If in the past year you’ve sensed the B2B sales cycle becoming longer, you weren’t imagining things. Today’s B2B companies are coping with longer sales cycles due to a number of factors, starting with changing buyer behavior. For example, there are more channels with which to engage customers and an always-connected environment that prompts far more extensive research than what used to be possible.
Furthermore, buyers are more aware of risk and fearful of making a bad decision. This has prompted some companies to devise increasingly complex and collaborative buying processes. Budgets are still scrutinized closely despite an expanding economy, and the sheer number of choices for buyers can make moving forward through the B2B sales cycle slower. But this isn’t necessarily bad for B2B companies. Here’s why:
More of the B2B sales cycle takes place before the buyer ever interacts with a sales representative. In this sense, B2B companies may find marketing easier. Buyers are primed to do serious research when making purchases (which on the flipside challenges for B2B salespeople). When B2B companies make this research convenient, engaging, and up-to-date, certain aspects of marketing can look after themselves, at least for some of the time. And, of course, technology gives us many ways to connect with leads, so worries like playing phone tag are less of an issue. But despite certain aspects of the B2B sales cycle being easier on marketers, new challenges have emerged.
As the B2B sales cycle has lengthened, the marketing professional must now track and analyze more steps in the buyer’s journey. The increase in the number of steps in the sales cycle means more opportunities to engage potential customers, but it also means learning how to serve them flawlessly at each one, including optimizing sales collateral that salespeople distribute. In many ways it’s an ongoing process, as technology, markets, and customers continue to evolve.
Ultimately, B2B companies that learn the details about the steps in the sales cycle and that commit to producing fresh, original content that reaches potential customers at each may expend more energy up front, but long-term gains should make it worthwhile.
Content marketing for B2B isn’t simple or easy—there’s a lot that you can do wrong. Reaping the rewards of a long-range content marketing plan may take time. Short-term gains wrought through hard-driven pursuit of meeting monthly or quarterly numbers may be a cold comfort later on. If you take that approach, when you’re struggling to build and maintain an audience, your competitor will enjoy engaging with the long-term audience they’ve painstakingly built.
A content-driven presence is about both quantity and quality, and it requires commitment. But the data consistently point out that this approach meets customers as they are now, giving them what they want and what they need throughout the B2B sales cycle.
Follow-up has always been important in sales. With the B2B sales cycle lengthening, it’s more important than ever. A sale that may have moved toward closure after a couple of follow-ups may now require four or five follow-up contacts. Yet, many sales professionals give up after a single follow-up. Of course, sometimes both parties realize a product or service isn’t the right fit, so there’s no sense in wasting everyone’s time. But the B2B companies that succeed today understand the critical importance of following up with customers multiple times.
The B2B sales cycle is getting longer, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lengthening sales cycle forces B2B companies to more closely examine the steps of the cycle, to take a hard look at their content marketing strategy, and to evaluate how thoroughly team members follow up on contacts. Having the right content at the right time is table stakes now. Building the connection between the sales team member and the prospect is a carefully choreographed dance, but sales professionals who are equipped and willing to take those extra steps are the ones who can make the most of the lengthening B2B sales cycle.