Why aren’t traditional sales approaches working as well today? A growing body of research sheds some light on what has changed.
It used to be so easy: Generate sales leads, work the pipeline, overcome objections and close sales.
Now, everything is different. It’s much harder for your salespeople to get face-to-face appointments. Prospects want to do their own research and product comparisons. They don’t want to talk to you until just before the sale. As a result, sales are stagnant.
Your company needs growth – now.
What the latest sales and marketing research says
Research from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council and Google shows that business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. That means for nearly two thirds of the buying process, they are forming opinions, gathering technical specifications, building requirement lists, and narrowing down their vendor options – with little or no influence from you.
Why is this a problem? By the time a prospect makes contact with your company, “they have hardened expectations about what they want out of a supplier – and at that point, your job is to take their order and fill it for the lowest price. They’re learning on their own, and there’s no room to teach them why what they’ve taught themselves is wrong. It’s marketing’s job to influence the 57% of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before sales contact,” the report adds.
As a result, research conducted by Forrester Consulting suggests that the traditional role of the sales representative is declining. Only 20% of buyers purchase directly from a sales representative more than half of the time, and phone or email customer service is lagging at 17%, too.
During the past two years, the B2B research process has changed, according to a study Google conducted with Millward Brown Digital: “While 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite. What’s more, it’s the latter that has the most influence; 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions. Clearly, if you’re marketing only to the highest level, you’re overlooking the people who need to notice you,” the report states.
It also reveals that millennials are taking a lead role in B2B purchase research: In 2012, the age of researchers was more or less evenly spread out across age groups. In 2014, however, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for almost half of all researchers, a remarkable increase of 70%. While they may not be the decision-makers yet, they’re starting to take a stronger role in the B2B purchasing process. Remember – they’re digital natives, with high expectations for online experiences!
CEB and Google’s analysis of traditional marketing, still practiced by many B2B firms, is especially damning:
“Most marketing leaders still treat digital as an unwanted appendage on the traditional marketing campaign cycle, which goes roughly like this: Create a new product, design a campaign touting its features and benefits, figure out a place to stick digital channels within that campaign architecture, execute, measure, repeat…
“(But) customer learning is happening all the time, and doesn’t coincide with your campaign calendar. Marketing organizations have largely been designed from the ground up to support and optimize campaigns, not maintain the continuous presence that the digital channel requires. Marketing management must adjust; if the customer is always learning, then marketing must always be teaching.”
The key, it points out, is customer education – which most B2B marketers appear to be ill-equipped to do:
“It’s not enough to teach; you have to teach well. And the dirty little secret of most content marketing is that it does neither. All of that leads us to the biggest problem with current B2B digital approaches: They rely on content that is not at all useful for customers in the midst of a learning journey. Most content is low value; it may be interesting or get a lot of ‘engagement,’ but it doesn’t help buyers make commercial decisions.”
If you’re struggling with flat-lining sales and need to spur sales growth, contact us to learn about our profitable alternative: Growth Cycle Marketing.
Do your sales and marketing teams have a full funnel content strategy – a process for moving your ideal prospects from awareness to consideration and acquisition?
An effective content strategy isn’t just focused on inbound marketing – generating leads to fill the top of the sales funnel – which is where many B2B marketers focus the majority of their efforts. Why? Because it feels natural for them to do so; after all, they’ve been doing it for decades.
In contrast, a full-funnel content strategy includes content aimed at prospective buyers at all points of the sales funnel. This includes the critical but often overlooked middle of the funnel, where 90 percent of the “nurturing” must take place to move a prospect from interest to preference and a sale.
Nurturing is the process of moving a prospect through the sales funnel by providing them with content that is tailored to their informational needs at each point of their product research and selection process. In the process, it establishes trust and ideally positions your company as a valuable resource to them.
Ultimately, the goal of nurturing is to move prospects until they are ready to buy. It even extends beyond the point of sale, because customers continue to have information needs after they have purchased a product.
Without a plan for nurturing, content goes to waste, ignored by prospective customers, who don’t understand how it applies to their needs. Sales leads also go to waste, because salespeople don’t want to spend their time talking to prospective customers who are not yet ready to buy. Prospects may receive a single phone call or two from a salesperson. But once he or she determines that the prospect is not ready to buy, this lead and numerous others like it will simply be ignored.
That’s too bad, because with even a modicum of structured nurturing, many more leads could be turned into sales.
Growth Cycle Marketing
Growth Cycle Marketing is Cultivate’s proprietary process for establishing, nurturing and building a relationship with each prospect at every stage in their buyer’s journey, even before that individual buys anything from you.
But building a relationship isn’t about attracting just anyone. You can attract your ideal customer with the right content and targeted messaging. An ongoing, interactive relationship generates leads, filters out ideal customers, bolsters your sales pipeline, and over time builds brand trust and customer loyalty.
Here are the five stages of the Growth Cycle Marketing process, with the content purpose and common content types mapped to each stage:
Stage 1: Awareness
- Content purpose: Educational, instructional. Support prospects in the information gathering segment of their customer journey.
- Content types: Blog posts, viral videos, infographics, an informative website, guides, e-books, checklists, templates, white papers and presentations.
Stage 2: Consideration
- Content purpose: Help prospects get answers to their questions. Provide proof of thought leadership and that your company has the solutions to their problems.
- Content types: Brochures, spec sheets, case studies, testimonials, reviews, webinars and calculators.
Stage 3: Acquisition
- Content purpose: Serve up catalysts that will encourage the prospect to buy.
- Content types: discounts, free trials, assessments, audits, demos.
Stage 4: Retention
- Content purpose: Keep your new customer happy. Help offset buyer’s remorse. Help the customer get up to speed quickly and smoothly with their new product or service. Help them get the most out of the product
- Content types: Training materials, manuals, parts catalogs, service bulletins.
Stage 5: Advocacy
- Content purpose: Keep them happy and coming back for more, whenever they have needs for the products and services you offer. If possible, help them be successful in other parts of their business.
- Content types: Newsletters, loyalty programs, excellent customer service, solicit testimonials and case histories from them.
To get the full scoop on Growth Cycle Marketing, click here.
Tough questions about content marketing
Is your audience the hero of your content marketing? Why not? The most successful content marketing is relentlessly focused on customer needs and aspirations – not on the company’s products and services.
Learn how our exclusive Growth Cycle Marketing process can help you focus on customer needs and generate more sales from every stage of the buying cycle.
Do more of what makes you awesome.
You are unique—so is your brand. You may do what others do, you may offer a similar product or service, but each of your customers returns to you, because what you do is awesome and special. In your customer’s eyes, that unique awesomeness is what sets you apart.
So, what’s your “awesome”? Yes, it can be price: maybe you’re the low cost leader, but there’s always more to it. Do you offer value? Quality? These traits go beyond simple price undercutting. Is it the timeliness of your delivery? Is it your company culture? Your mission?
You should be able to identify what makes you awesome and use it to shape your vision and drive you forward. It should be part of your brand and your mission. It should be an integral part of your communication strategy. Whatever you do well—do more of it. Be awesome!
- One of the most important Ways to Boost Your Marketing Effectiveness is to achieve uniqueness. Identify what makes you special, then make those unique benefits your message to your customers.
- Your customers need to know how you can help solve their problems. (Hint: It’s a big part of why you’re awesome!) Let them know through a variety of channels—email marketing, web browsing, social media, and more. All paths should lead your customers toward your unique message. Try these 10 Paths to Outstanding Content Marketing.
- Sometimes inspiration comes easily, but sometimes a little nudge in the right direction can help you find your awesome. If you’re working to craft content that speaks to your customers and captures your unique message, try these 10 Great Resources to Inspire Your Content Creation.
- Be fearless. Mondelez International is at the forefront of innovation marketing because they’re committed to doing just that. Their latest stunt? Rebranding the classic Oreo cookie.
- Discussing nature, choice and the science behind happiness, “Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell presented this TED talk on what we can learn from the food industry’s pursuit of the most awesome spaghetti sauce.
- There is UNLIMITED potential for inventive thinkers. (Now those are words WE live by.) The decision to buy isn’t a moment; it’s a process. How are you touching each of your prospects and customers throughout the Growth Cycle Marketing process? Think about how you’re going to bring your awesome to 2016!
For more ideas on how to find your awesome, be sure to follow Cultivate on LinkedIn or subscribe below to receive Motivational Monday updates in your inbox each week.
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“Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Many business leaders have great vision, but it’s hard to pull off the actual execution part—especially for small businesses. One of the hardest areas to manage is marketing. It’s a constant, ongoing process: promotion, conversion, leads, follow-up, sale, follow-through, and repeat sales. Process disruption is common, lead times can be looong, and sometimes important prospects can fall through the cracks—and out of the sales cycle.
But there’s good news! There are a lot of great ways to keep your sales cycle flowing. However, to stay ahead of the game, your first step is to make the call: you must make your marketing a priority.
Look back at 2015. Be honest: how many marketing goals did you actually accomplish? If you’ve tried to make marketing a priority and you just can’t keep on top of it, review this list of…
4 Common Marketing-Crushing Mistakes …plus, how to fix them.
Mistake #1. Assuming You Can Do It All
Small businesses have an especially hard time efficiently allocating resources. So, if you’re the CEO and you’re too busy trying to make sense of your marketing analytics so you don’t have time to follow up with an important customer, you could lose a huge chunk of business and hurt your reputation—all while wasting too much of your valuable time.
The fix? If marketing is the last item on your list (because holy cow, that is one LONG to do list), it’s time to take a step back and look at your business operations. List all the day-to-day business operations your full-time staff is capable of handling. Automate what you can and outsource the rest.
Do only what you do best. You just don’t have time to do everything.
Mistake #2. Unrealistic Staff Expectations
When you’re evaluating what tasks your staff is capable of handling, be brutally honest. No matter how much you care for an employee, not everyone grows where they’re planted. Reassign tasks so each employee has a role where they can shine. Your team will be happier and so will your customers.
One of the worst areas of offense? Attempting to internally maintain your content marketing strategy and production. Crafting a marketing strategy and effective writing are specific skill sets. (And they require much more experience than you can siphon out of your interns!) Your employees may even be willing, but not talented, and that can lead to a huge time-suck with no real payoff.
The fix? Consider outsourcing your content marketing. If it’s not getting done, it’s not going to get done. If it’s not getting done well, you’re likely hurting your online reputation. Hire on a team who can help keep your marketing (and your sales cycle) firing on all cylinders, all the time.
Mistake #3. A Lack of Strategy
Effective marketing is all about the plan. You know you need to produce a ton of useful content, but it can’t just be words. Starting with the big picture and narrowing that down to specific goals and marketing tasks you can execute on? No easy feat—but oh SO important! Your content should have a cohesive theme to answer your customer’s needs, help them make buying decisions, and spark their creativity.
A great plan always leads back to your content. Targeted email promotions lead to a targeted landing page designed to support the sale, then additional content should supply the extra information your customer requires to make that crucial buying decision. Don’t you love it when a plan comes together…and works? It can.
Mistake #4. Failing to Get the Most Out of your Content
They may not come just because you build it. You can hire professionals, collect information for marketing reports, stuff your website with a huge amount of expensive informational copy, and still, no one comes. Why not?
There might be a lot of answers, but the most common issues are poor presentation and lack of promotion. You need strong social media presence to promote your content and you also need the right presentation. Information broken into easily digestible chunks, instead of presented as a dense block of words, is more effective.
That’s why infographics and charts work so well. Make complex information easy with a visual presentation. Use whatever method is most accessible for your audience: graphics, charts, or video tutorials, for example.
Let’s Do This.
Make your 2016 goal to make marketing a priority, even when you’re overwhelmed with day-to-day operations. You simply can’t afford to make marketing your lowest priority again this year. Following the sale from start to finish and then beyond to a long-term relationship is the gold standard. This is your year to get there!
We can help. Check out these free marketing resources or give us a call today to make marketing a priority in 2016.
Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Want to learn more about effective content marketing? Whether you decide to outsource content marketing or not, this eBook is chock-full of great information on content marketing. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how content marketing can help you ramp up your website and complete your marketing strategy.
You’ll learn how to:
- Increase Your Referral Rate
- Increase Your Social Media Reach
- Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
- Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
- Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource