Screen_Shot_2014-08-25_at_8.34.58_AMHave you heard the statistic that the typical B2B buyer goes through about 60 percent of the decision making process before speaking to a salesperson?

Most inbound marketers will look at that statistic and say, “Work with me. I can help you with 60 percent of the buying process.” But what about the other 40 percent?

A decision to purchase, join, enroll, etc. requires, by definition, that a prospect completes 100 percent of the buying process.

The truth is, if you don’t aim to improve the entire process for customer acquisition, you are leaving money, value, and your own reputation as a marketer on the table.

Dropping the Kid Off at College

Once a lead enters the decision stage of the buyer’s journey they are ready to be handed off to sales to begin the “sales process,” the remaining 40 percent of the buyer’s journey. At this point, as a marketer, you have done the job of lead nurturing. In many respects you’re like the parent who just dropped their child off at college orientation and are watching them walk off to their next phase of life. You’ve done your job and if you’ve done it well; your prospect will be prepared for a great sales experience.

In the awareness stage the lead wasn’t ready to talk about your brand; they wanted information about their problem from an expert who was willing to help. At the consideration stage the lead wasn’t ready to be sold; they needed more information about your product or solution—especially in comparison to that of your competitors. But many inbound marketers have difficulty recognizing when a lead has reached the decision stage.

When Has a Lead Entered the Decision Stage?

As inbound marketers we can tell when a lead has entered the decision stage. There are signs. For example, the lead may take advantage of an offer (filling out a form) that clearly says they are ready to speak with sales. Most businesses will use the standard “contact us” or “free consultation” or “request a demo,” but how many times has your sales team followed up with someone they thought was ready to go, only to find out that they were just looking for more information?

If the only form you offer is “talk to sales,” all your leads are going to look like they are ready to talk to sales. If your only form is “contact us,” whether the lead is just looking for information or is ready to talk to sales, you’re going to assume this is a sales qualified lead.

You get the picture. How you create your offers and how you present your offers impacts the quality and sales readiness of your leads. Here is a classic example from the timeshare industry: If you’re offered two free plane tickets to Hawaii just to sit with a salesperson for 30 minutes, are you going to necessarily be well qualified to buy a timeshare or are you simply reacting to a great offer that hasn’t done anything to identify your readiness to speak with sales?

Inbound marketers can help sales close more decision stage leads by ensuring that the offer to connect with sales is actually valuable, offered at the correct stage in the buyer’s journey, and by setting clear expectations with the prospect on how they can take advantage of the valuable offer.

Adding Value to the Sales Process

Buyers are smart. They know that when you offer a “free consultation” you really mean “free conversation with a sales guy.” When someone is nearing the decision stage, oftentimes they need a little bit more of an incentive than that to get on the phone.

We did some experimentation about a year ago to test the effectiveness of offering a deliverable to B2B buyers at the decision stage rather than a free consultation. Our conclusion was that buyers are more likely to participate in your sales process if the offer is a deliverable, something of tangible value that they will receive in exchange for spending time with what is certain to be a member of the sales team.

This is a picture of the decision stage landing page conversion rates when we were offering a free consultation, and then the shift in conversion rate when we updated the offer to focus on a deliverable.


How Do You Come Up with the Right Decision Stage Offer?

As always, you’ll want to experiment and test offers with your audience but a great way to start (and to facilitate alignment between marketing and sales) is to ask sales about the process they go through to provide a quote or a proposal.

After the salesperson you ask recovers from shock that marketing is interested in the sales process, you’ll receive some pearls of wisdom because, nine times out of 10, the salesperson can’t be successful by just being an order taker (think about really great experiences you’ve had with wait staff at a restaurant versus the person who just asks, “What’ll it be?”). Good salespeople provide tons of value in their proposal or during the sales process.

Setting Expectations with Decision Stage Leads

Busy folks like to know exactly how their time will be spent. They want to know how they will be communicated with and when. If expectations are net set correctly, if they don’t know how their time is going to be spent, they will most likely lose interest before you ever get them to the meeting they signed up for. I can’t tell you how many “demo requests” I follow up with only to never hear back from the lead that is “ready.”

Clearly stating the value of an offer may get a lead to convert (remember the timeshare example), but clearly stating the process they will go through to receive the value will set the right expectations and give sales a better chance of having a productive conversation (if the details and process of the timeshare offer had been disclosed up front, far fewer but far more qualified people would engage in the sales process to learn about buying a timeshare).

Here are some things you need to talk about on the landing page for your decision stage offer:

  • How will the lead be contacted by sales, and in what timeframe?
  • Does the lead have an option to be contacted using another method?
  • Who will be contacting the lead, and why are they the perfect person to speak with at this time?
  • How long will the process take?
  • What are the steps in the process and what is expected of the lead?
  • Will anyone else need to get involved in the process from the lead’s organization?

Don’t bait and switch. Let them know exactly what they are signing up for and your sales team will love you for leads that don’t waste their time.

Setting Expectations with Sales

If you go through all that effort to set clear expectations with the decision stage lead, and then they get a call from sales that immediately deviates from the plan, you risk turning them off.

Remember how you asked sales to talk about their sales process so you could set the right expectations with the lead? Now, flip that conversation around and tell sales what expectations you’ve set for next steps and detail all the intelligence on the lead that you’ll be providing. And make sure you keep sales up-to-date with any changes you make as you test different decision stage offers. No surprises!

Generating leads on the Internet is never foolproof. Some leads will get lost in their buyer’s journey and fill out your decision stage form when they are nowhere near making a buying decision. We don’t want sales ditching these opportunities; they represent future decision stage leads. They just need for nurturing from the marketing team. Give sales a way to push these leads back into the marketing funnel by sharing what they learned on the sales call. (If you’re integrating your marketing automation with your CRM, this is when you want a well-defined process for pushing information back from CRM to marketing automation.)

Make sure sales understands that some leads will not be ready to go through the process and claim their decision stage offer, even though they filled out a landing page that CLEARLY states what they are getting into. Rather than abandoning the opportunity, ask sales to identify where in the buyer’s journey they actually are so that you, as the marketer, can put them into the right lead nurturing campaign. Here are some simple questions they can ask to determine where a lead might be:

  1. “It doesn’t sound like you are ready to pull the trigger on a program like this. Are you just trying to get more information on (enter problem area)?” If they answer yes, we know they are awareness stage leads.
  2. “It doesn’t sound like you are ready to pull the trigger on a program like this. Did you have some specific question about our product or solution that I could help you with?” If they are interested in your product or solution, find out why and put them into the right consideration stage lead nurturing program.

The Decision Stage is Only the Beginning of the SALES Process

This is the hardest part of marketing and sales alignment in my opinion. So many times I see sales organizations use a CRM, but never actually capture the buying process and the reasons for winning or losing deals. Sales can help YOU, the inbound marketer, improve the number of high-quality decision stage leads you produce by feeding you data, data that tells you where leads get stuck in the sales process and why they did or did not buy from you.

With that data you can determine the content, marketing channels and offers that produce the best quality leads for the sales team, and what messages will resonate best with those particular audiences. Without the data and feedback from the sales team, you won’t be able to improve the process for customer acquisition, and you’ll be stuck playing in the 60 percent sandbox.

Teaming Up with HubSpot to Help you Close More Inbound Leads

I will be teaming up with IMR co-founder Kevin Jorgensen and HubSpot's Principal Inbound Professor and Head of Channel Partner Inbound Success Training Nick Salvatoriello on Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 1:03 p.m. for an extended webinar on sales and marketing alignment.

Attendees will walk away with some actionable tips for preparing their sales team for inbound leads and reaching out to leads at various stages of the buyer's journey.

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Originally published Aug 25, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016


Sales and Marketing Alignment