In this digital age, with the ability to easily access vast amounts of information by computer and the Internet, much of the sales process involves inbound marketing instead of more traditional outbound marketing. However, the sales cycle still involves turning suspects into prospects, prospects into leads, and then converting those leads into actual customers. The critical step in the process for conversion of the customer is the sales appointment. Nothing can be sold until the sales appointment is set with the right decision-maker.

Jim Blasingame has observed, “the Age of the Seller is being replaced by the Age of the Customer.” To a great degree, the customer now has independent access to much of the information needed for the buying decision. Sellers only control the product. Blasingame points out four significant changes caused in traditional patterns of the sales process, especially in business-to-business (B2B) sales:

1. The expectation of buyers meeting with vendors as a daily course of business is over.

2. After 10,000 years of needing a salesperson to provide information to make a decision, buyers are acquiring much of that information on their own online

3. Prospects are now self-qualifying themselves and then pre-qualify prospective vendors they choose to meet with, perhaps as few as two, or even just one.

4. Prospects are essentially ruling competitors in or out before the first contact, often before the business knows the prospect even exists.

Although the prospect now more completely controls the front end of the sales cycle, the salesperson must still get some type of sales appointment before a prospect converts to a sale on any major purchase decision and becomes an actual customer. This changing environment presents challenges, particularly concerning sales acceleration and appointment setting.

Sales acceleration

An adage states time is money. With the customer now more in control of the pace and length of the sales cycle, sellers must work more effectively to accelerate sales to achieve a greater return on investment. Sales acceleration software and platforms provide tools for automation and the use of data metrics to improve lead management, lead nurturing, and sophisticated grading and scoring to qualify leads.

Appointment setting

To repeat the adage above, time is money. Sales appointments are time-consuming for both the seller and the prospect. Whether an appointment is an in-person meeting, or by telephone, video conferencing, or webinar, all take time for both parties. The sales appointment is particularly time-consuming if it’s in person and travel is involved.

For prospects, researching and comparing product and vendor information online to qualify vendors before contacting or meeting allows the prospects to eliminate time-consuming but unproductive sales appointments.

For sellers, the prospect must be adequately qualified for the sales appointment. The appointment may have little value for the time spent if the prospect is not the appropriate decision-maker or is not yet far enough along in the sales cycle. Sales acceleration platforms allow careful qualification of prospects using a customized scoring or grading system with detailed metrics before appointment setting or a handoff to sales. Sellers also often find prospects frequently cancel sales appointments or fail to show up altogether. To minimize this, the salesperson should immediately confirm by email once the appointment is set and send a follow-up confirmation email just before the appointment itself. These tasks can be largely automated with sales acceleration software.

As the balance between sellers and customers and the patterns of the sales cycle change, sellers must adjust. The sales cycle has lengthened, and sales meetings are more difficult to set, less frequent, and at later stages in that cycle. Sales acceleration platforms provide sellers with tools to efficiently manage the sales cycle and reach the all-important sales meeting needed to convert the prospect to a sale.