Ah, the sales funnel.
As a marketer, you’re no doubt familiar with this ubiquitous image: contacts fall into the top and by some kind of magic become leads, then qualified leads, then sales-ready leads, and eventually, (you hope) closed sales. The problem with this image is that unlike its counterpart in the physical world, the sales funnel does not have the force of gravity to maintain the momentum of its contents.
So how do you create this momentum? Harder still, how do you sustain it?
If you are familiar with the sales funnel, you are likely also familiar with the following: Your prospects’ expectations of you have changed, but your business leaders’ expectations haven’t.
Prospects expect you to be a publisher, not a marketer. They expect you to be an expert in your field and about your solution, as well as to create relevant, informative content about it. Meanwhile, your business leaders still expect you to increase sales.
Given the imperative to add gravitational pull to your sales funnel under a changed marketing paradigm, you need a strategy and appropriate marketing technology stack that can help you discover, qualify, and nurture leads to the point of sales-readiness. One of those necessary tools is marketing automation software.
Marketing is no longer a one-sided endeavor. It requires a dialogue with prospects. Keep in mind that these prospects are better informed than ever, and have probably already done some research about your industry, product, or solution before they ever reached out to you in the first place.
Therefore, it is your job, as a marketer, to align yourself with their goals and show them how to solve problems unique to their business.
Marketing automation software allows you to map out exactly who your potential buyers are and what their purchasing process looks like. By feeding them content tailored to where they are in that process, you can nurture them through it to the next step. When a potential customer downloads webinar X, you know he is interested in X. You can then recommend whitepaper Y, which will answer the next question in the buying cycle. And while you are providing this information to the prospect, you are also collecting information about her. You learn about her; she learns about you.
This is the conversation that drives conversion.
But don’t get out your checkbook just yet.
While marketing automation software has the capability to capture, nurture, and qualify leads, it will not run without serious time and effort on your part. You have to do your homework and establish a strategy to not only develop the content needed, but also map it to the buying journey:
• Start by defining your buyer persona(s).
Not just who they are from a demographics perspective, but most importantly what problems they are trying to solve by purchasing your product or solution. What are their goals, fears, objections, and motivations? What kind of information are they looking for and what content will help them make an informed decision about a solution.
• Define your sales funnel.
What are the characteristics of qualified contacts, and the issues that they must solve leading to sales conversations? How do prospects behave at each of these stages of the funnel and what are some of the common objections?
• Now you can create the content.
Content is the soul of lead nurturing; it is the fodder of the conversation that drives conversion. Without a library of content at your disposal, you cannot feed your leads what they want on-demand, as indicated by their online activity. If you feed them irrelevant content (or no content), you kill the momentum. You drive your prospects into the sales funnel of one of your content-creating competitors.
Once you have done your homework, however, you will be able to maximize your investment in marketing technology. You will know your prospects and your sales process well enough to create scalable, repeatable, lead-nurturing workflows. Armed with a full spectrum of quality content, you will be able to meet opportunities wherever they are in the sales funnel, and to create the gravitational pull to nudge them to the next step. You will increase conversion rates at each stage. You will shorten your sales cycle.
The beauty of marketing automation is in its efficiency: it doesn’t waste leads, and it doesn’t waste time. A lead that isn’t sales-ready should not be thrown out—it represents an opportunity for nurturing. In fact, when you nurture a lead with the right type of content at the right time, you build a trust-based relationship with the prospect—and you may end up with a higher-value sale than you would have if the lead entered your sales funnel ready to purchase. By getting your leads to a carefully determined point of readiness before passing them to sales, you allow your salespeople to do what they were hired to do: close deals, not waste time talking to leads that aren’t ready to make a purchase decision.
Marketing technology isn’t cheap, and it isn’t even that automatic. Which is distressing when we see so many companies making these investments before establishing a solid content marketing strategy.
But if you set it up correctly, it harnesses the opportunity created by buyers’ new place as the directors of the marketing process. It propels a dialogue between you and the buyer that allows you to demonstrate not only that your product or service can solve the buyer’s problem, but that you are a trustworthy expert who understands the buyer’s needs and responds to them.
It’s time to ditch the one-sided sales pitch, and start a conversation that will drive conversion.