The lead shouldn't represent the beginning of the sales cycle. Sales cycles should start with thought leadership that informs prospects about future trends that will result in business challenges and opportunities—enough so the prospects have an "epiphany" about their needs and enter the sales cycle.
So says Chris Koch, director of research and thought leadership at Lexington, Mass.-based Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA). On his blog, Chris Koch's B2B Blog, the Feb. 26, 2010 post titled "How Social Media Will Change Lead Generation in B2B" cites ITSMA research Koch co-authored about the epiphany stage.
"As social media expands our opportunity to reach people who have never heard of us or our services, we need to be prepared to engage them during the epiphany stage," Koch writes in his blog. "We are trying to generate demand during this stage, not create leads, because these people aren't ready to become leads."
Social media content can help build the trust that can create relationships.
But, Koch continues, those are steps that happen after direct marketers realize there are more stages in the sales cycle than they may believe. Referring back to research he helped author in January 2009, "The Epiphany Stage: The Missing Link in the Buying Process," Koch writes that there are five stages in the sales cycle that customers experience: epiphany, or need recognition; awareness, or search; interest, or evaluating alternatives; confidence, or selection and purchase; and loyalty, or post-purchase evaluation.
Koch writes in his blog that capitalizing on the epiphany stage involves:
• Thought leadership—"It's up to marketing to create a research network that generates the trends and business challenges that customers and prospects are looking for."
• Aligning the sales and marketing processes with the customer's buying process—Move from reacting to customers' requests for proposals "to helping prospects discover and respond to the most important business issues they face."