You have a robust and aggressive marketing campaign. Your salespeople are dedicated, committed, loyal and hard working. Your website is in order, and by all indications, you have everything you need to succeed and have a record year.
Yet, the reality is that sales are either flat or moderate, at best, and you wonder why your formidable rival just won the contract that should have been yours. Chances are you don’t have a marketing or sales problem — you have a brand problem, and it is having a direct, negative impact on your sales.
Somewhere along the way in the sales funnel, prospective customers are losing interest, getting distracted or — worse — are confused about exactly how your brand is unique and how you offer the best solution for their needs. If your hot leads of ideal customers are cooling off, your brand may be to blame, and you’ll need to do an autopsy of your lost opportunities to determine where the relationship went south.
Start with walking each lost lead through the five stages of the sales funnel:

  1. Lead: Defined as someone you have identified as an ideal customer but haven’t yet contacted. What is your strategy to get him or her interested in your brand? Have you thought about what kind of first impression you want to deliver? If placed on the spot, are you prepared to identify your uniqueness and the reasons he or she would benefit the most from a relationship with your company?
  2. Prospect: If you succeeded at igniting an interest, the next element must be trust. Assuming you have unique evidence of brand distinction, are you able to prove what you claim through testimonials, data sheets, achievements or certifications? As you know, any company can claim to be anything it wishes, but how many can back up those claims with facts? If you’re using terms and phrases such as “best in class,” “greenest,” “most innovative,” “low cost of ownership,” “quietest running,” “easiest to service,” etc., you’ll need to know how to back up those claims with facts when called on the carpet to prove them.
  3. Qualified Prospect: Moving a prospect to this stage is the most challenging, as he or she will begin to ask more questions, do more research, ask for references and read your testimonials. Your prospect wants to make sure that he or she will be making the best hiring decision. Be prepared for your qualified prospect to search for other like companies in your space and compare one against the other. He or she will probably interview those who seem equally capable of fulfilling the need or solving the problem. This is precisely where your brand and all others considered will be put through a most demanding test.
  4. Committed: Your buyer is doing everything possible to make sure he or she makes the right hiring decision, as the wrong one will cause embarrassment, scar his or her integrity, or worse, result in the buyer losing his or her job, especially when hiring out for large-scale projects. However, even at this stage, customers can get spooked and back out, leaving you wondering what just happened. And you’ll be lucky if the prospect gives you an honest answer. If there is a fracture in expectations along the way, it may be enough to burst a huge leak in the funnel. Selling something you’re unsure how to deliver on and “figuring it out later” can come back to bite you. Yet many companies live on this edge, even though only a rare few have a knack for succeeding.
  5. Transaction: This is the stage where your buyer will have the opportunity to see the many moving parts of your brand in motion. And based on the buyer’s experience, he or she could become your biggest advocate or your biggest adversary. All those claims you made better materialize, and fast. Great service, responsiveness, quality, communication, living up to mutually agreed expectations, delivery, meeting deadlines, follow-up, how issues or problems are handled, etc., etc. This is referred to as “living the brand” and “delivering on brand expectations.” The question is, will you be able to deliver?

Buyers have high expectations, and some are naturally nervous about the risk involved with making large decisions. The key to winning a bigger share of new business opportunities is to make sure you have your brand in order. You would be surprised to learn how many do not. You can be unique by starting there.