How can I shorten the selling cycle and ensure a customer selects my product?

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Answer: Information is power. And today’s Internet-savvy buyer has more of it than ever before. If you are not equipped to engage and inform buyers when they are in research mode, you are at a competitive disadvantage.

Use the triangle offense of one-to-one marketing to tilt the scales in your favor.

1. Use organic search to attract buyers to your Web site. Identify the keywords used to research similar and competing products; then ensure that these keywords appear throughout your Web site and are used in your company’s blogging strategy.

2. Design your Web site to engage visitors. Adopt a “serve, don’t sell” approach; buyers want to serve themselves by accessing information that helps them make smarter decisions. Provide internal search functionality to make it easy for customers to find what they need. Also, invite visitors to become e-mail subscribers. Don’t just ask for e-mail addresses; give them a reason to subscribe. Show them an example of what they will receive, and have the subscriber list their needs and interests.

3. Use e-mail to educate and inform the buyer. Integrate e-mail and CRM systems. This can accelerate the buying process by delivering information that aids the decision-making process to the buyer. Also, use a customer profile or preference center to capture specific attributes related to current product usage as well as product needs and interests. Explain why you are asking for this information and how it will be used to personalize e-mail content. Doing so will send a clear message to the customer that you care.

At the end of the day, people buy from people they trust. The sooner you earn that trust, the better. And with buying cycles becoming longer, marketing and sales success will be measured by how quickly buyers are engaged and how well they are served.

Joel Book is director of e-marketing education for ExactTarget (, a provider of software, services and integrated solutions for e-mail communications.

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