November 8, 2005
It Time to Revamp Your
by Barbara Bix and Melissa Josephson Edwards
If your sales cycles seem to be dragging, it may be time
to revamp your communications plan. Effective communications
plans can leverage salespeople's time and speed up the
sales process by anticipating and getting prospective
customers the information they need to move to the next
level—wherever they are in the buying process.
Done well, your communications programs can generate
demand for your solutions, create a sense of urgency,
attract prospective buyers' attention and keep you prominently
on their radar—all without sales intervention.
Your communications program can even encourage prospective
buyers to "raise their hands" when they are
finally ready to purchase by offering the right enticement.
The key is getting the right message to the right person
at the right time. Not everyone who needs your organization's
solution is ready to buy right away. In fact, most buyers
proceed through a series of stages before ultimately
deciding to purchase from you. First, they must...
Recognize they need what you have to offer
Develop a sense of urgency
Be aware of your firm
Realize that your organization can solve their problem
Remember your organization's solution when they finally
become ready to buy
Determine that your organization's solution meets their
Find it easy to buy from your organization
Effective communications plans address every step of
the sales process and move buyers from stage to stage.
Sales people, on the other hand, are more productive
when they can concentrate on accounts that are ready
to buy right away. When sales people take on the role
of the communications plan (i.e., they often find they
need to spend a lot of time helping prospective buyers
move to the next level), sales cycles drag out, impeding
If this is the case, then why does sales productivity
continue to be an issue? Developing effective communications
programs depends on fully understanding how prospective
customers make buying decisions. Too many organizations
underestimate the complexity of prospective customers'
buying processes and therefore the complexity of designing
effective communications programs. When communications
programs don't work, sales people have to step in and
address each buyer's concerns one by one.
We recently saw a piece titled, "Digital mammography
proves superior for women" on MedPage Today. We
thought it would prove useful in describing the complex
challenges communicators face.
The article cited the October 27, 2005 issue of the New
England Journal of Medicine as its source. It reported
that according to a study of 50,000 women, digital mammography
is more accurate in detecting premenopausal breast cancer
than traditional film-based mammography. It also noted
that both were effective screening tools and that the
Are no more effective than film in detecting cancers
in other populations
Are 1.5 to 4 times as expensive as plain film systems
Are not covered by all insurers
Use lower doses of radiation
Are easier to use
If the primary objective of communications programs is
to move buyers to the next level, then communicators'
most important task is pinpointing where buyers get stuck
and why. Yet, in our experience, the most common communications
mistake that organizations make is addressing the wrong
problem. Let's look at the above example from the perspective
of a mammography systems vendor.
There are multiple reasons why a hypothetical mammography
vendor could be losing sales. For example, since both
film and digital technologies are effective screening
tools, administrators of breast imaging centers may not
perceive a need for the product. Or perhaps they see
a need, but find that they can't justify the cost with
insurers or patients. Or they may be in negotiations
with another vendor because they don't realize that this
company sells digital systems.
These are just three of many possible hypotheses. Chances
are that each of the above scenarios applies to at least
some of the vendor's prospective customers. Perhaps,
however, none of these is the primary reason that the
vendor is losing sales. Without first knowing exactly
where the sales cycle is actually breaking down most
often, organizations run the risk of launching marketing
campaigns that waste both sales and communications resources.
Once an organization figures out what's delaying sales,
it's just a matter of getting buyers the information
they require to move to the next level, right? Wrong!
This simple solution begs four questions:
at the buyer needs the information?
information do they need?
the best way to reach them?
do you get them to pay attention to your communications?
Of these questions, the first is the most important
because both the messages and choice
of media will depend on
whom the communicator needs to reach. The second
most common mistake we see is that organizations
they know whom to target.
Using our example, it is likely that
breast imaging center administrators
a number of people
new equipment. Possible constituencies include
employees such as radiologists, clinical
technicians, and financial
analysts; prospective patients; referring physicians;
and recognized experts such as the National
Cancer Institute (NCI) and medical societies.
Even if mammography vendors ascertain that
they are losing sales because administrators
perceive a need for
digital systems, communicators still need to
know how the administrators came to that conclusion.
they run the risk of succeeding in their communications
objectives—but failing to affect the behavior
that they are looking to change. For example, launching
advertising campaign may result in more patients
preferring digital systems. These preferences,
however, may be irrelevant,
if as for many clinical services the only factor
patients consider is their primary care physicians'
In theory, pressure from any of the stakeholders
could create a sense of urgency for administrators.
is only one way to find out. Ask administrators
you through the process that they used when
making other similar purchases. Although everyone
buying behavior, individuals tend to be consistent.
Moreover, people tend to be better at reporting
past behavior than
they are at predicting the future.
The following steps, of course, are to determine
what messages and media to use. In-depth interviews
the best way to get at motivation. There are
a number of
ways to find out where key audiences get their
information. Finally, you will want to test
formats and calls to action.
Communicators face many potential pitfalls.
Chief among them are addressing the right problem
audiences to target. Too often, organizations
make assumptions and skip steps because they
a hurry to achieve
their revenue objectives. Or, as H.L. Mencken
every complex problem there is an answer that is
clear, simple, and wrong."
Organizations, however, that take the time
to fully understand their prospective customers'
in getting the right messages to the right
at the right time. Their rewards will include
making the most of their marketing dollars,
the sales cycle, and improving sales productivity.