By Todd Smithee

You know the old sales adage: the larger the transaction you are attempting to close, the longer you will need to be in touch with your potential customer.  But long-term customer relationships don’t always happen the way they used to.  To start with, you will probably be in touch with your prospect long before you even know it.  I recently spoke with a company that has seen the time its representatives are actively involved with its potential clients shrink by 66%.  But in reality, the client’s selling cycle is likely the same as it would have been in the past.  The major difference is that clients are now conducting much of their research on the Internet before they begin contacting the dreaded “pushy sales representative.” The availability of extensive online product and service information, combined with configuration programs, allow potential customers to “kick the tires” before contacting a real person.  While this change forces adjustments in the sales processes of most companies, it is not necessarily a bad thing, assuming these changes are embraced by marketing and sales teams.

As the nature of the sales cycle changes, marketing will need to become more and more integrated into the sales process.  Marketing teams will need to place significant emphasis on benchmarking their web presence against that of their competition.  This will become a never-ending process of delivering the most user-friendly, information-rich experience possible to website visitors.  As more and more of the sales process takes place online, the implementation of continuous improvement principles will be required to stay ahead of the competition.  Marketing will also need to work more closely with sales to ensure that once a lead is identified, it is immediately delivered to sales with supporting information to ensure prompt follow-up.

As marketers take on the traditional role of sales, sales teams will adopt more of a marketing stance as they become much more responsive to potential sales opportunities.  As more and more of the sales process is conducted online, sales teams will need to do more than be involved in managing sales transactions.  Immediate, continuous responses to inquiries and “politely aggressive” follow-up will need to become the norm.  Furthermore, continuous relationship-building outreaches will become more important.  Working to build relationships with likely prospects will take more and more of the average sales representative’s time.  These relationships may take many months, or even years for larger transactions, but will pay off in the long run.  In times of increased competition and shorter selling cycles, a strong relationship is a tremendous advantage.