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Fitting IMC into the Sales Process

    Fitting IMC into the Sales Process

    So where does IMC fit in the sales process? Marketing communication tools serve as the fabric woven between the consumer decision-making process and the sales process. A common set of IMC tools is responsible for helping both processes function smoothly. Taking an IMC approach to supporting the sales process helps marketers think holistically about what’s happening on the part of the buyer as well as the seller; a coordinated approach can make these parallel processes happen more effectively.

    Various marketing communication tools lend themselves to each stage of the sales process, depending on the nature of the interaction between the seller and the buyer. Although a marketer could conceivably design any IMC tool to support any stage of the process, there are general patterns around the types of marketing communication tactics that work best at each stage, as illustrated in the figure below.

    IMC Support for the Sales Process. Compares the Consumer Decision-Making Process and the Sales Process and shows the Common IMC support tools for each step. Step 1 for the consumer decision-making process is Need Recognition, and step 1 for the sales process is Generate and qualify leads. The common IMC support tools for step 1 are Advertising, trade shows, conferences, social media, and websites. Step 2 of the consumer decision-making process is information searching and processing, and step 2 of the sales process is build relationship and discover needs. The common IMC support tools for step 2 are email, web content, product info, online reviews, blogs, white papers. Step 3 of the consumer decision-making process is identification and evaluation of alternatives, and step 3 of the sales process is present solution and resolve concerns. The common IMC support tools for step 3 are presentations, case studies, videos, product demonstrations, and comparisons. Step 4 of the consumer decision-making process is product/service/outlet selection, and step 4 of the sales process is close the sale. The common IMC support tools for step 4 are testimonials, discounts, and sales promotions. Step 5 of the consumer decision-making process is purchase decision, and step 5 of the sales process is monitor and follow up. The common IMC support tools for step 5 are email, social media, and surveys.

    Stage 1: Early in the sales process, optimal IMC tools are those that cast a wide net to build awareness about both the problem an organization’s products and services address and its proposed solution(s). This stage is the widest in the so-called sales funnel. Ideally, organizations take a coordinated IMC approach to lead-generating activities, so that advertising, the Web site, conferences, trade shows, and social media activity all reinforce one another by using common messaging to share the value proposition.

    Stage 2: With qualified leads in hand, the opportunity is ripe for IMC campaigns that target leads based on what they are looking for and their progression through the decision-making process. Electronic direct mail is often an essential tool at this stage. Web-site content should be carefully designed to support prospective customers’ “information search” processes effectively. By monitoring contacts’ progression, the organization can provide additional materials as needed to keep people interested and engaged.

    Stage 3: When a contact recognizes that he wants to give serious consideration to the company’s products or services, a very solution-focused set of IMC tools come to the fore. Tools such as presentations, case studies, videos, product comparisons, demonstrations, and free trial offers are all designed to help prospective customers understand the product features and benefits they will enjoy. These tools and the process for accessing them can be built into a coherent campaign that moves people easily from stage to stage as they learn more.

    Stage 4: When the buyer and the seller home in on the final selection process and specific terms for sale, another set of IMC tools can be particularly useful.  Testimonials and references from satisfied, successful customers can play a powerful role in pushing a decision across the finish line. At times, offering sales promotions and discounts can make the difference between signing now vs. months from now. By applying an IMC approach to supporting the entire sales process, this stage can feel like a crowning validation of the chosen path, with all the other touch points leading to this point.

    Stage 5: As the prospective customer becomes an actual customer, IMC tools like email and social media can help deepen and individualize the relationship. A new-customer-orientation IMC campaign, for example, might provide the kickstart a customer needs to move ahead successfully. Online surveys and other feedback tools can engage new customers to monitor how they are doing and confirm that they are experiencing the value they expect.

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