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15 min read

Smashing the marathon: Tactics for 18-month pipeline nurturing

For sectors with a long sales cycle, B2B marketing can be a real challenge.

I'm Carlota Feliu, leading the marketing efforts in the 3D printing division at HP and with over 15 years of experience in B2B marketing.

Throughout my career, I've witnessed firsthand the evolution of sales cycles, from software and middleware to high-tech hardware solutions.

In this article, I'll delve into the intricacies of sustaining engagement over extended sales cycles, the importance of aligning marketing and sales teams, and the strategic use of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) to accelerate sales processes. 

I'm excited to share insights and strategies on how to successfully manage these extended sales cycles and keep potential customers engaged and interested until they're ready to make a decision. So, let’s dive right in.

Prefer to listen? Check out  Carlota’s appearance on the Let’s Talk Revenue Marketing podcast đź‘‡


Observing the growth in sales cycles

Throughout my career, I've noticed that the length of sales cycles can vary significantly depending on the nature of the solutions being offered. 

While it may seem like sales cycles have grown over time, this isn't necessarily due to market evolution but rather the specific industries and technologies I've worked with. 

For instance, in my current role with 3D printing at HP, we're looking at sales cycles that can range from 12 to 18 months. This duration is typical for complex, high-tech solutions.

It's crucial to understand that marketing's responsibility doesn't end with lead generation. Many marketers mistakenly believe that their job is done once they capture demand and pass leads to the sales team. 

However, this approach creates a significant disconnect from actual revenue creation.

To truly impact revenue, marketing needs to be integrated throughout the entire sales funnel, not just at the top. This integration means being involved in lead nurturing, sales acceleration, and ultimately, contributing to revenue generation. 

When marketing teams focus solely on filling the top of the funnel, they distance themselves from the point where sales actually occur.

For marketing to effectively contribute to revenue, it's essential to align targets and goals with the sales team. This alignment ensures that marketing efforts are measured by their impact on revenue, not just lead volume. 

By focusing on revenue creation, marketers will see that their role extends beyond lead generation to include nurturing leads through the entire sales process.

In practice, this means that marketing needs to ensure that leads entering the funnel are nurtured efficiently and converted into sales more effectively. 

Maintaining this comprehensive approach means marketing can significantly enhance its contribution to the company's revenue and demonstrate its value more clearly.

The importance of revenue marketing

Revenue marketing emphasizes the direct connection between marketing activities and revenue generation. The core principle of revenue marketing is understanding how each marketing effort contributes to revenue. This allows us to scale successful initiatives and discontinue those that aren't effective.

One effective strategy for ensuring that marketing is closely aligned with sales and contributes to revenue is gaining a clear understanding of the sales funnel. This means analyzing the current funnel, including the pipeline for the year, broken down by country, segment, and product. This means we can identify our ultimate goal and pinpoint where we can create revenue within the existing funnel.

Instead of solely focusing on creating new leads, it's crucial to push and accelerate the existing funnel to ensure conversions. 

Working closely with the sales team means we can better understand the pipeline and align our marketing strategies accordingly. This collaboration helps us define what needs to be created and accelerated within the funnel.

Creating a marketing strategy involves balancing resources between funnel creation and funnel acceleration. Decisions on resource allocation should be based on data from the existing funnel. 

By understanding what we have in the pipeline and what needs to be accelerated, we can make informed decisions on how to allocate our efforts effectively. This data-driven approach ensures that marketing activities are not only generating leads but also converting them into revenue.

Overcoming the quarterly reporting challenge in revenue marketing

One of the early challenges I faced when approaching marketing from a revenue perspective was the ingrained habit of quarterly reporting. 

At the end of each quarter, we typically assess the revenue generated from specific campaigns, the number of MQLs generated, and the meetings booked. 

However, with sales cycles that can last months or even over a year, expecting significant revenue within a 90-day period is often unrealistic. This can result in marketers claiming the low-hanging fruit rather than focusing on more complex, long-term tasks.

To tackle this problem, it's crucial to communicate internally that early indicators, such as pipeline creation and initial engagements, are vital even if they don't immediately translate into booked revenue. 

This understanding helps align expectations across teams and emphasizes the importance of long-term planning and patience. Identifying these early signals is based on two key factors: historical patterns and ongoing research and insights.

Historical data provides valuable insights into the patterns and behaviors that lead to successful conversions. By analyzing past opportunities and understanding the engagements that led to conversions, we can identify early indicators that suggest a lead is likely to convert. 

However, relying solely on historical data is insufficient. It's also essential to continuously gather insights from current customer interactions and market trends.

While historical data can inform us about past behaviors, the customer journey is dynamic and constantly evolving. 

Regularly conducting customer journey research helps us stay updated on what influences customer decisions. This ensures that our early engagement efforts at the awareness stage are aligned with what actually moves the needle for our customers.

Marketing strategies must be adaptable and continuously refined based on fresh insights and feedback from customers and the market. By doing so, we can ensure that our efforts are effective in moving leads through the pipeline and ultimately contributing to revenue. 

This not only aligns marketing activities with long-term revenue goals but also helps in demonstrating the value of marketing efforts to other teams within the organization.

Infographic | Marketing throughout the sales cycle
Marketing has always been closely tied to sales. In this infographic, we outline how to market throughout the sales cycle.

Managing multiple sales cycles in a complex ecosystem

One of the challenges in my current role is navigating the complexities of a large organization that sells to other large organizations. 

Previously, I worked for a company with a single product and a single sales persona, making the sales cycle straightforward. Now, we have multiple sales cycles happening simultaneously across various product lines, including hardware, software, services, and professional services. 

Additionally, demand is captured through multiple channels such as partners, direct sales, and distributors. This ecosystem is incredibly complex, making it challenging for marketing to effectively nurture and accelerate the pipeline.

In such a multifaceted environment, it's essential to prioritize and focus on areas that align with the overall strategy for the year or specific period. It's unrealistic to have an up-to-date, perfect picture of all customer journeys for every product, segment, and persona. 

Therefore, making strategic choices is crucial. We need to concentrate on the areas that we, along with sales and business leaders, have identified as critical for driving revenue or adopting new technologies.

Effective decision-making involves collaboration with sales and other business units to determine which segments and products are most likely to drive revenue. 

Focusing our efforts on these critical areas means we can make informed bets and go stronger on the segments that matter most. This approach allows us to better understand and nurture the parts of the pipeline that are essential for our success.

While it's important to prioritize, continuous evaluation and adaptation are also necessary. As market conditions and customer needs evolve, we must be ready to adjust our focus areas and strategies accordingly. This flexibility ensures that we remain responsive to changes and can effectively support the sales team in achieving our revenue goals.

Managing multiple sales cycles in a complex ecosystem requires strategic prioritization, close collaboration with sales, and a willingness to adapt. By focusing on the most critical areas and continuously evaluating our approach, we can effectively nurture and accelerate the pipeline, even in a challenging environment.

Differences between hardware and software sales cycles

Having worked in both hardware and software marketing, I've observed distinct differences in their sales cycles. While both involve complex, multi-step processes, the ways customers interact with the products throughout the journey are quite different.


With software, there are numerous opportunities for customers to experience the product first hand throughout the journey. 

Providing access through demos, trials, and freemium models allows potential customers to engage deeply with the software before making a purchasing decision. This hands-on interaction can significantly influence their decision-making process and helps build a stronger case for the software's value.

Software products often benefit from product-led growth strategies. This approach leverages the product itself as the primary driver of customer acquisition, conversion, and expansion. By allowing users to experience the software's value directly, marketing can effectively support the sales cycle through various stages of the funnel.

Software companies also often utilize a freemium to premium model, allowing customers to start small and expand quickly. This approach is advantageous because it enables potential customers to experience the product firsthand through free trials or limited licenses. 

Additionally, software companies can easily track how their products are being used through various metrics and user data, allowing them to tailor their marketing efforts and improve customer engagement during the retention and renewal phases.


In contrast, hardware products present unique challenges. Demonstrating the value of hardware often requires more tangible proof points. 

Customers need to see and sometimes physically interact with the product to understand its benefits fully. This is particularly true in our case at HP, where we deal with 3D printing technology. The end product —a printed part— is a crucial element of the customer experience.

Creating opportunities for customers to engage with the product physically is essential for hardware. This often involves face-to-face interactions, such as open houses, trade shows, and other events where customers can touch and see the product in action. 

These engagements are critical moments in the customer journey and help bridge the gap between understanding the product's specifications and experiencing its real-world applications.

Hardware sales typically require a significant upfront investment, making it difficult to offer the same kind of hands-on experience without a substantial commitment from the buyer. 

With hardware, especially capital-intensive products like data centers, the initial purchase can be substantial, often running into millions of dollars. This large initial investment makes the sales process more complex and elongated compared to software, where the entry cost is usually much lower.

Additionally, unlike software, hardware products don't easily lend themselves to subscription-based models, although some companies are trying to shift towards more OPEX or subscription-based models to make their offerings more accessible.

Another significant difference is in the retention and renewal phases. Hardware companies often lack the continuous stream of usage data that software companies enjoy, making it harder to maintain customer relationships post-purchase. Instead, they rely heavily on key account managers and direct feedback to build strategies for customer retention and renewal.

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Balancing marketing efforts

Effectively supporting multiple sales cycles, whether for hardware or software, requires a nuanced approach. 

Marketing teams need to balance efforts between creating top-of-funnel awareness and providing mid-to-bottom-funnel experiences that drive conversions. This balance is achieved by understanding the unique needs of each product type and tailoring strategies accordingly.

The primary difference between hardware and software sales cycles lies in how customers interact with the product during the journey. 

Software allows for more direct, hands-on experiences, while hardware often requires tangible proof points and face-to-face engagements. By recognizing these differences, marketing can better support each sales cycle and drive more effective outcomes.

Accelerating sales cycles

A common question in revenue marketing is whether it's possible to accelerate sales cycles and, if so, how to achieve this. 

Despite the inherent challenges, there are effective tactics that can help speed up the process.

One of the most effective strategies for accelerating sales cycles is ABM. By focusing on specific high-value accounts, ABM helps identify and target accounts that are already in the market based on intent signals, engagement data, and other criteria like technographics and firmographics. This precise targeting ensures that marketing efforts are directed toward accounts that are more likely to convert quickly.

Campaign orchestration involves mapping out a detailed account journey that aligns with the theoretical customer journey and the actual behaviors and signals observed from the accounts. Personalizing content based on these behaviors and signals can significantly impact the speed of conversion. For example, serving content that addresses specific pain points or interests shown by the account can move them faster through the sales funnel.

Creating high engagement points, such as events or tailored meetings, where the most relevant and engaging content is presented, is crucial. These interactions not only provide valuable insights directly from the customer but also create opportunities for deeper engagement and faster movement through the sales funnel. 

By gathering qualitative feedback during these high engagement points, marketers can refine their strategies and better align their efforts with the needs of the account.

Utilizing software tools that provide access to intent data and engagement signals is essential for effective ABM. These tools help in defining target accounts and understanding their journey, allowing for more adaptive and responsive marketing campaigns. This data-driven approach ensures that marketing efforts are both efficient and effective in accelerating sales cycles.

While hardware and software sales cycles differ significantly, both can benefit from a strategic, data-driven approach to marketing. By leveraging ABM, personalized content, high engagement points, and advanced marketing technologies, it's possible to accelerate sales cycles and drive faster conversions.

Implementing ABM personalization at scale

One of the significant challenges in ABM personalization is maintaining agility and personalization as organizations grow larger. In smaller companies, it's easier to be agile, take risks, and get to know partners closely. However, in medium to large organizations, doing ABM at scale and dynamically can be quite challenging. 

Here's how we approach this at our company:

Cluster-based personalization

We have opted for a cluster-based approach to ABM personalization rather than one-to-one personalization. This involves segmenting our accounts into clusters based on various criteria defined in collaboration with the sales and segment teams. 

By targeting clusters, we can still address specific pain points, needs, and interests of similar types of accounts without needing to personalize at the individual account level. This approach allows us to balance scalability with personalization effectively.

Campaign orchestration

Our campaign orchestration is divided into two phases. In the top funnel, we focus on cluster-based personalization. We design our marketing activities to appeal to the general needs and challenges of each cluster, ensuring relevance and engagement. 

As we move towards the middle and bottom of the funnel, we begin to tailor our approach more specifically to individual accounts.

High engagement activities

For higher engagement activities, we involve additional team members, such as SDRs (Sales Development Representatives) and application engineers, to address specific account needs more closely. This enables us to provide more personalized interactions and support as prospects move further down the funnel.

Leveraging technology

To scale our one-to-few campaigns into one-to-many, we utilize technology. 

In our case, we use DemandBase, a tool that helps us create smart lists and build audiences based on filters and criteria that match our predefined clusters. This technology allows us to expand our campaigns while maintaining a level of personalization that resonates with our target accounts.

Expanding campaigns

We use the content created for one-to-few campaigns and adapt it for broader, one-to-many campaigns. By leveraging DemandBase, we can automate and scale our ABM efforts, ensuring that even as we expand, our messaging remains relevant and personalized to the targeted clusters.

Continuous improvement

While we are still in the early stages of using DemandBase, we are already seeing significant potential. The key to success lies in continually refining our approach based on data and feedback, ensuring that our strategies evolve with the needs of our target accounts.

While ABM personalization at scale in larger organizations is challenging, a cluster-based approach combined with strategic use of technology allows us to maintain a balance between personalization and scalability. Dividing the journey into more generalized top-of-funnel activities and more specific middle-to-bottom funnel engagements means we can effectively nurture and accelerate our sales cycles.

Automating top-of-funnel personalization

At the top of the funnel, we leverage technology to automate personalization. This approach allows us to handle a large pool of potential leads efficiently. By breaking down the audience into clusters, we can serve relevant content tailored to each segment's specific needs and stage in the sales journey. 

This automation ensures that prospects see content that resonates with their organization while enabling a seamless handoff to sales, where true one-to-one engagement begins.

The most critical step in our process, and the one that demands the most time and effort, is defining these clusters. This task requires close collaboration with multiple teams, including sales. 

It's crucial to involve the sales team because they provide invaluable insights that ensure the criteria for clustering are relevant and accurate. This process is not just about using easily accessible data like company size or revenue but involves more specific and nuanced criteria.

Identifying the right clusters often involves detailed manual research. For instance, understanding what other technologies a company uses or whether they have teams dedicated to additive manufacturing requires digging through resources like LinkedIn profiles and company reports. 

Although this is time-consuming, it ensures that the clusters we create are highly relevant and that the content and campaigns we design are effectively tailored.

Aligning marketing and sales

A key to successful long-term sales cycles is the alignment between marketing and sales. 

My boss refers to this as "watering the rocks," targeting the accounts that sales is focused on engaging. This alignment begins with setting joint metrics and pursuing the same targets, ensuring that both teams are working towards the same goals.

Building this alignment requires continuous collaboration at all organizational levels. Marketing teams join regular funnel calls with sales, discussing the status of each account, understanding where sales efforts are focused, and aligning on strategies to drive those accounts forward. 

This regular interaction, whether weekly or bi-weekly, helps maintain a synchronized approach, ensuring that both teams are on the same page throughout the year.

To demonstrate marketing's value to sales, especially for accounts that might be buying in 18 months, it's essential to show how marketing activities contribute to nurturing these accounts over the long term. This includes highlighting early engagement metrics, content interactions, and intent signals that indicate an account's progression through the funnel. 

By showcasing these contributions, marketing can prove its role in supporting sales and driving long-term revenue.

Effective ABM personalization in larger organizations involves a strategic combination of automated top-of-funnel activities and detailed, manual research to define clusters. This process, coupled with continuous alignment and collaboration with sales, ensures that marketing efforts are not only relevant but also directly support sales goals, leading to successful long-term engagements.

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Tips for marketers in long sales cycles

Transitioning to marketing roles that involve longer sales cycles, especially for large infrastructure projects, can be challenging. 

Here are a few tips to help marketers navigate this shift effectively:

1. Deep dive into the pipeline

Understanding the pipeline is crucial. Analyze what’s in the pipeline, including opportunities, close rates, and typical close dates. 

Identify gaps where you need to generate more leads or accelerate existing ones. This comprehensive understanding allows you to align your efforts closely with sales and prioritize activities that will have the most impact.

2. Keep customer journey insights current

Ensure you have a clear and updated understanding of your customer journey. This means continuously gathering feedback and insights from customers. 

Use every interaction —webinars, events, informal meetings— to collect data and refine your understanding of what moves the needle at each stage of the journey. This approach doesn’t necessarily require expensive research; leveraging everyday opportunities for feedback can be just as valuable.

3. Target the right accounts

Effective targeting is key to speeding up the sales process. Use intent data, technographic data, and demographic data to identify accounts that are already in the market. This strategic targeting ensures that you’re engaging with prospects who are more likely to move through the sales funnel quickly. 

While broader awareness campaigns are important, focusing on in-market accounts with personalized strategies like ABM can significantly accelerate the sales cycle.

4. Align with sales teams

Building and maintaining alignment with sales teams is essential, especially in longer sales cycles. Engage in regular funnel reviews with sales, understand their priorities, and ensure your marketing activities support their efforts. 

Jointly pursue the same metrics and targets to create a unified approach to achieving revenue goals.

5. Utilize technology and automation

Leverage technology to automate and scale your efforts, especially at the top of the funnel. Tools like DemandBase can help create smart lists and build audiences that match your predefined clusters. 

Automating these processes ensures that you can manage a large pool of potential leads effectively while maintaining a level of personalization.

6. Personalize strategically

While personalization can be challenging at scale, cluster-based personalization offers a practical solution. Segment your audience into clusters based on detailed criteria and tailor your content and campaigns to these clusters. 

As prospects move down the funnel, increase the level of personalization with more targeted engagement activities and high-touch interactions involving sales and technical teams.

7. Continuous improvement and adaptation

The marketing landscape and customer behaviors are constantly evolving. Continuously evaluate your strategies and be willing to adapt based on new insights and data. This flexibility ensures that your marketing efforts remain effective and responsive to changing market conditions.

Final thoughts

Successfully navigating long sales cycles requires a strategic, data-driven approach. By deeply understanding the pipeline, keeping customer journey insights current, targeting the right accounts, aligning with sales, utilizing technology, personalizing strategically, and continuously improving your strategies, you can effectively support and accelerate the sales process in complex B2B environments.

Written by:

Carlota Feliu

Carlota Feliu

Head of Marketing - 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing at HP

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Smashing the marathon: Tactics for 18-month pipeline nurturing