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The Well-Equipped Prospect: Navigating the 'Hidden Sales Cycle'

Your buyer has changed. Prospects come into the sales cycle equipped with much more knowledge -- which they have harvested themselves from the Internet -- than they used to. While that may not be news to you, have you adjusted your marketing to respond to the change?

Reed Overfelt, CEO of FullQuota, has spent a lot of time studying buyer behavior and designing lead-generation programs for technology companies. "There is a hidden sales cycle. Prospects enter the sales process equipped and ready. They have spent time researching without input from anyone," Overfelt said.

When the FullQuota telesales team talks with prospects, they find that buyers are well-educated on the challenges they face and the solutions that claim to help. Not only have they researched online, but they have talked to their peers to get recommendations and insights.

"The reality is that you have to get found," Overfelt added. "Getting found is when the buyer starts the sales cycle."

The First Step To Getting Found
The way to get found is to be the best source of the information for your prospect's research. Simple enough, but how do you know what information your prospect needs?

You have to know your prospect -- inside and out. Building meaningful content that will educate your buyers has to start with a clear understanding of their industry and their challenges. You should know where they go to get their information -- industry and professional sites, social media tags, LinkedIn groups and wherever else they may look for guidance.

The Right Content at the Right Time
Once you have clearly defined who and where your prospects are, you need to build the content that supports their buying process (see this blog post for more on matching content to the buying process). The content you develop needs to be easily found and socialized through the channels your customers frequent. 

The FullQuota approach is based on a rhythmic cycle of blog posts promoted through weekly newsletters to targeted e-mail lists. Additional content, including whitepapers and webinars, augment the posts. The blog and content are centrally located on the partner's Web site, which serves as the hub.

The content is highly targeted to the defined buyer and originally written. "You have to be in front of your target buyer with high-value content regularly," Overfelt said. "And promote that content across a set of channels."

No Easy Button
Content creation isn't easy for partners to keep at the top of the priority list. According to Overfelt, "Microsoft partners are looking for the easy button. There isn't one. You have to create original content. It takes time and it costs money. The only way to reach prospects during the hidden sales cycle is to create great content that your target buyers are interested in."

Not surprisingly, there are a growing number of vendors like FullQuota that help partners create content. Microsoft's Ready-to-Go marketing site lists a few additional sources. As with any service, you will likely get what you pay for, so do your homework.

When evaluating content services, the first question from the vendor should be, "What is the profile of your buyer?" If it's not, look elsewhere. Without valuable, directed content, you are only adding to the noise prospects need to filter out -- not helping them make an important business decision.

Equip Your Buyer
The Internet has transformed the sales process into a buying process. Buyers manage more of the sales cycle than ever before. There is opportunity for those partners who equip the buyer with the information they need to make the best decision for their business.

How are you educating your prospects? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on October 04, 2012