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The New Normal

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by: Ellen Valentine (@EllenValentine)
12 January 2012

Marketing used to be more straightforward. Potential buyers picked up the phone and called us as soon as they had any inkling they might be interested in our solution. They were open to us calling them and coming on site to begin establishing a selling relationship. In marketing, we focused on great advertising and brand programs to make sure we had high awareness, and sales owned the entire sales cycle.  Those days are long gone.  Instead, we have what I call "The New Normal."  Let’s look a bit more closely at characteristics of the New Normal and what marketers can do about this dramatic shift in how to engage with these empowered buyers.

Enter a New Era
A recent study by Market Transformation indicated that 73 percent of clients won’t accept a phone call from a vendor.  Meanwhile, various studies highlight that potential buyers want to perform solution research on their own, moving through 50 percent to 90 percent of the sales cycle by themselves. Clearly, the old days are gone, replaced by what I call “The New Normal.” As marketers, we have to move quickly to adapt to this new way of marketing and selling, or we will not thrive.

Addressing the Gap
According to Marketing Leadership Roundtable research, this shift in the buying cycle has resulted in a new gap in the purchase process. During the latter half of the information-gathering stage and the first half of the evaluation stage, prospects are no longer interested in engaging with salespeople.  Many marketers have been slow to fill the gap and deliver the content these leads are looking for as they evaluate who they might like to engage. To avoid prospects stalling in or falling out of the funnel, marketers must own this portion of the buying cycle by nurturing those "not yet ready for sales" leads.

Meet the Silent Surfers
Let’s look a bit more at the New Normal. During the research phase, potential buyers begin by searching for industry, market and solution information—usually on Google or another search engine. I call these potential buyers “Silent Surfers.” They just want to begin learning and don’t want to become known to the vendor.

As a vendor, what should you be doing at this point in the sales process? First, you need to turn on Web Tracking. This will allow you to track Silent Surfer activity and determine the originating source of all opportunities. During this phase, you also need to make sure you have laser-focused SEO and outstanding content, investing the right resources and/or budget to make this happen.

Concierge-Style Engagement
Now, review your content assets. Some things you should give away without requiring a Silent Surfer to provide identification. This will allow you to begin to show a bit about who you are and what you do. Blog posts certainly fit this category, but I would encourage you to also include some downloadable assets that don’t require filling out a form.

What about high-quality deliverables such as white papers or research-based findings? These are the assets you want to “gate” or put behind a sign-in form in order to receive the document. At this point, many of you provide what I call the Bouncer Sign-on Form. You ask the Silent Surfer to provide as many as eight to 12 pieces of information. That’s akin to putting a big burly bouncer in front of your content, and it will turn off more people that you’d like. Instead, consider using a technique such as progressive forms, where you only ask your Silent Surfers for one to three pieces of information, then request a bit more on subsequent visits.

Another option is to give your Silent Surfers the option to sign on socially using their Twitter, Facebook or other social network information. Studies show that more than 60 percent of site visitors prefer this option. And because you turned on Web tracking, you can now use the information gleaned from the prospect’s social profile to knit together Silent Surfer Activity with the newly identified Jane Jones to better understand how Jane is interacting with your website. These few steps will enable you to begin tailoring your marketing campaigns based on each individual’s behavior.

The Power of Questions
During the consideration phase, in which Jane Jones begins interacting with your website, you can begin to ask good questions (via landing pages and Web forms), establish strong nurture campaigns and progressively customize your messages, content and offers. Tools such as dynamic content and PURLs can be highly tailored to increase the intimacy of the relationship and dramatically improve results.

Better Reporting in the New Normal
Behind the scenes, you want to make every offer a campaign in CRM and separately track offers and lead sources. For instance, you should track a white paper separately from how the visitor found your site, which might be a Pay Per Click ad.  If you provide a resource center for your visitors, you should track each content offer separately; otherwise, you won’t be able to track the effectiveness of each offer.  Finally, you never want to write over the original source of the visitor. That original lead source can provide valuable insight into which demand generation approach is most effective.

Rise Up to the Challenge
Instead of mourning the death of the good old days, as marketers we need to rise up to the challenge of Silent Surfers and assume more responsibility for the sales cycle than ever. Encourage prospects to begin a low-friction relationship with you and your websites using marketing automation technology. Use the power of data collected through their subsequent visits to customize and personalize how you market to your prospective buyers. Done well, your site visitors will be more than happy to move from marketing interactions to a positive sales relationship.

For more tips and tactics on marketing in “The New Normal,” download our tip sheet.

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