Storytelling for Each Stage of Your Sales Cycle
The key to crafting compelling stories that sell your products and ideas is to understand exactly where that story fits into the sales cycle. Otherwise, no matter how well-written the content might be, it will fail to engage and persuade prospective clients because you haven't built sufficient trust with them.
For example, pushing a hard-sell call-to-action or promoting "great deals" too early in the sales cycle is more likely to repel customers than to draw them in. That's because you need to first build trust with your audience, so that they're more receptive to your message, putting you in the best position to motivate them to take action on your offer.
So think of your sales cycle—especially if your venture sells business-to-business—as a trust-building process where it may take several months or even over a year to move a prospect from initial contact to purchase order.
This requires taking a long view, with patience and discipline to craft the right message that's tailored to the trust level the audience is likely to be at that precise moment in the sales cycle.
But with the proper perspective, your content strategy will help accelerate the trust-building process, reaping a harvest of new business for your firm.
The Law of the Harvest
When developing your content strategy, think like a high-performing sales pro. That is...in order to "reap" consistent sales, you must regularly "sow" the right activities at the right time to hit your numbers. You need to continually find new leads and cultivate those relationships over time, building trust with them until they're ripe for harvest as new customers.
I call this process the "Law of the Harvest," where the sales cycle is comprised of four distinct stages designed for building trust: sowing, cultivating, reaping and multiplying. Highly compensated sales professionals understand that while they're "reaping" new contracts, they still must be "working their land" by performing other tasks (such as prospecting and follow-up calls) today that will lead to a harvest of sales tomorrow, the next day and so forth.
Your content strategy should be designed with the same principle in mind, with each piece of content (whether it's a brochure, e-mail marketing campaign, direct mailer, blog post, case study, white paper, sales presentation, or sales proposal) crafted for a specific stage in the sales cycle to maximize effectiveness—to equip you to close more sales, at a faster rate, for higher profit.
This graphic illustrates how storytelling for each stage of the sales cycle can accelerate the trust-building process from initial contact to a fiercely loyal client.
The idea here is that your prospects and clients will be at different stages, at different times. So, you want to craft each story to nudge prospects, wherever they may be on the "Trust Continuum," toward the next stage and ultimately a purchase decision.
How do you determine what type of content and messaging will be most appropriate and effective at each stage in the sales cycle? Here's a breakdown of the four stages to serve as your guide.
Stage 1: Sowing
In this stage, you’re trying to sow the seed of your message in the minds of as many qualified prospects as possible. You're not going to spend a lot of time talking about price or what a great deal you have to offer or asking prospects to buy NOW because they don't yet really know you— nor do they trust you. They're not going to be very responsive to a "hard sell" message.
Therefore, the goal in Stage 1 is simply to open the door to a relationship, inviting them to learn more or to follow your company via its social media channels or to subscribe to an e-newsletter so your company can keep them posted on latest product updates.
Some of the appropriate content tools to help you earn a prospect's permission to market to them include:
- Inquiry (introductory) email
- Thought leadership content (blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, white papers, webinars)
- Elevator pitch
- Corporate capabilities/ product brochures
- Direct mailers (sales letters, postcards, flyers)
- Ads in print, broadcast, and/or digital media
- E-mail marketing
Motivate audience to give you permission to market to them. These contacts become part of your database that you develop in Stage 2.
Stage 2: Cultivating
Once you’ve established contact with prospects, how do you cultivate the relationship? This is your follow-up phase. These people already know about you; now you’re looking for ways to move them closer to buying from you. Here are a few ways to accomplish this objective:
- Newsletters/e-newsletters (informative articles, brand journalism)
- Case studies (customer success stories)
- Birthday and anniversary cards (exclusive offer tied to that special day)
- Special announcements letting prospects know about great deals, new products or services, special events and so on (press releases, email updates, postcards, flyers, etc.)
- Courtesy follow-up email/ phone calls (boilerplate series of "touch base" emails, call script)
1. Schedule appointment to demo product
2. Motivate audience to request quote/ proposal.
The purpose is to develop marketing tools and messaging that build as much rapport as possible with prospects so they are more likely to do business with you—instead of a competitor.
Stage 3: Reaping
At this point, the prospect's trust-level with your company is high enough for him or her to feel comfortable asking for a proposal. Now, it's your job is to craft the proposal in a way that builds upon that trust and presents a convincing case.
Make the proposal so persuasive that it motivates the reader to move forward with the order.
Stage 4: Multiplying
This is the stage where many companies drop the ball, but it's essential for long-term, sustainable business growth. Just as a new "crop" often releases seeds that enable the farmer to multiply a harvest, so does a new, happy client possess opportunities for your company to multiply your sales through repeat business and referrals. Here are a few content ideas to continue building trust after the sale:
Invoices (include messaging about other products/ services/ special offers that may interest the recipient)
Customer loyalty program (program introduction letter, loyalty redemption card, coupons, etc.)
Follow-up system (thank you letter, 90-day follow-up letter, one-year anniversary letter)
Referral request (letter that tactfully and effectively asks recipient for introductions to qualified referrals)
Motivate audience to become a raving fan, resulting in repeat business and referrals.
The Bottom Line
How do you develop content for maximum impact? Ask yourself: Where does this project fit into the sales cycle? Once you've identified the stage, you're better equipped to design a content strategy and craft a story that successfully engages prospects and eventually converts them into profitable customers.
Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that teaches entrepreneurs how to tap into the power of story to sell big ideas that change the world. A former columnist at Entrepreneur magazine, Sean also serves in editorial roles at Utility Fleet Professional magazine and ExpeditersOnline, writing and speaking about the future of transportation and its impact on business and society.