[Cue Twilight Zone Music] There is another dimension beyond which is known to most marketers. It is a dimension that is vast and chaotic and as timeless as the sales process itself.
It is the middle ground between the introduction and the close, between engagement and disengagement, it lies between the deepest of our marketing fears and the heights of our marketing knowledge. This is the 4th dimension of the sales funnel. It is an area which we’ll call… The Sales Continuum.
We all have a concept of the sales funnel. It fits nicely into a very linear framework of time. The human mind loves this concept. We can easily process things that have a beginning, middle, and end. We attach these ideas to the sales funnel and imagine perfect scenarios where our top, middle, and bottom of funnel content is consumed in perfect order leading up to a sale.
Submitted for your approval: Five scenarios about what happens, and what to do, when your prospect has taken a strange turn in the buyer’s journey.
1) The Time Element
Your prospect first came to your attention on a Monday. They downloaded all of your content on one of your top offerings. They requested a demo that same week and had a successful first call with your team. They asked for a proposal, it was sent out by the end of the week, and then… nothing.
You reach out to them and they’ve lost a bit of their initial interest. Was this the same prospect from the previous week? Were they under some form of mind control?
You find out that the project has been de-prioritized. They won’t be making a decision for six months. So what do you do?
Reach back out and talk to your prospect
Map out a communication strategy
Ask if you can send them a reoccurring calendar invite to check back in
Provide them with content or articles that they might find useful
Connect with your prospect on LinkedIn
On your follow up calls, see if things have shifted again. Ask them if you can provide them with anything else that would help them in their decision-making process. Make sure that you take every opportunity to ask about other potential projects where your organization might be able to help.
2) Where is Everybody?
Your prospect has vanished from the face of the Earth. Well, not literally, but they’re not answering your calls. You’ve tried to email them, and you’re not getting an out of office message. You’re pretty sure they’re still around. They’ve been receptive to your messages in the past, so what do you do?
Vary your approach – If you’ve been talking to them in the afternoons, try reaching out to them early in the morning or vice-versa.
Reach out beyond – If you’re in B2B, then your prospect is likely not the only person who works at their company. Reach out to other people at the prospect company who might be involved in the deal and try to get a read for what’s going on. See if there might be others who are interested in your offerings.
Change your mode of communication – Depending on your relationship with the prospect, maybe you have options to tweet or text. If it’s not too old-school for you get out a pen and paper and send them a handwritten note of follow up.
Relax – There is a good chance that they’re not ignoring you. People get busy and your priorities aren’t always theirs. Don’t risk the relationship by inundating them with constant and potentially desperate sounding messages.
3) Spur of the Moment
Out of nowhere you get a request for a product or solution demo. The prospect has never been on your radar. It’s as if they’ve just arrived from another planet. They’re looking to make a decision very quickly. They’re also evaluating other options. It’s time to jump into action. Here are some rules for this kind of encounter:
Keep calm – They’ve done their research and have potentially been observing you from a distance for a while. Now it’s your time to prove to them that you know what you’re doing. Help them find out any additional details they need to help seal the deal.
Determine the size of this Unidentified First Opportunity – Get an understanding of the time and resources you want to devote towards this new potential customer.
Get to know these strange new beings - Dive in and do your research. Find out who your competition is. It’s time to play catch-up and get a better understanding of their needs and pain points.
Take them to your leader – Depending on the size of the opportunity, you may have to get your sales leaders immediately involved to try to close the deal.
4) A Nice Place to Visit
A prospect keeps downloading different top-of-the-funnel offers, they’ve subscribed to your blog, they follow you on social media, but they’ve never taken their engagement to the next level. They don’t seem to be interested in your middle-of-the-funnel or bottom-of-the-funnel offers.
They seem like a perfect fit for your services, but some unknown force is holding them back. How do you take them into the next dimension?
If they’ve shown enough interest and you feel like they’re a great prospect, then assign them a dedicated contact.
Have your team reach out via personal email and phone. Let the prospect know that they have someone to contact if they need any help.
Try to find out what might be holding them back. Ask about their initiatives and see if they have a need or are just a tire kicker.
Your job here is to guide them between the prospect world and the customer world. Do what you can to help them on their journey to the end of your sales pipeline.
5) A Thing About Machines
Much like our last scenario, your prospect has entered into your sales funnel. Unlike last time, they are responsive to various email workflows. They have downloaded your middle-of-the-funnel content. But the aim of your marketing automation system is to get them to sign up for a demo, an in-person meeting, or your no-cost assessment.
These are the next logical steps, but they just aren’t taking those actions. You’ve done the next level outreach. They’ve even attended your webinars and taken phone calls with your team. What gives?
You’ve let machines do all of your talking for you up to this point. Don’t wait for your prospects to take action and only follow the programmed path. Take these two steps:
Build them personalized content – Even the best and most narrowly-focused, persona-driven content may not be speaking directly to your prospect. Build out a case that speaks specifically to this particular industry, company, and role.
Take the engagement to the next level – Take that specific content that you just built and work to set up a face-to-face meeting with them to review the information and make your case.
Your marketing machines—computers, phones, software, email—helped you get the prospect’s attention. Now, this person may require a more direct approach, a more human approach. Work to get a meeting set up, and put one of your team members in the same room with the prospect. Don’t over-rely on your marketing automation tools to convert your prospects into customers.
There is a message to these stories and it is this: The Sales Continuum happens every day. No buyer is the perfect persona and no workflow can totally capture the nuanced relationship that a prospect has with your brand.
Once upon a time, there was a thing called inbound marketing and a thing called outbound marketing. In the end, it’s all about people marketing. Every story here combines the power of people with the service of machines. Until the sales robots write content, react to situations, can talk (and listen) effectively over the phone, or walk into a room, you’ll need smart, talented, and human sales and marketing professionals. They’ve always been the ones that help organizations like yours address the strangest turns in the buyer’s journey.
If you want to better understand the convergence between inbound and outbound marketing and why humans matter so much in the sales process, then download our ebook, How to Create a Love Story Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing.
Originally published Jul 29, 2015 11:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017