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Using the Customer Buying Process

The relationship between Marketing and Sales is at the core of how well a company attracts buyers and sells to them. This relationship is more than just a simple handoff at the point a lead is generated; it is the foundation for profitable revenue growth.

A study by the CMO Council on the topic of marketing and sales alignment revealed "an urgent need for marketing, sales, and channel management to align and embrace technologies, processes, and programs that enable wider and deeper customer conversations, as well as leverage the knowledge, influence, and access of the channel and continuously refine the delivery of products and services in the most painless, seamless, and satisfying way."

According to a study conducted by CSO Insights this summer, only about a quarter of leads generated by marketing meet expectations and about 5% exceed expectations. And half the companies indicated they engage with less than 50% of their leads. Ensuring alignment between sales and marketing is not a one-time event; it requires on-going vigilance because market dynamics, organizational changes, and regular "wear and tear" can affect alignment.

Why care about this alignment? Besides the organizational benefits, according to IDC, marketing and sales alignment offers was of the greatest opportunities to improve the revenue cycle. There are at least four areas where sales and marketing need to be aligned:

1. Market and customer segmentation
2. Go-to-market strategy, process, and planning
3. Sales enablement
4. Opportunity management

This last area, opportunity management, is one of the first places any organization can address to see relatively fast improvements and value. Just to be sure we're on the same page, let's define opportunity management as the complete process of tracking and managing new revenue opportunities (prospective and existing customer business) from the generation of the opportunity to their conversion into a customer relationship. When well-defined and properly implemented the opportunity management process provides insight into the efficiency of marketing and sales efforts.

Six Opportunity Management Best Practices

There are six best practices when it comes to opportunity management:

1. Using the customer buying process as the foundation for aligning both organizations
2. Tracking and scoring leads based on prospect behavior.
3. Collaborating on defining a qualified lead to determine when an opportunity truly sales-ready
4. Measuring marketing's impact on the sales pipeline and the number of open opportunities that result from marketing programs
5. Using customer behavior to map the most appropriate next interactions
6. Leveraging opportunity nurturing programs

The very first step any organization can take to improve their marketing and sales alignment is to define the customer buying process. This effort has implications for the remaining best practices as well as for the configuration of your marketing automation, sales automation, and campaign management systems.

A Customer Oriented Opportunity Management Pipeline

The notion of a sales pipeline, that is the flow of business opportunities, is very familiar to most organizations. But developing this pipeline around the customer buying process may be new territory. These two lists hint to the differences of a "sales" oriented pipeline vs. a "customer buying" oriented pipeline.

Scenario A: Pipeline Elements

  • Identify the buyer
  • Send an email
  • Call to meet
  • Assess the need
  • Determine the budget
  • Submit a quote
  • Deliver a presentation
  • Submit a proposal

Scenario B: Pipeline Elements

  • Visit website
  • Download a document
  • Requests a call
  • Describes a project
  • Attends a webinar
  • Schedules a meeting
  • Provides specification and budget
  • Participates in a demo
  • Requests a proposal

  I hope you caught the nuances between the two scenarios. If you thought the difference was that in the second example the behaviors are what the customer does vs. the first example which is things the company might do, you are right on target.

If you are ready to improve your sales and marketing alignment and want to use the customer buying as the foundation, here are eight steps to help you start.

Seven Steps to Creating a Customer Buying Pipeline

1. Define the customer buying process and each incremental behavioral commitment for each of buying segments
2. Group the behaviors into buying stages that map to the buying process
3. Validate the pipeline with customers and modify as needed
4. Determine stage owners
5. Map marketing and sales tools and processes to each stage
6. Configure marketing automation, sales automation, and campaign management systems
7. Monitor, measure and report results and payback and modify as needed

It is often ideal for marketing and sales to engage in this pipeline engineering initiative together. There is also merit when using someone from the outside to facilitate the process to ensure it is collaborative, to manage the customer validation, and to support the system configuration changes.

Using a customer centric model is a valuable method for improving marketing and sales alignment, effectiveness and measurement. It enables an organization to shift from a transactional focus to a one that is more customer-focused and designed to accelerate and reduce the cost of revenue generation.

1 comment about "Using the Customer Buying Process ".
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  1. Leslie Nolen from The Radial Group, October 23, 2010 at 11:22 p.m.

    Right on! This topic is near and dear to my heart and you've nailed it.

    Here's another advantage to orienting your business around the BUYING process instead of the SELLING process:

    You can now completely rethink your (inaccurate, time-consuming) sales forecasting process.

    Instead of relying on your sales team's magic 8 ball to score prospects ("Is this deal 25%, 50%, 75% likely to close..."), you can base the probability of deal closure on the proactive steps taken BY THE POTENTIAL CUSTOMER.

    Instead of a self-protective guessing game, the forecast becomes much more objective. Prospects have either attended a webinar - or they haven't. They have either provided a budget and engaged in a demo - or they haven't. And so on.

    Plus, you can then analyze wins and losses against this buying process - and spot which actions by the *prospect* REALLY happen most often in successful deals, and which steps turn out to be infrequently performed by those customers who eventually buy.

    That in turn lets you tweak the close probabilities you associate with these buying steps so that your forecast gets smarter - and even more important, so does your (ahem) selling process.

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