According to which report you read and whether you are selling to consumers or businesses 60%-80% of customer decision making is completed before they ever talk to a sales person or visit a store. Customers are talking to colleagues or friends, looking at ‘independent’ research on the internet or getting information from their existing supplier or/and your competitors.
The answer here is pretty clear – we must start communicating with customers months or even years before the formal sales cycle begins in order to affect whom they talk to (when they come to making a purchase) and the decisions they make at an early stage.
But how do we get their attention?
Well, clearly we need some mechanisms/channels to find and interact with them. These probably include good quality, well profiled customer lists (especially for B2B), an up to date value proposition and brand aligned web presence with strong SEO, targeted social media, email campaign content, etc.
OK, now the hard part – How do you build awareness, and in turn trust to drive preference for/loyalty to your offering?
Strong, audience aligned content
As we are going to communicate with them and we want to establish credibility, we will need content that will aim to educate and draw interaction from customers over the long term.
There are some immediate challenges here:
- How do we get people to notice us amongst the bombardment of information they receive every day?
- Once we have them how do we keep them interested as they move through the sales cycle?
- How can we educate them on the value of our solutions and (if necessary) change their thinking as to what is truly important when making future decisions?
There are a number of ways to do this but my suggestions would include:
- Plan for the long term – Think about the topics that might be interesting for your customers (be customer persona aware), how often to communicate and which channels will resonate with them. Then you will need to think about who can actually write all this material – it can suck up much needed, skilled resource
- Be memorable, interesting, different and visual – Try to make your language personal, don’t be another corporate clone using beautiful marketing language that doesn’t actually say much ..... and remember that people recall 20% of what they read but 80% of what they see
- Teach them something they don’t already know – that could help them better understand and build their own arguments in future
- Share insight - long term customer loyalty is based on trust; be unafraid to share and be safe in the knowledge that if you don’t, your competitors will. Prospective customers will truly appreciate it
- Sweat your investment – create a core, in-depth piece of content – a whitepaper or eBook perhaps, and milk it for all it is worth; slice and dice and push it everywhere in multiple formats and lengths. Use the content in your PR, email campaigns, for web pages, social media and online downloadable resources
- Challenge your customers – Don’t be afraid to be a little controversial; customers may be a little shocked at first but frequently find it refreshing and respect you for it. Using and trusting in your expertise can give you the opportunity to redefine a customer’s requirement and give them what they actually need rather than what they originally thought they needed. As Henry Ford said: ‘If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse’
- Entertain them occasionally – be bold and show a bit of personality; it humanises things which helps readers warm to you
- Segment and target - Align your content to customer personas and market segments so that customers can see clear parallels with their own situation; if you are too generic they will switch off
- Resource it, sustain it - Lastly and possibly most importantly makes sure you have resource internally to be able to produce the content – either experts that can write or writers that know how to extract value from your experts.
- Do not sell at every opportunity! Be careful that what you write is not obviously self-serving
- Don’t run out of content. Many programmes run out of steam in a few months. Plan ahead and draw on different areas of, and experts from across the business
- Don’t just put up something for the sake of it – if it is not good enough, don’t publish
- Don’t rely on the two or three (or 1!) experts in the business to write everything; they will soon run out of time to support you.
A few start points to get your content plan moving. Consider:
- What’s hot in the Industry?
- Consider an independent in depth discussion of an area you are expert in (try not to obviously sell)
- Take some of your customer successes and focus on the issues they had, rather than how you solved them (show understanding and empathy to build credibility and trust)
- Use video and visual communication if you can (It is not as expensive as you think)
- Be (a bit) controversial – it sounds risky but it’s better than being forgettable
- Pick and focus on some market trends that suit the strength of your product
Your goal when it comes down to it is to build a message that leads TO you (and your solution), not WITH it. Remember: for long term growth, spend 80% of your time educating and 20% selling.