There are many reasons for not closing a sale. In today's climate of information and work overload, an increasingly common reason is that prospects don't think of you when they are ready to buy. A critical challenge faced by any company marketing in this environment is how to elevate its message above the clutter and be top-of-mind when customer needs arise.

But, because it is almost impossible to predict when customer needs will arise, and because your company's salespeople can't be everywhere all of the time, this may seem like an insurmountable challenge. The situation is often complicated by the frequently tenuous relationship between Marketing and Sales—specifically, Sales not fully understanding or respecting what Marketing does to help Sales.

The key to overcoming this situation is to develop a system that helps meet all of these challenges. The system should consist of strategically timed and appropriately tailored communications campaigns for each of your prospects.

The goals of the campaigns should be to deliver consistent communications at regular intervals; elevate your message above other information that prospects are receiving; and motivate recipients to "raise their hands" when they are ready to purchase. The direct result would be increased sales—and increased respect for Marketing.

These structured communication plans, often referred to as drip campaigns, require careful consideration of each prospect's unique situation. Here are six areas that you must address to develop an effective campaign and ultimately "be there" when your prospect is ready to buy.

1. Clarify whom you need to reach

The first decision point in your drip campaign is to identify whom at the target company you must reach. Typically, only one person has the final say in approving purchases, but the evaluation process often involves multiple decision makers.

Resources who may be called on include direct reports, technical advisers, financial department employees, procurement department employees and even industry pundits. Since anyone who influences the decision can delay or even prevent the sale, it is critical that your message reach all the appropriate parties.

2. Understand their concerns

In addition to identifying the client stakeholders who influence the decision-making process, you must also determine each individual's role and unique concerns. Not surprisingly, we have found that one of the best ways to learn more about what is important to buyers when evaluating purchases is to ask them. Buyers often value features or benefits that the seller might take for granted—not the ones that seller is featuring as new and exciting.

In addition, the various influencers in the purchasing process may have different concerns, so you will need to customize your messages to address each individual's needs. For example, an email sent to technical advisors might direct them to an IT whitepaper, whereas a communication sent to CFOs may point them toward an industry analyst's report.

3. Figure out where your prospect gets his or her information

Knowing which sources of information your prospects and their key decision influencers rely on will help direct your messaging. For example, how did your prospects find out about some of the other products or services that they purchased recently? To what trade associations do they belong? What trade publications do they read regularly? Answers to such questions will help you decide which communication forums are best.

Surveying your prospects and previous clients can also guide campaign planning. People tend to be poor analysts; that is, they are often not accurate in forecasting their own future behavior. However, they are great reporters of actions that they have taken in the past. Asking clients and prospects to respond to a short survey on previous buying behavior can be enormously informative.

4. Use the correct message frequency and volume

Once you have confirmed that you are selling to the right individuals and using the most appropriate methods to communicate with them, you should contact them at regular intervals. The more often you interact with your prospect and the more relevant the information that you provide, the more effective your campaign will be at rising above the clutter.

5. Simplify the message

clarity, simplicity, and brevity—regardless of the method of communication—are critical to ensure that your message is attended to by your prospect. This is especially true with email. Current statistics indicate that businesspeople spend an average of only 30 seconds reading and responding to an email, which is not much time to absorb your message.

Focus on the information needed to capture your prospect's attention, and then send no more or no less than that. Otherwise, you run the risk of your message being ignored. If you are not sure which of several messages will have greater resonance, better to send several simple messages than a complex one.

Don't worry about sending too many messages, because people tend not to notice the ones that aren't germane to them at the moment.

6. Make messages consistent

Because it takes an average of seven impressions to make an impact, and because drip campaigns consist of multiple interaction points, it is essential that you give your prospects consistent information. There is nothing more confusing to a prospect during the purchase process than receiving conflicting or inconsistent information from a potential vendor, and it can threaten the likelihood of your being selected at purchase time.

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Implementing these campaigns will not only help your message reach the client at the correct time but also extend the reach and improve the effectiveness of your sales force.

No matter what size sales force you have, it is inefficient and ineffective for them to be calling on prospects that are not yet ready to buy. Using a system that reaches out to your prospects on a regular basis will help identify those who are ready to buy—because, done correctly, it will trigger them to act on their need. At that point, you can send your salesperson in to respond to a known customer need, which should make the sales call more effective. When salespeople see the quantifiable positive influence of marketing campaigns on sales calls, they will better respect marketing's efforts.

As you can see, developing an effective drip campaign requires a great deal of prospect insight and planning. But, when done properly, it can be one of the most useful tools in your sales and marketing efforts.

Drip campaigns leverage your salespeople's time by enabling them to close more business. Additionally, drip campaigns provide more focus to your prospect communication, which will result in less wasted time and money, thus contributing to your bottom line.

While conducting a drip campaign won't ensure success on every lead, it will better your chances on every lead, because you will be more carefully identifying and addressing your prospects' needs and increasing your position in their mind when it comes time to purchase.

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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.