What does a perfect world B2B sales process look like?
For me, that looks like marketing generating enough qualified leads so that most of my time is spent having productive sales conversations.
Unfortunately, it rarely looks like that, but that's always the goal when we establish demand generation systems--keeping sales people busy doing what they do best--consulting and closing.
We're all looking for the secret formulas that we can replicate to keep the machine running. But the reality is that some of this process can be automated, and some can't, and one of the biggest reasons for this is that when we do find something that works predictably, others jump on the bandwagon and muddy the waters—much like what we’re seeing now with content marketing.
Companies are doubling down on their content marketing expenditures, but it’s not enough to publish a blog and optimize it for search engines and expect people to find it.
Selling with Content
Selling with content marketing and demand generation requires a fundamental understanding that the world has changed and buyers have much more control. The idea of marketing one-to-many is on the decline. Disruptions are less tolerated—and, while many of these tactics still work to some degree, they’re having diminishing returns.
For example, the results of cold calls and cold emails have become less predictable. As buyers, we don’t need to talk to sales people to get the information we need—therefore, we don’t take phone calls (and get upset when we feel tricked).
We must continuously evaluate whether or not these processes are worth the time and money spent, and if you agree that the ultimate goal of any sales and marketing program is to generate one-to-one sales conversations with prospects, then we must get smart about where to invest our energy and dollars.
Mass marketing is out, mass media is in.
The development of stellar content that adds value and caters to niche audiences will always work—give someone good information that they can use and they’ll thank you for it. Develop relationships with people and solve their problem and they’ll want to do business with you.
Achieving this goal requires the mindset of a publisher, which is why many innovative organizations are transforming and building their marketing departments into actual media enterprises, including hiring executives with media backgrounds to run their operations.
In fact, Red Bull’s CEO Dietrich Mateschitz comments in a Fast Company article about brands becoming full-blown media companies.
So, to compete with content marketing, what processes ARE repeatable and what processes are NOT?
The overall content strategy is repeatable, the individual assets are not.
If you’re now treating your marketing department like a publisher, the process is about continuously generating content that is useful to the consumers. Think of it like a news room. We’ve all seen the movie scenarios where an editor is conducting a weekly meeting with all the journalists present—they discuss the articles they’re working on, their findings in research, and their proposals for new articles based on what they’re hearing from sources.
What this is not is the development of an advertisement or other static piece with the intention of plastering it all over the place for a specified time frame. The difference is in the mindset that every publisher must possess—that the relationship they develop with their audience is of utmost importance or they can’t sell magazines. People must find the value in the content to keep them coming back, or they won’t.
Content distribution and audience building are repeatable, the tools and techniques are not.
There are many ways to accomplish this goal, and where you need to constantly assess new tools and platforms for the distribution of content, the overall process is the same: we want to dangle the interesting content carrot in front of people where they’re hanging out—and get them to consume it.
Before the Internet, that approach used to lead to newsstands where we would browse cover headlines and pick up the ones that interested us. For a magazine, subscriptions are the ultimate goal (it’s the same idea as not having to work as much to acquire new clients as opposed to upsetting the ones you have). Subscription to your content is still our ultimate objective as a content marketer—but for people to give up their email address, time, or money, they have to want the content in the first place.
Development of buyer personas and data collection on them are repeatable.
In the publishing world, we’ve always known who our readers are and what they care about, and we’ve figured that out over time by what works and what doesn’t. Content marketing should work with the same goal in mind, but with a slight twist—our readers are our buying prospects. Using your subscription base and tracking subject lines and time spent on articles, you get an understanding not only about the issues that they care about, but also an indication of interest in your product or service.
Does that mean that they’re a prospect? Not necessarily, but it’s a lot more information than buying a list of company contacts in your target industry and sending them an email or making a cold call.
The building of audience and conversion are repeatable, the offers and content are not.
Again, the process is the same, but the tools change. The overall idea is that we want people to find our content, and convert the relevant prospects into our database so we can continue to educate and add value. In its most basic form, it looks like this:
On the left you have search engines where people are typing in topics of interest. You also have social media where you’re developing audience over time and extending content links. There’s also email for those people that have subscribed to your content and you’re pushing regular content out to them.
When they see some content that interests them, they click on the link, which takes them to a blog page or article in your magazine. Within that blog or article, there are embedded links to other interesting content and some offer for value-added content, which could be a white paper, infographic, registration for a webinar, and so on.
Once they enter their information to receive your offer, you’ve now converted the lead. You know who they are and can continue to market to them on an ongoing basis, collecting information as you go as to what they care about.
Sales follow up on converted leads is repeatable, but the approach is not.
This is where a business development or inside sales rep receives an email that someone has converted on this piece of content. The process of following up on those leads is repeatable, but it must be done in a nurturing fashion. Again, the rep must add value. It does not mean we’re going to send them an email and call them to see if they want to buy from us.
In our process, we follow up on lead conversions with more content along the same lines as the first piece. Sometimes we send an infographic, white paper, or article that we’ve learned has resonance with clients that ended up buying from us. It could also be the encouragement of signing up for a future webinar on an appropriate topic.
Adding value and finding out more information about what they’re interested in and how we can help them through their own buying journey is of utmost importance in content follow up.
Bottom-of-the-funnel sales consultations is a repeatable process.
I would argue that once a prospect has expressed interest in your solution, and they’ve scheduled time to talk with a sales rep, consultative sales process techniques have not changed.
The consultative sale has always been about adding value and solving customers’ problems—the difference with content marketing is when this process actually starts. When the consultative salesperson owned the information about their products and services, this process started from the very beginning with some form of cold outreach. But now, most buyers do not operate in a similar fashion, and a salesperson must gauge the right time to run the sales process—if they do it too early, they’ll lose the prospect.
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