Honestly, I was stumped. While I’m hardly a horticultural expert, I recognize that the dandelion has some attributes of a flower—including bright, colorful petals. But dandelions also behave like weeds, springing up all over our yards and stealing resources from our nice green lawns.
So I did what any smart uncle would do: I changed the subject and offered to buy her an ice cream.
Similarly, I think many B2B marketers would struggle to tell you whether their current sales tools are flowers or weeds. Are your sales tools truly helping to accelerate customers through the entire customer journey, or are they just springing up all over the place, with no proper order or control, and stealing resources from other communications efforts?
Map Your Tools to the Journey
The reality is that some sales tools are flowers and some are weeds. If you’ve invested resources in sales tools that aren’t supporting your selling effort during at least one stage of the full, end-to-end customer journey, it may be time to weed out those ineffective sales tools. And if there are stages of that journey your tools aren’t properly supporting, you’ve got more seeds to plant.
To ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing efforts, you need to ensure that you’re investing in the sales tools you need to accelerate the customer journey, without wasting effort on weak sales tools that only sap your resources. To do that, you’ll first need to map those tools to the various stages of the complete customer journey.
The Right Tools for Each Stage
Let’s start by looking at the complete customer journey and each of its stages and discussing the typical role of sales tools at each stage.
At this earliest stage, sales tools should help the customer become aware of the problems, issues and challenges that your product addresses. Such sales tools should help the customer evaluate their situation, identify the need, and understand that this is an issue that deserves further investigation because it can help overcome a major challenge or accelerate a key business goal.
At this stage, effective sales tools help inform customers who are generally aware of their overall need and will benefit from advice and guidance relevant to their specific environment and challenges. It is important to simply make customers aware that there are third-party products available to address their specific issues—without veering into any sales-oriented specifics.
At the consider stage of the customer journey, you will deploy sales tools that position your product as the ideal solution for addressing the business challenges and goals at hand. This is the stage for most traditional tools, such as company or product brochures.
In this stage, the customer has a clear understanding of the issues and recognizes the need to pursue a solution. They are now looking for the product that will best fit their needs based on their identified purchase criteria. At this stage, effective sales tools help to convince the customer that your product is superior to the alternative choices (which include not only third-party competitors, but also the status quo).
When it is time for customers to make their purchase decision, there are typically fewer but highly focused sales tools in use. The tools you use should help push the customer over the decision fence. They tend to focus on special offers and incentives that assist in that final push to closure.
While many marketers will focus on just the buyer’s journey—which ends with the purchase—it’s important to recognize that the full customer journey continues. You don’t stop communicating with people once they become customers; you adjust the nature of what, when and how you communicate.
Communicating to new customers is vital to building strong customer relationships and loyalty. Sales tools developed for this stage of the customer journey typically focus on helping the customer get the maximum benefits from your product and recognize those benefits as a significant contributor to their total return on their investment.
Once a customer has become a mature user of your products, the right sales tools can help encourage future purchases by promoting product upgrades, add-on products or other offerings. Sales tools are used to help keep customers loyal and engaged with your brand. Often such tools are designed to invite and encourage participation in customer loyalty programs, satisfaction surveys, customer forums, conferences or workshops, or even to request testimonial statements or referrals.
The Sales Tool Mapping Process
While the lists above do not include every possible sales tool, they do provide a solid sampling of the typical sales tools that are often used to support each stage of the customer journey. They can be used as a reference to help categorize and plan your sales tools and align them with the customer journey. Here are some recommended next steps and tips.
Audit your current sales tools.
First off, you need to audit your current sales tools and map them against the total customer journey. Create a grid that lists each tool under the seven stages of the customer journey. (Note that some tools can be mapped against more than one stage of the journey.)
As you fill in your own grid of current sales tools for each stage of the customer journey, you will begin to see where you have potential gaps—a lack of sales tools for a given stage. However, do not assume you need more tools for those stages. You won’t know that until you get through the next step.
Talk to your salespeople.
Find out where in the customer journey your sales team faces the biggest challenges. Is it getting customers’ attention and making them aware of the problems your products address? Then perhaps you need to examine both the quantity and effectiveness of the sales tools you’ve mapped to the aware stage. Or perhaps the real issue is dealing with specific competitive challenges and you need more effective sales tools for the evaluate stage.
The areas where you need to improve your tools are not necessarily those where you have the fewest. For example, even if you lack sales tools for the inform stage, there’s no point in creating more if your sales team is telling you they don’t have any challenges in finding educated, informed prospects. Perhaps the real problem is that prospects in the consideration stage just don’t perceive your solution as a top contender. Or perhaps the sales organization keeps losing to competitors in the evaluation stage.
The bottom line is that you need to find out where your sales opportunities are most often being slowed or thwarted—and then focus on creating sales tools that align with those opportunities to accelerate the total customer journey. And that all starts with talking to your salespeople.
Create a content marketing strategy.
While today’s B2B marketers say they are committed to developing a content marketing strategy for their company, many have not actually documented that strategy. Without a documented strategy, the development of sales tools is often reactionary. That is, you develop sales tools in response to specific activities (e.g., new product launch, upcoming trade show or conference, threatening competitive product release, new sales promotion or upcoming email campaign). This can result in a haphazard collection of tools that don’t help to accelerate prospects through the complete customer journey.
A content marketing strategy helps to ensure that you are creating sales assets that drive profitable customer action. A good content marketing strategy will also help you set priorities; this is important, because few marketing organizations have the resources or expertise to develop all the content they need.
Don’t ignore the early stages of the customer journey; they still matter.
With the shift in customer savviness fueled by fingertip access to volumes of research, reports and information, it’s easy for B2B marketers to conclude that today’s buyers don’t want to hear from vendors until late in the customer journey. Assuming this is the case, many companies have refocused their selling efforts on the middle stages of the journey. But this could well be a mistake.
In many cases, it’s not that buyers don’t want to hear from you in their early investigative efforts. It’s that they don’t want to be presented with sales pitches or product details. They’re still interested in gaining information and insights around the challenges they face. If you can add real value to their efforts to gain information and insights, B2B buyers are open to hearing from you. According to Corporate Visions, 74 percent of buyers choose to purchase from the salesperson who was the first to add value and insight to the early stages of their buying journey. So don’t ignore those early stages.
Don’t forget the status quo.
It’s common for B2B marketers—especially technology companies—to focus sharply on competitors. But here’s an important fact: You will likely lose more business to the decision to do nothing than to all other competitors combined. Research by SBI found that 58 percent of all qualified sales opportunities are lost to “no decision.”
So, when planning sales tools for the consider and evaluate stages, consider messages focused on helping risk-averse buyers realize that doing nothing is a greater and potentially more costly risk than moving forward with your solution.
Get Smarter and More Effective
It’s not difficult to waste resources creating sales tools that offer only modest, if any, return on your investment. And it’s all too easy to overlook even the simplest tools that can most effectively drive customers to your desired outcome. By understanding your total customer journey and mapping your sales tools to it, you gain perspective and insights that will help bring more strategy to your marketing efforts—and ultimately result in smarter and more effective sales-tool investments.