Creating Content That Advances Customers Through the Sales Cycle
In part two of our sales and marketing feature, take a deep dive into exploring effective content marketing strategies from a sales perspective.
CodyTextbroker Marketing and Communications
From a marketing perspective, the purpose of creating content is to build brand awareness in an effort to attract new customers. The technique is three times more effective at generating leads than any other outbound marketing strategy. While materials with a broad appeal may excel at capturing leads among a general audience, you risk being irrelevant to everyone when you cast a wide net. In order to capture and convert qualified leads, sales reps need solution-oriented copy that targets the specific questions prospective clients are asking.
Since these one-off materials are time-consuming for the marketing team to develop, salespeople often find themselves trying to make tools work rather than having tools at their fingertips that address their needs. As a result, sales teams frequently spend a significant amount of time creating their own content to counter objections, address pain points and explain ease of implementation. This not only opens the door for inconsistency in brand messaging, but it also drains workplace productivity due to duplicate efforts. Having the right materials in place can also boost a salesperson’s efficiency by shortening the length of time it takes to convert leads into paying customers.
Content creators can support these needs by composing targeted content pieces that fit the evolving needs of clients. Although these issue-specific materials require more time and resources to develop, they often pay off in higher team utilization and customer conversion rates. Your tricky task is to craft content that addresses a common problem so that it can be used in many sales conversations. By aligning your content creation goals to your company’s sales cycle, your materials will become an asset that sales teams can use to guide prospects through the customer journey.
Align Buyer Personas With the Buying Journey
Content marketing from a sales perspective requires a shift in mindset. Marketing experts usually focus on building buyer personas based on the typical interests and demographics of their customers. Where this approach fails is in not considering how the audience changes during the sales cycle.
Since the decision-making process is rarely linear or singular, there are often multiple people involved in the buying journey. Each person, depending on their role in researching, evaluating, budgeting and implementing, has an opinion on what matters most. Addressing all issues in one piece is seldom possible, so developing customer profiles based on the buying stages — awareness, interest, desire and action (AIDA) – can serve as a more effective framework in understanding your customers’ behaviors and what drives their decisions.
Under the stage-based model, your content not only needs to initially engage gatekeepers but also convince decision makers to close the deal. Just as salespeople qualify leads by considering each prospect’s budget, authority, need and time frame (BANT), marketing teams can trigger a response by creating content that aligns with each audience and their particular concerns in the evolving sales cycle.
When developing your company’s buyer personas, consider how each audience responds to long-form and digestible content and which messages resonate with each type of decision maker. Those looking to stay on top of industry news need quick tips and summaries while people further along in the journey will want to dive deeper into a topic. A manager who needs to rally internal support for change is likely looking for content that helps them explain the benefits, but the IT leader is concerned with ease of implementation, and the CEO needs to know the return on investment.
You can use nearly any content format to communicate with buyers at all stages of the sales cycle, but the focus, depth and tone changes for each audience. Since converting a lead is a multistep process, you need to publish a variety of pieces that are readily available on various platforms. Whether the information is released as a case study, e-book, infographic or blog, as long as it is relevant to the buying stage, you will begin to see an increase in lead generation and conversion rates.
Awareness – Use Lead Nurturing to Connect With Your Target Audience
Lead nurturing is likely where your marketing team is already focusing its attention. This educational drip delivers high-level information relevant to your industry. While the topics are general, there is still an educational element that addresses industry challenges, highlights emerging trends, asks thought-provoking questions or presents new ways of thinking. The purpose is to strengthen your credibility and authority as an industry leader as well as nurture relationships. At this level, keep the tone light and do not put a spotlight on your product.
Increasing lead generation requires developing an assortment of informative content assets across a variety of channels. This can include social media posts, infographics, free webinars and email campaigns. Blogging is an essential task in top-of-funnel lead captures. Industry research shows that publishing just one article per month helps 57 percent of businesses acquire a new customer. Bumping up the frequency produces better results with eight in 10 companies gaining a new customer through daily blogging.
Consideration – Establish Brand Awareness as a Solution Provider
In the second phase of the sales cycle model, gatekeepers are your audience. These are the people diving into researching information to find potential solutions for developing problems, support for upcoming opportunities or new approaches for improving their business. They are not ready to talk to a salesperson yet, but they are looking for credible products or services that will take them to the next level.
The purpose of content at this stage is to show potential customers that your solution is something they need. Educational content that addresses pain points and positions your solution as a viable contender can be delivered through blog posts, tip sheets, white papers, demonstration videos, webinars and industry reports. Build in techniques for capturing new contact information, such as exchanging an email address for free downloads or displaying prominent invitations to subscribe to newsletters. Each new lead that comes in from the sales department should also be automatically added to all outbound marketing lists.
Research from the Association of National Advertisers shows that converting prospects into sales-ready leads requires at least seven touches. The most successful campaigns incorporate various multichannel outbound marketing strategies to establish brand awareness and boost sales. You will achieve greater results when you can personalize this content based on the customer’s interests and interactions with your company. Each asset should end with a strong, but not salesy, call to action that encourages the reader to reach out to your company for more information.
An email campaign is particularly helpful in moving prospects along the buying journey. Aim to develop eight to 10 short, casual emails that are packed with helpful information and relevant links to your website. The content should demonstrate your understanding of their pain points or provide links to additional resources. Your sales cycle determines the timing of the drip campaign. Shorter journeys need more frequent contact on a daily or weekly basis while bi-weekly or monthly check-ins may be more appropriate for longer cycles.
Buying – Motivate Buyers to Make a Purchase
During the decision stage of the journey, potential buyers have pinpointed the root problem. They are intrigued by what you have to offer, but they are comparing it to your competition. Your job is to convince them that your company has the best solution. Final decision makers are likely to be most concerned with overall cost, implementation time, customer satisfaction and employee productivity.
Content at this stage is more promotional yet still educational. To influence purchasing decisions, you can create fact sheets that discuss benefits and product nuances or compose buyer guides that demonstrate the advantages of your product and show how a different route can generate other problems. A white paper might focus on a product’s ROI, a Q&A video can clear up common concerns and an implementation guide may outline the resources needed to move forward.
Case studies are the best way to showcase your proven successes in solving similar problems that potential buyers are facing. These also act as social endorsements from your satisfied customers, which builds your industry credibility. Sales should have instant access to all these materials so that they can be easily shared with prospective clients who are closing in on a decision.
Partner With Sales to Develop and Use Marketing Materials
Content will always fall short of meeting the sales team’s needs when they do not have opportunities to give their input or receive training on how to use it. By having purposeful cross-department conversations, marketing will be able to develop — and sales will be able to leverage — company content that gets “yes” responses.
The only way to create cohesion between the two departments is to work together to align your goals. Begin by explaining how current materials tie into the company’s business goals. The busy sales team will not read or use your materials simply because they are located in an accessible place. Both departments need to be proactive in carving out time to learn how to use the materials in various scenarios. Companion tip sheets are especially useful for highlighting the key messages to reinforce and explaining how each type of content addresses the audience’s needs during specific stages of the sales cycle.
Provide the sales team with links to helpful content that they can share with prospective buyers who are asking questions. Show them how they can quickly distribute links to blog posts or PDF files of case studies. Give them email text and social media wording so that they don’t waste precious time writing their own copy. The rewards for spending extra time writing these materials will include higher distribution rates, messaging consistency and customer conversions.
It is just as critical that the marketing team is open to receiving feedback. Engage in problem-solving conversations about what the sales team hears from customers and how content isn’t meeting needs. Ask how materials are currently distributed and which messages most resonate with customers. Use this advice to build effective hooks and compelling CTAs that entice every type of buyer to progress through the evolving sales cycle.
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