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 needs
  • 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 productivity.

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.

An example

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 digital systems...

  • 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

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Barbara Bix is managing principal of BB Marketing Plus, where she helps companies enhance their brands by capturing and enhancing the customer experience.