The prospect-to-sale cycle is truly broad now, with potential customers not coming to the buying table until after they’ve done a lot of their own research — sometimes as much as 90 percent of it, according to Forrester. And a 2012 Digital Influence study revealed that 89 percent of buyers used the Internet to make purchasing decisions last year. This year, those numbers will likely increase.
So, what can you do to influence your prospect research early on and warm them to your offerings when they are most easily persuaded? Let’s explore a three-tiered strategic approach to guiding early engagement in the name of converting prospects to buyers: Monitor and shape your social media channels for optimal positioning; get to know who you’re talking to before they've identified themselves; and use personalized, score-driven campaigns to zero in on prospect targets.
Step 1: Put Your Best Social Media Face Forward
Prospects are doing their homework, so it’s up to you to manage the information available to them and ensure that they see your company as a respected leader. No matter what great collateral you have on your website, if your reputation is bad, your good collateral isn't good enough. So, take charge:
1) Read the social media tea leaves: Are you tracking social media influencers and industry groups that have a great deal of clout? Who is talking about you or your competitors on social media platforms? Search Twitter hashtags daily to see what's topical, and comment. Also, search your company's hashtag; if people are commenting negatively about your brand or products, you need to be in that conversation. Control your reputation (and always have a crisis plan).
2) Update your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages with your strongest and most current messaging: Make sure that wherever you have a social presence, it’s well-tended. Showing prospects directed, concerted messages on all those channels will keep you on their radar screens.
3) Periodically Google your company: Check the full range of places a prospect sees you online, and ensure that you've supplied compelling acquisition content to spark their interest.
Step 2: Entice Unknown Prospects and Get to Know Them
Study the research conducted around your business space to know who your customers are, what they want and where they are likely to be. Information that's publicly shareable, such as the content of your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, should inform and then drive prospects to your website, the place that holds all the answers to the questions that your future customers are likely to ask. So:
1) Predict: Anticipate (based on sound analysis) the questions prospects will ask, and have the best info on all of your social media platforms and your website. Ensure that current, information-rich content is everywhere, and that it builds on itself through consistent, quality sharing on all your media channels.
2. Target: Don't throw masses of untargeted collateral out there. Too many marketers are mistakenly still in the "let’s treat everyone equally" mode. Have a rich data set that is supported by good analytics, so you can create the right content for individual prospects.
3. Analyze and profile: Once prospects are on your website, employ the behavioral marketing analytics and profiling tools that will propel conversion. Watch this video about Web tracking to see what I mean.
Step 3: Once Known, Talk to Prospects As Individuals
With the right tools, you can know who’s on your site, by both title and behavior, and use that information to craft more relevant messaging and follow-up strategies, from sales calls to customized nurturing touches. You can also create different profiles, which guide you on the best ways to engage. A contact scoring model, which you can use to trigger content when a prospect’s score reaches a certain threshold, is a key aspect of this approach. So, act accordingly:
1) Score behaviors: Scoring various prospect behaviors will help direct your nurturing strategy. Are visitors gathering information, new to the space, or are they active customers? A prospect looking at your “About” page, for example, is much earlier in the nurturing cycle than someone checking your licensing options — each requires different content.
2) Tweak the model: Adjust your scoring model according to nurturing failures and successes. This will help you identify and focus on your most valuable and sales-ready prospects, and be nimble to refine your marketing approach on the fly.
3) Continually refine your targets: Sales wins and losses all provide actionable data. A landing page that doesn’t convert might just need a form change or image tweak.
Look for best-in-class email marketing automation tools that supply the lead management, deep analytics and program-building options that entice prospects to become buyers. Pair those digital tools with strong support services, and you’ll have a powerful strategy to drive results and a higher ROI.
1) White Paper: “Know the Score: The Ultimate Guide to Scoring Customers and Prospects”
2) Blog: “Twitter Tips for B2B Marketers”
3) White Paper: “20 Ways to Personalize Content and Enhance the Customer Experience”