Software-as-a service (SaaS) solutions for businesses are not gum, candy or Slim Jims. People do not buy them on impulse.
Most business software is bought after careful consideration. Sometimes it requires input from several decision-makers. Even buying a relatively inexpensive SaaS solution - if it's important to the business - usually takes time and follows a deliberate evaluation process.
A long term purchase process requires a long term sales & marketing process
Your marketing and sales process should match this deliberate evaluation process. If it requires several weeks or months to make a purchase decision, build a customer acquisition process that extends over several weeks or months. If a decision requires buy-in from people in several roles, build a process that reaches people in each of those roles.
Who hasn't heard a story like this? A gung-ho marketing team posts a compelling white paper on its web site. Dozens download the paper daily, providing their email address to do so. The happy marketers call those email addresses "leads" and shove them off to sales folks.
The overwhelmed sales people sort through this pile - gmail addresses and all - desperately trying to find a speck of gold among the dross. Good luck with that.
Getting from "downloader" to buyer is not a one-step process
A lot of these white paper downloaders probably are prospective customers... but not yet. They're still at the front-end of their decision-making process, just getting familiar with the options available to them. They have a long way to go before they're legitimate leads or qualified opportunities.
Next step for the "downloader" might be to look at the experience of others with this product and with alternatives. They'll want to hear customer stories. Then they may need to go through a technical assessment to answer questions about security and reliability. Next perhaps they'll download a trial or work with a freemium version if one's available. And after that... well you get the idea.
Don't waste expensive sales talent
Marketers should build a nurturing process that keeps prospects engaged and committed throughout this entire, multi-step process. Emails, webinars, white papers, blogging, customer stories or events might all be part of the program. Try some out and see what works best for you.
Be careful not to push the names of prospective customers over to sales executives too quickly. You don't want expensive sales people to do all the work to move "downloaders" into "qualified leads." You'll have a tough time keeping your customer acquisition costs under control, and you'll end up with an ugly finger-pointing marketing vs. sales battle. Who has the time or stomach for that?
This work by Peter Cohen, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.