I want to share a quick bit about a sales process / methodology that I’ve found to be invaluable – and I’ve had to train people dozens of times. It is a helpful framework for both sales and marketing professionals because it covers the life-cycle of customer on-boarding. In simplest terms, the process is this: ALPAC. Audience, Lead, Prospect, Account, Customer.
Here are the sales & marketing stages, broken down with greater detail.
This is fundamentally a Marketing stage. Audience comprises everyone who isn’t yet in your sales funnel. The Audience can really be broken up in to 2 groups: Audience we want to reach, and Audience we don’t care about reaching. Audience converts to the next stage by progressing those people through the AIDA marketing process: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. I’m going to write more in the near future about the importance (and measurability!) of AIDA in social media campaigns, but for now just suffice to say that the general population needs to become aware of your product / service / business, become interested, gain desire, and finally, take action. Depending on the nature of your product, that action is typically self-designation as a person who wants more information – and turns themselves in to a lead.
This is one of the least-agreed-upon terms when transition from advertising teams to sales teams. Advertisers see “leads” in the way that I’m generally describing: Someone who has taken an action designating that they’d like to know more about your business or what you offer. However, oftentimes salespeople interchange the term “lead” and “prospect.” They are fundamentally different. A lead is an as-yet-unknown potential customer. Leads should only last about 24 hours! Obviously that is dependent on your business style and a number of other factors, but the simple fact is that a sales or marketing agent is responsible for qualifying the lead.
A Lead shouldn’t transition to Prospect until you’ve captured the information that’s relevant to you. For instance, our firm Dashter makes a WordPress-based product. I’ve met plenty of people who were intrigued by the Dashter concept, only to then be asked the question, “Does your site run on WordPress?” I can’t reasonably sell them a copy of Dashter if the platform they run their website on isn’t what our product requires.
Your business has unique qualifying criteria to transition a lead to a prospect. Do you know what they are? Do you have a clear vetting process to ensure that you’ve properly qualified them? If so – then they can continue down the sales funnel.
A Prospect is a person who is qualified to buy your product or service, but hasn’t done so yet. THIS is the sales step. This is when a person (or organization, etc) needs to be engaged with by a sales agent to get them to commit to the purchase.
Depending on your field, the prospecting phase can be as short as a phone call or an email – or as long as days, months, or (in large-scale cases) years. However, it’s important to realize that prospects can often go cold based on a variety of factors in your business or industry. Someone who has the capability to buy but doesn’t should be courted in whatever form is appropriate for your business until they are ready to buy. On the measurability front, you should be aware of the costs associated with cold prospects and make sure not to spend too much time, money, or energy attempting to catch all of them that will slip through. This is a funneling process – and there are holes in every funnel.
A prospect is converted in to an Account when they commit to the purchase. This may not be the same moment as payment is received…
There is an important difference between a new account and an existing customer. A new account should have a totally different process and support infrastructure than new customers. This can include welcome emails, personal phone calls, specialized “new” webinars, etc.
There is virtually nothing more painful for a salesperson than to earn a prospect’s purchase commitment and then lose the customer during the on-boarding process. That’s what the Account phase really represents. The period of time where a customer must pay for the product or service AND the period of time they can still refund or back-out of that commitment. If you offer a 30-day refund policy, that individual should stay in the Account phase until the 31st day. You’ve earned their business.
If you’re in Real Estate or other complex financial transactions, the Account should stay until all the paperwork has been completed. Only then should that person be considered an earned Customer.
Customers are great for 2 reasons. One, you earned their business and got their money. They’re one of yours. The second reason is because a Customer doesn’t have to be put through the same process all over again when you have something new to offer. You certainly need to have a sales cycle in place for handling existing customers vs. new customers, but it is dramatically different (and often much shorter).
For instance, as an Audi driver, I’m frequently emailed or direct-mailed offers from the local Audi dealership – for both new cars and service offers. They realize that as an existing buyer, I’m already familiar with the product, the company, the brand experience, etc. Selling me a new Audi is way easier than selling an Audi to someone who already owns a Mercedes, for example.
This is where customer service, customer loyalty programs, personalized attention to detail, and ongoing relationship marketing becomes essential. The best part about this phase is that they’ve already given you permission to engage with them – its up to you to take advantage of it without overwhelming them.
Takeaways from the ALPAC Methodology
Hopefully this article is merely reinforcing your natural understanding of the customer sales process. It applies to virtually every business and model in some way or form.
This is also the model that is integrated in to virtually every sales-oriented CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software solution. The obvious changes that need to be made to a standard CRM (such as Salesforce.com, Highrise, Sugar, etc) is the integration of Audience and Customer. Those are frequently overlooked in sales systems that simply process a customer from Lead to Prospect to “Closed Won” accounts. Here are some things that you can keep in mind within your own business:
Integrate Audience Analytics with Leads
All too often I’ve met people who isolate Audience metrics from Lead metrics. It’s like “Marketing” is supposed to figure out how many people seep out of their funnel; but by the time that Lead hits sales the figures all go back up to 100% and start seeping out again.
You should have a way to monitor the progression of a person through your organization as they convert from general Audience to Lead to Customer. It is more than just a “Lead Source” set on your CRM. As best as possible, you should be able to track exactly how that individual was courted through and AIDA marketing channel down to their final purchase decision – and then continue to develop their profile as they stay a customer.
It can be tracked, measured, evaluated, and improved upon. If you know that a certain “type” of customer consumes a great deal of post-sale support, then ideally you can track that class of customer all the way back up the funnel to find out what marketing or audience channel they’re coming from – and you can re-align customer expectations accordingly.
Break Down Every Step
Within this 5-step framework are potentially dozens or even hundreds of steps that can and should be followed to achieve the best results. And they should virtually never be fixed as “unchangeable.” For instance, you might be inclined to consider asking a lead about their annual income (or spending capabilities, etc) before considering them “qualified.” But are there different ways to ask the same question? People are more inclined to state their Education achieved than their Annual income – could you derive enough guesses to qualify a lead based on that alone?
It’s obviously hyper-specific to your business and objectives – but most of the time marketing and sales butt heads at the intersection of leads and data. Some salespeople prefer just a name and a phone number – they’ll do the rest. Others grow weary of unqualified leads that seem never quite filled-out enough to make it past the qualification step. You need to monitor that intersection closely – AND make sure that sales realizes its responsibilities to fill out the customer data profile appropriately.
It’s not enough to have a salesperson come back and say she closed 20% of her Prospects. The really important data lies in the remaining 80%… What were the objections and what pieces of data could have been gathered to better equip her to close more of them? Breaking down every step encourages all parties to be responsible for giving you the 30,000-foot-view you need to create more business down the line.
Keep it Social
Finally, a quick note about the implications of this sales process in the modern “social media” era. First off – you can gather a ton of data about someone through social media intelligence. Come up with a methodology to gather relevant data from a Lead’s social profile(s). Location, education, income, product / brand preferences, interests, etc. can all be captured and turned in to useful + actionable data for sales and marketing pro’s.
Secondly, you should make sure that your social media efforts focus on maintaining a consistent message from start to finish. Existing customers are going to feed you potential audiences to tap into through SM channels; and prospective customers may provide valuable insight as to their purchase decision through SM channels. It’s your window in to the customer psyche like has never been available before. Connect with them, engage with them, and capture what is important.
That last piece has tripped up some folks I know. They feel uncomfortable saving tweets or pulling relevant data off a Facebook profile. I’ll say this as succinctly as possible: Get over it. If the consumer has shared this data publicly and openly, then go grab it while you can – and save it to a system you control. Back up your data constantly and don’t let it merely sync with whatever is public at the time.
Hope you find the ALPAC method worthwhile for thinking about your business from a marketing & sales perspective. With modern CRM software, some analytics, and some serious thought about how you turn people in to customers – you should be able to dramatically improve your results without spending much additional money. Information is the key to successfully driving business & sales growth. Good luck!