One of my clients told me a story that they’d just closed a large new deal with a prospect that’s been in their pipeline for a long time – as in 2 years’ long time.
And that’s not some crazy outlier. They’re working other opportunities that have been in there for well over a year.
This is not how it’s supposed to go
In the ideal world, prospects step through a simple, straight-line process:
- enter the pipeline as a lead
- convert from a lead to a qualified opportunity
- convert the opportunity into a “closed won” or “closed lost”
- renew existing customers, critical for success of software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies.
And one of Marketing’s job is to speed up this process.
Of course, when I plot the real-life process with my clients – not the ideal-world process – I don’t come up with anything quite so simple. Most prospects follow a more convoluted path and they start-and-start along the way.
The pipeline isn’t a straight line. It’s full of loops.
A prospect searches on one of your paid adwords, comes to your website, signs up for a free trial, and spends time on your pricing page. Or maybe they go even further and request a call with Sales. (Of course, you’re conscientiously tracking this with your marketing automation system, assigning points to the prospect’s lead score all along the way.)
So, you escalate the lead and pass it over to the Sales team.
But then it all comes to a halt. Six emails, three voice mail messages, and one LinkedIn request later, the sales person still hasn’t connected with the prospect. The lead gets looped back to Marketing for further cultivation, and they may stay there for months before they show any renewed interest.
And that’s a simple version. You’ve probably seen prospects that have gone through this loop from Marketing to Sales and back to Marketing two or three times before there’s a final disposition.
Why is it so complicated?
Sometimes prospects don’t follow the straight and simple path just because they’re not really qualified. No matter how carefully you design a marketing campaign, you’ll inevitably pull some bad leads into the pipeline. It happens.
But lots of times your marketing campaign reaches precisely the right prospect, someone eminently qualified to buy your product… and they still go through this start-stop and Marketing-to-Sales-back to Marketing loop.
This is especially common when you’re marketing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Remember that the prospect has a lot of other responsibilities besides evaluating your solution. (See “Your prospect has a day job.”) They may have been able to dedicate a chunk of time to an initial exploration, but then got distracted by other priorities. They can’t carve out the time to work with your free trial, answer your emails, or get back to your voice mails.
Keep prospects on the radar screen
Don’t give up on these prospects. Over time, some number of them will re-engage. The reason they initially looked for you will bubble back up on their list of high-priorities. You can even try to turn up the urgency for them. (See “Why your prospects are ignoring you.”)
Find a cost-effective way to stay in front of them. I’ve seen newsletters, tips, or other helpful advice that goes out on regularly work well. You should provide an easy way for the prospect to indicate that they are ready to re-engage, though it’s best to avoid a constant harangue of “please, please, please return my phone calls.”
Some prospects will move faster than others. But when they are ready to move ahead, you want to be there.