Does your Product Collateral Support your Sales Process?

In an earlier post, I advocated that marketers design their marketing launch plans to better serve the sales cycle process. I thought I should provide a few examples about how to achieve that objective.

There are many sales methodologies out there, and every sale situation is different. However, sales cycle processes typically include at least four phases: screening, evaluation, decision-making and procurement. Let’s look at each of them individually to see how marketers can best serve each phase:

Screening

Account managers must evaluate a large number of leads. During that phase, they have a lot on their plate: they must rapidly assess whether or not your product can meet the business needs of the customer, as well as identify the key individuals who participate in the decision. They must ask themselves questions such as: are they serious about making a purchase? Do they have a budget? Finally, the account manager must understand if the competition has already shaped the opinion of the buyer, or if there is an opportunity for your company to “condition” prospects, so that they see all competitors through the prism of your product and your company. With all this information, account managers must decide, along with their management, if the account is worth pursuing. Needless to say they must also sufficiently interest the prospect in the product to motivate them to move to the next phase.

What tools do marketing managers provide to support the account managers?

Of course the success stories, case studies, testimonials and white papers are crucial, if their content directly supports progress in the sales cycle. Does your material answer the questions typically asked by prospects when they first learn about your product?

Sales VPs have sometimes asked me for an “ice-breaker” presentation with just 4-5 high-impact slides. That presentation helps any account manager position your product, tell the story about what your product does, how it does it, and how it resolves the customer’s business need. A 20-minute web conference discussion going over these slides as the prospect presents their business pain points can be a real time-saver for both the account manager and the prospect.

Evaluation

Once the best prospects are identified and a real sales cycle is started, the sales force must take advantage of their first-mover status, get to the top of a “short list” of competitors or combat an incumbent during the evaluation phase. They must do it as efficiently as possible in order to avoid draining the company’s resources. How can Product Marketing help besides providing great positioning, a kick-ass demo, evaluation procedures, references and actionable competitive analysis?

It all depends on the type of evaluation your customer will need. However, no matter what type of evaluation method, the marketing manager can always gather statistics about what makes this evaluation phase a success or a failure, and ensure that the evaluation occurs in the most auspicious circumstances. If your product is complex, a longer evaluation should work in your favor. What features best solve the customer’s needs and are known to win evaluations? Also, framing the context of the evaluation to ensure that only the success criteria that favor your product are used is also key to the evaluation success. How do you gather these statistics? Look at past evaluations, talk with all parties involved, gather metrics and conduct win/loss analysis to complement your investigation.

Decision Making

During this phase, the account manager builds a coalition that will push the decision in the favor of your products. Enemies will fire bullets provided by the competition. Your account manager may not hear these bullets flying. Last minute requirements may emerge from left field as the prospect identifies new needs. The marketing manager must be ready for this phase by providing not only responses to competitive objections, but also eventually supplying competitive landmines as well. Return-on-investment (ROI) analysis that can justify the purchase will help as well.

Procurement

Your product was chosen, the money is available, so there is no time to get bogged down in legal entanglements and pricing discussions. Does the sales force understand and defend your product pricing, as well as the specific clauses of the contract that pertain to your product? What objections are raised and how are they best circumvented?  What alternate pricing methods can be used?  A pricing calculator, or better, an on-line pricing wizard that asks questions of the account manager will allow them to quickly run multiple scenarios while respecting pricing guidelines.

In conclusion, as a marketing manager, you have a better chance of demonstrating your value and increasing your popularity with the sales force if you ensure that you understand your company’s sales cycle process, and if each and every one of your collateral pieces is designed to support a specific phase of this process in order to help bring a sales cycle to close quickly and with less risk.

Does your collateral serve your sales cycle process?