When you make a sale, you don't always create a customer. Think about it. Selling tends to have a short horizon and tends to focus on a single transaction, but a customer isn't a one-night stand – well, at least the customer you want to do business with in the future!
'selling' isn't always that easy. It's hard work.
Trying to convince people to change their behaviour in a way they may or may not want to do is a challenge. That's what 'selling' usually feels like – convincing, cajoling, and struggling to be heard against a lot of background noise and distraction – and as a result it isn't always successful.
Effective market and customer segmentation will provide you with some of the insights you'll need in order to construct an effective prospective customer or client pipeline. In many respects, the strategies that are often employed to predict and manage customers' or clients' purchasing behaviour have been spurred on by the growth of online information, which in itself has its challenges for the sales and marketing professional. What started life within the airline and hotel market segments has rapidly been adopted across other market segments, and now database and online strategies proliferate in sales pipeline management thinking. Implementation of these techniques often requires a sophisticated mix of tools with equally sophisticated statistical methods to help manage and track the frequency and timing of purchase, repeat purchase behaviour, market share and other indicators of commercial success including cost of sales, profit data and return on equity.
Today, building a sales pipeline isn't that straightforward and will require you to start from the 'outside in' and then respond 'inside out' in a more enlightened and focused way in order to do business.
Irrespective of the market segment you're in, customers and clients will resist being stereotyped:
§ They value products less than ever before; instead how they engage with brands through service and support is now far more important.
§ They respect youth more than age and aspire to be youthful at every age, rather than automatically respecting elders.
§ They now value life more than money, preferring to deal in currencies such as knowledge, friendship or well-being rather than hard cash, and so are less transaction-orientated than their predecessors.
§ They seek to enhance the things they enjoy or value and to minimize the things that they don't enjoy or that aren't important to them.
The lead conversion process
The first thing to say is that you need to manage your expectations!
There are no guarantees that any lead conversion system is foolproof – all the so-called sales experts on the web and YouTube believe that only they've the answer to turn you into a multimillionaire overnight if you buy their sales training programme and subscribe to a small library of CDs and books, at a special, discounted price, of course! If it's too good to be true, then it's likely it isn't true. The business world is littered with failed customer relationship management (CRM) systems that promised the earth but ended up failing because they were too complicated, salespeople didn't use them properly, or quite simply they were useless for the job they were designed to do!
There's no substitute for knowing as much as you can about your prospective customers or clients and understanding what drives their needs and requirements – what keeps them awake at night and how your product or service can make a difference. If you can crack this, you'll be successful.
In essence, a lead conversion is a process through which your company or organization 'converts' a revenue opportunity into actual revenue. That means that every contact made by a prospective, new, existing or long-established customer is a 'cold', 'warm' or 'hot' lead that can be converted!
Champion salespeople see things through their prospects' eyes. Can there be any other way? These top-performing salespeople know that their products and services offer many features and benefits but only talk about the benefits that their prospects really want to own. Think about it. What's the point of wasting your time and talking to prospects about stuff they aren't vaguely interested in that won't motivate their behaviour? Yet poor salespeople stick to 'the script' as if it's foolproof. Well, scripts don't work where prospects are knowledgeable, savvy and suspicious.
Successful salespeople don't sell what they want to sell. They sell what their customers or clients want to own.
Some of the most successful sales strategies are evidenced-based. This involves stripping away anything you feel emotionally about your product or service in the first instance and focusing on the hard, verifiable facts backed up wherever possible with compelling third-party endorsement. This is why case studies within B2B markets are so important. That may sound rational, and of course it is.
Nine phases of customer or client behaviour
Prospects and customers generally go through nine predictable phases:
1. Identifying needs – out in the global marketplace, a certain customer segment will recognize the need or desire for a product or service that's available.
2. Awareness – those with a recognized need become aware that the company or organization has products or services that could fulfil the need.
3. Learning – potential customers or clients seek information about the company or organization's products and services as well as how it does its business.
4. Consideration – the prospect considers whether or not to make the purchase.
5. Evaluation – the customer compares available products or services from various sources to select one that is preferred or best suits needs and requirements.
6. Acquisition – the customer or client takes action to acquire the product or service.
7. Use – the customer uses the product or service during its lifespan. It's during the use stage that a company or organization has the greatest ability to influence customer satisfaction through positively fulfilling the customer's expectations for the product or service.
8. Re-entry – as the product or service reaches or nears the end of its lifespan, the customer may identify a need or desire for the same or a different product or service and will then re-enter the cycle.
9. Transaction processing – gathering information about the customer in order to maintain communication, provide services and involve the customer in selling to new prospects.
Understanding the customer life cycle in this way can lead to ensuring that the sales pipeline remains populated with prospects, leads, opportunities and customers or clients.
If you work in a medium to large company or organization, then it's likely that the sales and marketing department will have created goals, strategies and a framework for collecting information about actual customers or clients, potential customers or clients and desired customer or client segments and documented these in a customer life cycle management plan.
Methods for collecting information include:
§ surveys and questionnaires (including web forms);
§ focus groups;
§ customer or client post-purchase, postage-paid warranty and response cards;
§ sales, customer service, and order entry interviews and discussions; and
§ contracting with market research companies.
It is usual that companies or organizations set conversion rate goals for each section of the sales pipeline:
§ the success rate for capturing return sales;
§ prospect awareness;
§ customer or client satisfaction; and
§ quality and quantity of prospect and customer or client information collected.
Surveys are a useful way of collecting information about market and customer segments:
§ level of awareness about the company or organization and its products and services among those in prospect and customer/client demographics;
§ where customers or clients first learnt about the company and its products or services;
§ which attributes of the company or organization's products or services persuade them to purchase, eg price, features, design, quality, availability, delivery, service, reliability, reputation, convenience, ease of purchase, or knowledge of the salesperson;
§ when was the last time this product or service was purchased, what particular brand or make was purchased and where and how the purchase was made;
§ the level of satisfaction with using the product or service;
§ the level of satisfaction with the company or organization in providing information and/or support;
§ likelihood of repurchasing this product or service from the company or organization;
§ whether they would consider other products or services; and
§ whether they would recommend the product or service to others.
Typically, this information collected from customer or client surveys is used to create interface strategies with prospects in the pre-purchase stages of the customer or client life cycle, media (online and offline) to use for advertising, and messages to promote in advertising, such as price, performance, reliability, reputation, fun and other attributes.
The author of the aboved writing: Ardi Kolah