can be a challenge. Assess the payoff to determine if the lead is worth the effort.

The value of a lead
Invest time in nurturing a lead if he meets these basic criteria. First, do you believe the lead is likely to buy what you sell, and buys enough volume to offer a payoff for time invested?

To make a guestimate on potential spend, think about how the lead could use your services to accomplish his business goals. Does he sell directly to customers or through distributors? What type of materials could support the company’s sales efforts? Does he attend events, use direct mail or have retail outlets?

If he appears to spend a substantial amount, is it reasonable to assume the prospect account will buy from a company like yours? For example, consider selling to American Express. Is your company big enough to compete? Do you have the right equipment base? Does your location offer any disadvantages?

Even though American Express buys printing, only a few companies are big enough to sell and service them. When you’re looking at investing time in nurturing activities, selecting accounts that fit your company will increase the odds of making a sale.

Last, nurture accounts where you’re dealing with non-responsiveness, not outright rejection. Let’s say you catch a lead on the phone. He listens to your pitch and says, “I am the buyer, but I’m not interested in changing. Please take me off your list.”

At this fork in the road, you have a choice. You can listen, take the lead off your pursuit list, and replace him with a new and potentially more viable option. Or, you can continue to nurture the lead, spending time on an account that has communicated lack of interest in no uncertain terms. I vote for replacing the lead—at least for now.

Messaging to win
If a lead offers a substantial payoff and doesn’t reject your overtures outright, your nurturing strategy should combine quantity with quality. Using Thought Transformation’s 3-in-30 Touch Cycle ensures you communicate frequently enough to build mindshare and allow the lead to develop a basic understanding of your company’s benefits. Quality is delivering a message that your lead regards as interesting and relevant.

For more thoughts on messaging, check out my article, “How Your Message Can Make a Difference,” in the June 2018 issue of CANVAS. The story includes pointers on creating benefit-driven messages and gives you a framework for writing effective emails.

As I said earlier, often your biggest competition is not the printer across town, but the buyer’s existing priorities. When your message aligns with the buyer’s priorities, your lead is more likely to act.

Longer sales cycles are affecting every B2B company, not just printers. For sales professionals and sales leaders to win, the first step is accepting the new normal. The second step is to adjust your selling strategy. With patience, persistence and a plan, you can compete, win and grow.

Good selling.