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How to Manage the Long Sales Cycle

The Sales Cycle is getting longer

We've all been there, we've all had a lead who qualifies as a prospect and has progressed into a strong opportunity. You spend several meetings identifying their specific needs and challenges whilst you diligently demonstrate how your solution will solve their problem. As a result of exhibiting major buying signals, they quite rightly make their way onto your sales forecast. Then, nothing!

The B2B Sales Cycle Increased 32% in 12 Months Between 2014 and 2015

Sales fall through or at the very least take time - It's a fact of life: Whether the CFO pulls back on the financial reigns, you get outbid by a competitor on value proposition, you're too expensive, they don't believe your product will work for them, the idea has been kicked into touch by the new manager (the "not my idea club")... There are so many reasons not to buy something, it's a wonder anything gets sold at all!

What can we do about it?

Well, we know that the buyer has more power now than ever before with customers reviewing dozens of articles before even contacting your business. Make sure you have content that will appeal to all of the stakeholders at every stage of the buyer's journey.

Back in 2010, research showed that about 79% of B2B sales took six months or less, while 11% took more than 12 months. The average sales cycle crept toward eight months in 2014, reflecting an explosion in the number of customer touch-points, involved stakeholders, and service options.

In 2015, B2B analytics firm Bright Funnel measured a 32% gain in sales cycle length, resulting in:

  • An average B2B sales cycle of more than 100 days;
  • Total lead-to-revenue time averaging more than 500 days;
  • 12 months of cultivating leads before they reach the sales pipeline!

The study showed the number of marketing touches driving B2B purchases had grown substantially in the same timeframe, from about eleven to more than seventeen for any given sale. Throughout all this, the number of decision-makers involved in purchasing grew—to an average of 4.5—but visibility to prospects’ decision-making process hadn't improved, making actionable insights hard to uncover.

Clients Facing Dwindling Grants, Funding, and R&D Budgets Elongate the Sales Cycle

Although the “audience” for B2B marketing has grown, the number of contacts hasn’t: Most marketing still focuses on a single decision-maker whose opinion influences the rest. That means up to 85% of the sales cycle is completely opaque.

This unfortunate reality leaves B2B enterprises in the scientific space puzzled about how to maximize their marketing ROI and drive more sales. The problem is complicated when you consider research budgets have largely been in retreat since the Great Recession or earlier:

  • The NIH’s research-funding capacity declined 22% since 2003;
  • Total spending on basic research is down in many funding sectors;
  • Federal R&D funding declined 1989-2001 and has yet to recover.

With all these factors in mind, how should scientific enterprises adapt to the long sales cycle?

Build Trust

As grim as the figures above seem, the situation can be even more dire for sellers of scientific capital equipment—sales may take as long as three years to come to fruition. During that time, it’s essential to foster trust by demonstrating expertise and thought leadership. Far from being a sales brochure, your site should convey your capacity to innovate and support clients’ goals. That often means blog posts, whitepapers, and webinars or executive interviews.

Develop Relationships

Even with as long as it takes to realize a sale, the institutional relationship isn’t over once it’s achieved. To protect your all-important accounts from competitors, it’s often vital to build deep relations that touch on multiple influencers. The more time you spend in contact with your client, the more you’ll learn about the different stakeholders who influence the final decision. That, in turn, gives you the ability to refine your marketing and Web presence to anticipate objections from a wider range of client participants.

Stay Aware of Competitors

Until recently, scientific markets have often been dominated by just a handful of brands. Now, barriers to entry are beginning to fall; new entrants are arriving in force. Even more worrisome, established companies are proactively updating their sales and marketing approach to aggressively capture share. Not only should you remain aware of rivals and adapt to their moves, but you should also strive to break from the pack and lead in the development of new ideas and solutions—capturing the initiative so others will be driven to follow you.

With digital marketing solutions levelling the playing field for the little guys, robust marketing efforts are no longer "nice to have" in scientific industries, but essential. The sooner you adopt a contact-rich process that helps to buy rather than pushes to sell, the sooner you'll see reliable revenue from lasting client agreements. AZoNetwork specialise in creating content which will shorten your sales cycle, contact us to find out more.

Posted by Frank Barker

Having spent his younger years playing Rugby in the sunny climes of Spain and Australia, Frank graduated from Loughborough University with a BSc in International Business before settling back in rainy Manchester. Frank has helped numerous Science, Engineering and Healthcare companies to create marketing strategies that engage with niche audiences. Having started his career in Sales, he now runs the Marketing department for AZoNetwork. He specialises in data management for sales teams, equipping them with the most actionable, real-time marketing insights from the first touch point through to revenue generating opportunity. A sportsman at heart, Frank still enjoys lacing up the boots for his beloved Macclesfield 1st XV Rugby or pulling on the whites to represent the more serious Macclesfield 3rd XI Cricket team.    

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