Why Do Sales Leads Die?

This is the first in a series of articles on sales enablement and improving sales productivity across the buying process and is excerpted from the forthcoming book “Facilitating the Buying Process – the New Role for B2B Salespeople”, by Mark Gibson.

How often do prospective customers (leads) come to your Website, accept an offer, have a meaningful conversation with your inside sales team, then go radio silent and disappear?

According to Scott Santucci of Forrester, it’s at least 80% of the time. The reason they don’t make it through the sales process is because they don’t make it through their internal buying process. 

There are many possible reasons why leads die, but I suggest that most early leads don’t make it past the critical internal “fight for funds” (Positioning) phase in the buy cycle. 

Buying behavior has changed permanently and much faster than most sellers and marketers have been able to adapt. Much debate about the point at which salespeople are engaged in the buying process motivated me to write this article. 

The ability to attract the buyer to your Website through inbound marketing and thought leadership content at the outset – in the ideation phase of their buying journey is I think, a higher priority and way more important than any other engagement approach.

Buyer facilitation is a more appropriate way to view modern B2B sales enablement and channel sales enablement. Unfortunately, most B2B technology companies view buying behavior through the lens of the sales funnel and this is like viewing prospects through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars… they appear far away.

Let’s review some basics on human behavior and how people buy.

The Diffusion of Innovation

“The Diffusion of Innovation,” by Everett Rogers is a hugely influential study on the process by which innovations are adopted or diffused into a population. This work, now in its fifth edition was first published in 1962 and has spawned dozens of books like “Crossing the Chasm,” by Geoffrey Moore, “The Tipping Point,” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Why Killer Products Don’t Sell” by Ian Gotts and Dominic Rowsell and others. 

The Diffusion of Innovation Curve – how new innovation is assimilated in a culture

Several key ideas in this article are based on collaboration with Dominic Rowsell, co-author of “Why Killer Products Don’t Sell”. 

Killer Products adds a layer of understanding from the buyer’s perspective on how they go about buying innovative or disruptive technology and critically, how risk affects vendor engagement through the buying process. 

Understanding the buying process will help marketers and sales enablement teams to engage and optimize their value chain. This is new thinking for most and with insights gained from this work, we can adjust our selling process to serve our customers according to how they buy – which is governed by their tolerance for risk. 

Chasm Theory – from “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore.

“Crossing the Chasm” published in 1991 is a landmark book for marketers and sellers of high technology products. In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore builds on Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovation model and posits that there are cracks in the bell curve between behaviors of each group, but there is a chasm between early adopters of a discontinuous innovation (the technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). 

The problem for technology companies and the prime cause of thousands of failures, despite enormous investment and best-efforts is a lack of understanding of the difference in behavior of early adopters and the more risk-averse early majority. 

Early adopters are prepared to take a leap of faith on an unproven product, with few references in order to gain competitive advantage. 

The pragmatic early majority however, prefers to wait until the market is formed; an established buying category exists along with a healthy set of competitors and a reference base of successful customers. 

“Crossing the Chasm” identifies the differences and suggests techniques to successfully cross this “chasm.”

These include, selecting a target market, positioning the product as a complete offering and creating a marketing and distribution strategy.

While Crossing th Chasm was written pre-Internet, “Chasm Theory” still applies to discontinuous technology products and by overlaying the buying process over the technology adoption life cycle we can begin to understand why mainstream buyers engage mainstream vendors when they are well through their buying process.

Engagement and the Cycle of Adoption 

The Technology Adoption Lifecycle (TALC), shown in the visual confection below, layers the cycle of adoption over the universal buying process (IMPACT) and introduces the four buying behaviors and the point during the cycle of adoption that they engage buyers.

  • In a Value Captured buying culture (typically some sort of joint venture), buyers and sellers will jointly initiate the start of a buying cycle and business relationship and share in the risk and rewards.

  • A Value Created buying culture seeks to take advantage of discontinuous innovation and will engage suppliers early in their process. At this stage the buying firm has an idea and is looking forward. Typically lots of Internet activity in reading eBooks, watching videos and asking questions. The supplier may be needed to help guide the buyer in the use of technology and to help the buyer to fully assess the risks. Early adopters will jump on new technology if it can offer competitive advantage.

  • A Value-Added buying culture engages when they have identified a product or solution and set of criteria for purchase. Suppliers are needed to help with configuration, integration and to spell out their value proposition in terms that are important to the buying organization.


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  • A Value offered buying culture, knows what it wants, how much it wants to pay and expects to receive delivery and support from an efficient supply chain. Salespeople offer little value in a Value offered sale where complete transparency of capabilities, pricing, service and support exists on the Internet.

In the next article we will explore aligning sales and marketing resources to best serve your customers buying process and in the process build more responsive sales teams.

Topics: Sales Enablement

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