Understanding the journey a prospective buyer goes through in order to purchase your product or service will ensure that you are developing sales and marketing strategies that are engaging and represent your company’s brand effectively.
We’ve all been on the wrong end of a bad sales and marketing “strategy”:
- You search a keyword online for something you’re interested in
- Accidentally, you click on an ad for a product from a company on the side of the page
- That product or service follows you around the internet seemingly to know end until you go to their website
- After reading the “about us” on the website you’re interested enough to hear more so you fill out a “contact me” form
- You never get any confirmation that the form was successfully submitted
- 3 weeks later you get an email and a call within 2 minutes of each other from a desperate new sales representative trying to make their first sale
- You don’t call back and they don’t call you
- 6 months later you get another call and email from desperate new hire’s replacement to find out about “your needs” from the form you submitted earlier that day
In order to avoid the scenario above, a smooth transition from awareness to interest to excitement is critical to success. Let’s begin with defining the key steps in a business to business marketing and sales journey that will be the framework for a delightful purchasing experience.
Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
Identifying a prospect as a Marketing Qualified Lead is the first milestone when developing a relationship with them to see if there is fit for them to become a client. The MQL stage is most easily defined as the following:
A prospect has awareness of or interest in purchasing a product from the industry which the business competes in
Typically, in the MQL stage a prospect has not clearly identified the specific company they want to purchase from, but is researching the options available to them and most likely still defining the level of need they have for a solution.
Two things stand out as critically important in this stage:
1) The prospect is usually unsure of fit, this is not the time to sell them something
2) There are many different ways to define an MQL, don’t get stuck on a one size fits all approach to entering a prospect into the MQL stage
Typically, MQL’s will be separated into two separate categories: those driven by digital channels and those driven by non-digital channels:
- Digital channels include blog posts, social interaction, website views, email opens/clicks, etc.
- Non-digital channels include engagement from print, radio, television, trade show, word of mouth, free trials, etc.
Since all of these activities could generate interest with the prospect, it’s important to be able to track their engagement and define clear, quantitative steps that would qualify a prospect as a marketing qualified lead.
For example: a prospect engages with a marketing team at a trade show, after a brief conversation with a team member, the prospect decides to put their email address on a contact list to be kept up to date on news in the industry. The prospect should be converted to a marketing qualified lead.
Once a prospect has been converted to an MQL, a few things need to happen prior to introducing a sales rep to the prospect. First, the sequence of marketing events following the conversion should focus on educating the prospect on why they are exploring solutions in this specific industry in the first place. This can be done by identifying pain points other clients have felt or shortcomings that other businesses faced prior to purchasing solutions from the industry. A sound marketing plan will educate the prospect on key things to consider when determining both their problems as well as potential solutions. During this stage blog posts, 3rd party articles, and white papers are great opportunities to educate a prospect with the goal of the prospect asking the question “Is this something your company can help with?”
Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
When a prospect is converted to a Sales Accepted Lead, either (or both) the marketing team or the prospect has determined that it is time to learn more about the industry and the company. At this stage, the prospect should have a good understanding of what their existing challenges are, as well as why the industry has providers that can offer potential solutions to the problem. Marketing will convert the MQL to a SAL and engage someone from the sales team to reach out to the prospect directly to engage in a discovery process to identify the following:
- What is it the prospect is trying to accomplish?
- What are the current challenges getting in the way of those accomplishments?
- Does the prospect already have a solution in mind (or partial solution)?
- Does the prospect want to learn more about the company being a potential fit for solution?
During this stage, it is critical that the marketing and sales teams be in lock-step. If the sales person does not have a decent understanding of why the marketing team converted the lead to a SAL, their messaging could be very different from the education the prospect has received. This will lead to a confused prospect and either pushing them back into an “I’m not sure” state, or pushing them out the door altogether. If the marketing team delivers a good background on the prospect, including what content they’ve consumed thus far and the reason why they are converting the lead to an SAL, the sales team has a much greater chance of delivering the right message to the prospect and carrying the conversation forward. At this stage, the goal is to connect with the prospect, identify fit and create a sales opportunity.
Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
At this stage, the sales team has identified that there is an opportunity to provide a solution for the prospect and has transitioned the prospect from an education-based program to a needs identification process known as a Sales Qualified Lead. In the SaaS space, the process of a sales rep exploring potential solutions with a prospect is traditionally called a needs analysis or a discovery, but has many other names depending on the industry and company vernacular.
In order to qualify as an SQL, the sales team has identified that the prospect has expressed a challenge and is interested in learning more about the company to see if they can provide a solution. The usual point of conversion is a time and date specific meeting scheduled by the sales rep with the prospect to discuss current challenges and potential solutions. It does not mean that the prospect knows exactly how the company intends to solve the problem but is willing to explore the company’s offering with the sales team to see if there is a solution. In this article we will not get into the different ways to sell the solution, but ultimately the end goal is to understand the customer’s needs, provide recommendations on relevant products and services and get the prospect to become a happy client.
Bringing it All Together
Managing prospects effectively through each stage is critical to the prospect having a consistent and delightful sales process. If done correctly, prospects will convert to customers more often, and typically share positive references with like buyers. Done wrong, your company will be left with an expensive sales process and no revenue to show for it, and most likely a negative experience that will be shared at your prospect’s next dinner party. As a recap, during each stage your company should be educating the prospect on the following:
- MQL – The challenges like companies are facing and why they are utilizing companies within your industry to solve those challenges
- SAL – Things to consider when looking for potential solutions, what other propsects have done to solve similar issues and what your company can do to support the prospect with their challenges
- SQL – Understand the prospect’s unique challenges and provide company specific solutions to help them
If at any point a prospect does not seem ready for the next step, it is completely acceptable to slow down and nurture the opportunity. Continue to educate and develop a relationship until they are ready to explore solutions. Moving a prospect forward, prior to them understanding they have a need for your product or service will mismatch your sales cycle just as bad as having a poor strategy to begin with! Moving a prospect forward a the right speed, educating along the way and providing insightful solutions will lead to a successful sales and marketing program!