The following is a letter that I composed recently for a client. All the names have been changed, but the points and processes are valid for most small businesses; especially those that sell services that require a lengthy sales cycle.

Dear Client,

I have really enjoyed working with your marketing manager and learning about your organization. As we talked about, I wanted to share with you a more complete view of your organization and where, if I was running marketing full time, I would be driving you to go.

Right now, your company is looking at marketing as an event (or series of events) as opposed to a process. And it needs to be a process that includes all aspects of the company. From when you reach a prospect the very first time until that customer recommends you to his best friend, raving about your company, marketing should be involved in each step of the process.

Right now, you have had your marketing manager focused on the front end of that process – lead generation. But her understanding of it, as it has been practiced by your company has been to continually find new people to sell to. And this is a very expensive way to generate leads for a product and service that has a long sales cycle.

You have a relatively complete list of all the businesses in your major markets that fit your ideal customer profile. Yes, there are a few new ones out there, but most are known to you. What you don’t have is accurate contact and role information. And that is where I would be focusing the telemarketing team on. Get to know the right people, roles and emails, and get permission to market to them via email. You get that permission by having something of value to offer them – educational seminars/webinars; whitepapers; 1-on-1 offers. You are working on some of these, but we can make them more value oriented and less product-focused.

Then, we market to names we know with offers that talk to the problems they have every day and want to solve. The key to doing this successfully is to do it consistently. Only 20%-25% of the people you email will ever open the email, so we need to write subject lines and headlines for the 75%-80% that don’t open it. And we need to reach them on a monthly basis – not with the same type of offer every month – but with varied offers: Newsletters, seminars, offers, surveys, and more.

Over time, these nurture prospects will convert to ones that want to actively engage in a buying process. They will see you as source of valuable expertise and reach out when they have a problem that you have said you know how to solve.

In order to be able to do this kind of marketing, your marketing staff needs to understand the problems you solve and the advantages your clients get from using your products and services. This means I would have them visiting with customers, interviewing your sales team and product managers, and I would also have them going on sales calls with your sales team so they see what the “real world” is like.

Once a prospect decides to engage with the sales team, the marketing process should continue in a new way, along side the sales process. Your sales team needs to be setting the expectation that they will be asking for, and expecting, referrals to other companies that can use your services (since they are going to be so happy), and they should be setting the expectation that any customer, at any time, can be used as a reference. This is why you are going to make sure they are satisfied.

Your marketing team should also stay engaged, because at some point in the buying process, if the prospect decides they are not ready to buy yet (and by yet, I mean within a six month window), that prospect should go back to marketing for ongoing nurture marketing and contact. You don’t want expensive sales people making calls that basically say “are you ready to buy yet?” when there are less expensive alternatives.

Once a prospect decides to become a customer, there should be a process of welcoming them. A new customer kit of sorts that welcomes them to your customer family. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should have a welcome letter, contact information and a summary of the reasons they bought and the goals you are going to help them accomplish. Depending on the size of the client, you could even do something like put the overall project plan on a tablet pc and deliver it to them as part of the kickoff.

And through the sales process and into the customer kickoff, your team should be reinforcing the idea that you will ask them for referrals. At the kickoff, it is a great time to ask them to start thinking about who they can refer you to.

Once the project has hit completion, you should have a results review scheduled with them for six months later. That is a great time to restate their goals for them and measure how you are helping them to achieve them. And when you are doing a great job (as I know you do) then it is also a great time to get quotes to use on your web site and in your marketing materials.

With your current customers, I would have marketing taking an active role. We want to leverage those relationships for referrals, testimonials and additional sales. Your clients need to have regular contact in the form of both a customer oriented newsletter – about their specific product, and about you – and some form of an in-person or web based monthly user group that helps to build a community. Those user groups are great opportunities to introduce additional products and services and solicit referrals and quotes. We also want to be sure to identify the evangelist customers in the group – those that will actively refer you, and make sure we are giving them tools to help promote you to others they know.

Underlying all of this are three additional tactics – a broader content strategy, a web marketing strategy and an alliance referral strategy. The content strategy is how you talk about yourself on your website. Both formally in the “standard” content and informally through a blog and other social media tools. This is where being close to your customers and interviewing them and surveying them becomes so helpful because you want as much of that content as possible to be in the customer’s vocabulary.

The web marketing strategy leverages your content for SEO purposes – writing about what people are searching for and using PPC advertising that also attracts the same type of searching.

The alliance strategy is where your sales team and management contribute the most to marketing. The key is finding solid referral type partners where you both serve the same ideal customer segment with complimentary products or services. If your team is spending their time identifying, nurturing and engaging those relationships, they will be developing a steady stream of self-generated leads that keep them busy long term.

Finally, this needs to be supported by systems used by both sales and marketing – a well defined CRM system and process for rating prospect and a good email marketing and tracking system that tracks not only open rates, but ultimately, can tie together the history of what prospects have received, what they responded to and how they responded.