Your longer-term prospects represent three out of four of your sales opportunities.

When prospects respond, only one in four is ready to make an immediate purchase.

To use an analogy, imagine your marketplace is an orchard of fruit trees. Your marketing people are the orchard tenders. They plant, weed, feed and water the trees. When the fruit is ripe, they call in the fruit pickers—the salespeople, distributors, resellers and reps.

If enough trees were planted (marketing for leads) and the orchard was well tended (relationship marketing and follow-up), there will be a bountiful crop of fruit to be picked (sales). If not, the pickings will be slim.

Nurturing long-term leads demands that you recognize that within the overall sales cycle are several smaller sales cycles or sub-cycles. One sub-cycle is the prospect’s coming to terms with having a need for your product or service. Another sub-cycle centers on identifying the type of product or service that could solve that business problem. Another involves selecting a specific vendor and making the purchase.

During each of these sales sub-cycles, use the mail, fax, e-mail and phone to stay in touch with potential customers. This is the time to send newsletters, requested literature, new literature, press releases, show invitations, article reprints and case studies. You can also host events to keep in touch with prospects on a regular basis and help move them along in their buying process.

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?

While salespeople race to snatch up the most promising and qualified short-term prospects that come in from any marketing-lead-generation initiative, nearly three-quarters of the leads that convert to sales are ignored.

Why? Because salespeople are measured and paid for winning the race for short-term sales, usually causing them to focus on the easy sales opportunities and to ignore the longer-term prospects. And because there usually is no process in place, the job of nurturing, managing and tracking the longer-term pipeline opportunities falls by the wayside.

This lack of a lead-development process may be costing your organization big bucks in lost sales.

Do you have the patience to move slowly and steadily for the sales in those longer-term leads?

Or have you, in essence, ended the race to win these latter-day sales? Patient work needs to be done to bring these leads to their selling point.

Industry experts estimate that only one-quarter of those who are going to buy do so in the first six months. Yet roughly another quarter buy within a seven- to 12-month period, another quarter buy in a 13- to 18-month period and the final quarter buy sometime after 18 months. When all of the organization’s concentration is on the first quarter, for quick selling turnaround, you are leaving the remainder of those leads—three out of four sales opportunities—out there for your competition to pick up.

These longer-term leads must be nurtured with a series of communications efforts designed to move prospects along in their buying cycles. In other words, the philosophy to getting your share of those future sales is simple—stay in sight, stay in mind and stay in the race.

But the implementation of this philosophy requires sales or marketing to put this lead-nurturing responsibility into their job descriptions. Or it may require the development of a whole new department between sales and marketing—the lead-development department—to get the job done.

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • When designing your lead nurturing programs, these are the questions to ask:
  • How do we best deliver messages to the people who will influence or make the final buying decisions?
  • How do we stay with them as they move through their consideration and buying process
  • How can we communicate in a way that addresses the prospects’ issues and reduces the perceived risk of buying from our company?
  • What can we offer that will cause the prospects to engage when they are ready to move forward with their buying process?

Here’s how to engage prospects and start a sales-winning relationship with them

Use a series of ongoing communications—by mail, e-mail and/or phone—designed to keep pace with the prospects’ information needs to make decisions about your kinds of products or services.

Be sure to include multiple offers that appeal to all stages of a prospect’s buying process. For example, if prospective customers are still early in their buying process, they will be more receptive to offers for free information in the form of how-to guides or white papers or e-mail newsletters. As prospects move further along in their buying process, appropriate offers may include those that require a higher level of interest or commitment on the part of the prospect. These include webinar invitations, demonstrations and checklists, and other decision-making tools. As prospects approach being ready to buy, they will be more receptive to such offers as longer, in-depth seminars, needs assessments or meetings with and getting proposals or quotations from salespeople.

Then keep in touch with your prospect with a series of ongoing communications and offers throughout your prospective customer’s consideration process until the prospect is ready to engage with your salespeople.

I’ve found that, as an added benefit, sales revenue per customer is usually significantly higher for those who are included in the prospect relationship marketing program versus those who are not.

If you use good relationship communication skills and not just focus your company’s efforts on the easy or short-term sales opportunities, you can pick up the three-out-of-four sales that others are leaving on the table. And that gets you to win the race.

For more on the subject, read The key demands of demand generation

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