How well aligned is your content to your sales funnel?

How well aligned is your content to your sales funnel?

by Victoria Greene

Sales funnels are all about the buying journey your customer takes; from becoming aware of your brand and products, to signing the order form.

The problem is that this marketing model was developed in 1898 (by American advertising expert Elias St. Elmo Lewis) and an awful lot has changed since then. With that in mind, ask yourself this, just how well aligned is my content to my sales funnel?

Don’t worry about finding the answer, because, over the course of this article, it will become clear. And not only that, I’m also going to help you bring the content in your sales funnel kicking and screaming into this millennium…

Relearn what you know about sales funnels

Lewis’ AIDA funnel was built upon 4 key elements:

  • AwarenessYour customer knows about a product or service.
  • Interest: Your customer is actively interested in a product group.
  • Desire: Your customer wants a specific brand or product.
  • Action: Your customer makes a purchase.

The Purchase Funnel

(Source: Wikimedia)

For a 21st Century business, these stages are reduced to 3. Marcela De Vivo explains these as being:

The 3 stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Purchase

(Source: Search Engine Watch)

The problem with each of these models is that their sales funnels are linear, with a beginning middle, and end. While this isn’t an unrealistic model, it’s not one your business should buy into dogmatically. Why? Because when your customer ends their journey they’re gone.

Whether it’s through a subscription model, or by convincing your customers to keep coming back to your business, your sales funnel needs to consider repeat customers. If it’s not, then it’s unrealistic and, in order to for it to become realistic, you need to…

Be aware of the continuous engagement model

Thinking solely linear is so 1898. Today’s powerhouse businesses know that, to be successful, their customer buying cycle has to keep spinning, with the wheel turned each time their customers make a purchase.

In order to keep this wheel spinning you need to be aware of the continuous engagement model when reviewing the content in your sales funnel.

As you’ll see below, in the example of Accenture’s Nonstop Customer Experience Model, a continuous engagement model looks altogether different to Lewis’ vision of your customer buying journey:

Accenture's non-stop-customer experience model

(Source: Accenture)

While the names have changed, some of the terms are not so different from Lewis’:

  • Discover: Your customer finds out about a product or service.
  • Consider: Your customer reviews the different product or service groups.
  • Evaluate: Your customer makes a decision on which brand to select.
  • Purchase: Your customer buys your product.

But you also have new segments to consider:

  • Use: Your customer tests out your product.
  • Promise: You make a commitment to how your product will perform.
  • Delivery: What you deliver to your customer. It’s essential that your delivery matches with your promise. If it doesn’t then you’ve lost their repeat business. But if it does…
  • Consider: Your customer will consider buying from you again and the cycle restarts from this point.

Your customer can join the buying cycle at various stages, seek information from different sources, and may adopt a staccato approach to their buying decisions – they might get to the penultimate stage of the buying cycle, abandon their purchase, then come back and buy it at a later date, from a different sales channel.

Accenture's non-linear customer pathways

(Source: Accenture)

This changes how you need to create and disseminate the content you use in your sales funnel; for your sales funnel to be realistic, you need a smart content marketing funnel to function in an omnichannel world.

Creating smart and realistic content for an omnichannel world

Lewis’ model might be outdated, but adopting the continuous engagement model full-scale makes it difficult and expensive to quantify conversion rates throughout your funnel. The realistic and smart way for you to design the content driving your sales funnel is to incorporate both.

What does this hybrid look like?

Content marketing funnel (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU)(Source: Shopify)

TOFU isn’t just for eating…

In order for your business to have a realistic sales funnel you need a three segment approach, and there are specific types of content you need at each stage.

TOFU (Top Of The Funnel)

At this stage your customer is becoming aware of a problem which they need to resolve. Your goal is to hone in on your audience’s pain points and increase their awareness of the need to find a solution to them.

Types of content needed for TOFU

You must consider how well your brand is set up to disseminate the content that you require in order to have a realistic sales funnel. As social media is a huge part of TOFU, your brand’s website must work in harmony with your social media channels.

Conduct research into your target audience and establish what their preferred social media channels are and then align this with the platforms your business uses.

You also need to think about social media automation tools. This is crucial because you need to reach your audience at the right time and also use the time that you have at your disposal wisely.

MOFU (Middle Of The Funnel)

The midpoint of your funnel is about making your customers buy into your brand and your vision of problem resolution. Your goal is to put the building blocks in place to establish a long-term relationship with your customers.

Types of content needed for MOFU

  • Discount codes
  • Webinars
  • Informational resources
  • Surveys

It’s at this stage that you can collect your customers’ email addresses. The value of doing this is that you can re-target your converted customers and return to those who have begun but failed to complete the buying process.

Your website must be built using a CMS that’s compatible with email marketing software in order to do this, but the value to your business of doing this is enormous – email marketing returns an average of $38 for every $1 that you spend.

BOFU (Bottom Of The Funnel)

You’ve got your customers attention and sold them the value of your products. Your goal now is to sell your products

Types of content needed for BOFU

  • Tripwires
  • Sales decks
  • Customer testimonials
  • Trials for your products
  • Spec sheets for your products

Your goal here is simple: convert your audience into customers, ones who will buy your products now and ones who will come back to your business again and again.

The value of customer testimonials at this stage of your sales funnel simply cannot be overstated:

  • 92% of your customers read online reviews
  • 88% of your customers trust customer reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 63% of your customers are more likely to buy your business if you use customer reviews

Sales funnels have been a feature of business for over 100 years. They are a hugely valuable way of maximizing the buying journey you take your audience on, so that you can convert them from users looking to resolve a problem to long-term customers for your brand.

In order to turn your audience into customers, you need to have content supporting your sales funnel in a way that’s realistic. So, when you review your sales content sales, remember that TOFU isn’t just for eating.

About the author

Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on how brands can use the power of content to drive up revenue for their business.

Visit www.docsend.com to learn more.

The Myth of the Impersonal Buyer

The Myth of the Impersonal Buyer

By Rod Griffith

“Get out of the water! Now!” The cry came from a concerned father sitting on a blanket not far behind me on a Cape Cod beach. The sheer volume of his voice alarmed all of us nearby. There had been recent shark sightings along the Cape shores, so sharks were first and foremost on our minds when we heard him yell.

His two kids—a boy and a girl of perhaps 9 and 12—were in the water, barely up to their waists. When they didn’t respond, he jumped to his feet and yelled again. “I said get out of the water, now!”
I immediately thought of Chief Brody from the movie Jaws.

The kids turned and broke into a high-step run out of the shallows and up the beach to their father.

“How many times have I told you to wait 30 minutes after you eat before going back into the water?” he asked them. “You can get stomach cramps and drown. It happens every year.”

But he was wrong. It doesn’t happen every year. It actually never happens. Studies published in 2007 and 2008 by Rachel C. Vreeman and Aaron E. Carroll from the Indiana University School of Medicine debunked this myth about drownings caused by swimming too soon after eating. According to Vreeman and Carroll, there are no documented cases of drowning or near-drowning due to eating.

They couldn’t find one case. Zero. Zilch. Yet how many millions of us were given the same stern warning back when we were kids?

Every so often, science reveals myths that have long been taken as fact. We can’t remember the days when the world was thought flat, or when bloodletting was believed to cure illness. But most of us today will remember when coffee was bad for you and when Pluto was a planet, or when swimming after eating could lead to drowning.

The business realm is not immune to these myths.

“”It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble–it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” –Josh Billings”

“It’s not personal. It’s business.”

I wish I had a dime for every time that was uttered. This commonly used statement expresses the archetype of the ultimate business decision-maker: focused, unflinching and objective to the core.

We laud business leaders for their ability to keep calm and cool under pressure, and to maintain a laser-like focus on strategy and business objectives, where lesser people would be swayed by their emotions. In heroes like Steve Jobs, or in villains like Gordon Gekko of the Wall Street movies, we see steadfast steeliness, determination and objectivity—qualities, we believe, of the quintessential business decision-maker. And someone vastly different from the typical personal consumer.

We assume that while individual consumers regularly base purchase decisions on emotions, whim and personal desire, savvy business decision-makers base their procurement decisions on research, analysis, data, ROI calculations and strategic business goals. Personal needs and emotions, we believe, don’t play a major role in business decisions—especially for significant purchase decisions such as technology solutions.

Like the danger of swimming after you eat, this notion of the impersonal business buyer is being proven by researchers to be a myth. Research indicates that the personal value that buyers perceive in a B2B product has far greater impact on the decision process than most marketers thought.

A study conducted by CEB, now Gartner, in conjunction with Google (“From Promotion to Emotion”, 2013) found that the perceived personal value in a product had almost twice as much impact on the purchase outcome as the perceived business value. According to the study, the personal value perceived by the decision-maker includes professional benefits, social benefits, emotional benefits or self-image benefits.

On the consumer marketing side, most purchases are relatively low-dollar. The downside of a wrong purchase for basic consumer goods is some moderate frustration and annoyance, if that. Don’t like the new book you bought? Donate it. Don’t like that new desk lamp? Regift it.

In contrast, business purchases—especially technology products and solutions—can have serious consequences. The stakes are high, so the accompanying emotions surrounding the buying journey may also be high. Rapidly changing technology choices add further stress. People’s careers can be made or broken based on a purchase decision. But, because of this “myth of the impersonal buyer,” B2B marketers often completely overlook the emotional side of the purchase.

The Personal Value Messaging Gap

The same study (which surveyed 3,000 business purchasers) found that buyers who see personal value in a product indicate a significantly greater likelihood of purchasing—three times greater—than buyers who do not see personal value. Those buyers who see personal value are also seven times more likely to pay a premium for a product.

But there’s a dilemma here: Buyers tend to believe in the personal value of a product only after purchase and use. The study found that, while 77 percent of customers believe in the personal value of the products they’ve purchased, only 31 percent of buyers believe in the personal value of products they do not own.

If buyers don’t see personal value, one likely reason is that B2B marketers aren’t effectively communicating the personal value of their products. Because of the myth of the impersonal buyer, we tend to overlook and neglect our personal value messaging, focusing most of our sales messaging on the business value of our products or solutions.

A typical messaging hierarchy focuses on desired business outcomes, strategic value, differentiating features and benefits, and supporting proof points. Inevitably, messaging is filled with common terms such as “intuitive,” “easy to use,” “robust” and “powerful.” Competing products of similar design or technology will often use similar descriptors. This can result in sales messaging that lacks differentiation.

Just visit a few of your competitors’ websites and you’ll see this. Most competing products of a similar nature and design (including technology) claim to offer many of the same business values. A good portion of the messaging for competing products is often virtually interchangeable. So, unless you have a clear and significant advantage over your competition (a rare situation in today’s global economy), the business value that your product offers is probably very similar to the business value that your competitors offer. Consequently, companies that build personal value messages into their messaging hierarchies can gain an edge over competitors who have yet to expand their messaging beyond the typical business value focus.

Identify Your Personal Value Messaging

To identify the right personal value messages for your products or solutions, start by talking with your customers—which is something many B2B marketers don’t do often enough. Use the following questions to structure the conversation and help identify the personal value your customers believe your products or solutions provide.

Has our product helped to accelerate your career in any way?
Perhaps your product has helped customers gain experience and skills in a hot new technology area, bolstering their résuméor helping them win a promotion.

Has our product helped you gain professional recognition?
Anecdotal evidence about how your product has helped customers gain recognition or awards can be extremely helpful in differentiating your sales messaging. Where possible, use real customer success stories and testimonial quotes to support personal value messages.

Has our product boosted your visibility in the company by impacting company success?
The purchase and implementation of your product may have required your customer to foster support and collaboration from teams across the organization. This can often boost their visibility and reputation within their company (and among important C-level management)—especially when the effort has resulted in recognized improvements in the company’s productivity, efficiency or quality.

Has our product improved your reputation as a leader or out-of-the-box thinker?
The selection of your product may have required your customer to champion your product or service within their organization. In the process, your customer may have had to battle those who were skeptical, preferred the status quo, or wanted to go with a safe big-name vendor. Showcasing how your product can help a customer boost their reputation as a leader can add powerful personal value to your overall messaging.

Of course, there are some aspects of personal value that you may not want to ask your customers about directly, because you’ll risk, among other things, offending them. You don’t want to imply, for example, that they lack confidence or are in fear of losing their job. So the following questions are likely best answered indirectly through casual conversation, listening and observation (versus posing them directly to your customers):

Has our product helped the customer build personal confidence or pride?
Your customer may have had to overcome doubt and taken some professional risks to champion your product or service through their decision process and implementation. After all, failure could have meant a major career setback, if not a professional catastrophe. Success, on the other hand, can be a serious boost to the customer’s confidence and create a sense of personal pride.

Has our product helped the customer build or strengthen relationships with staff, peers or executives?
A decision team leader who successfully gains the buy-in, adoption and implementation of your solution may have had to reach out and forge new relationships, or strengthen current relationships, with their staff, peers or key executives. This may have resulted in improved respect and appreciation, fostered new friendships or acquaintanceships, strengthened interpersonal communications – or perhaps helped to reverse a previously negative relationship.

Has our product helped the customer spend more time working on the areas they prefer to focus on?
If your product or service helps reduce the amount of time spent on business challenges or issues—or otherwise improves your customer’s productivity or efficiency—it may allow your customers to shift more of their focus to the work that satisfies them more, professionally and personally.

Has our product given our customer peace of mind?
Your customers may find that the decision to purchase and implement your product or service has helped them strengthen their value to the organization, elevated their reputation within the company or boosted confidence in the security of their job. The emotional result is greater peace of mind, which can improve both work and overall life satisfaction.

Put Emotion into Motion

Once you’ve defined the personal value messages for your product or solution, the next step is to infuse your messaging—value propositions, elevator pitches, sales stories, etc.—with your personal value and emotion. This will enhance your customer appeal and both strengthen and differentiate your overall sales messaging.

The more personal the personal value message, the more challenging it is to build into general sales messaging. You may find some of the personal value messages are more suitable for specific sales plays to known, targeted decision-makers. And you will almost certainly want to communicate the personal values more subtly, perhaps through customer anecdotes and testimonials.

Back to the Beach

I was tempted to speak to that father on the beach who chastised his kids for going into the water after they ate. I would have liked to have told him about the researchers who couldn’t find a single known instance of someone drowning because they ate before they swam. But I didn’t want to correct him in front of his family. Short of depriving his kids of a little water time, he probably wasn’t doing much harm anyway. Some myths are relatively harmless.

But the myth of the impersonal buyer isn’t one of them. The customers’ emotions and personal interests can play a strong role in the decision-making process. Make sure you’re leveraging the power of personal value messaging to improve your differentiation and customer impact—and avoid becoming a victim of the myth of the impersonal buyer.

Rod Griffith

Rod Griffith

Rod Griffith is president and co-founder of MarketReach (www.mreach.com), a B2B technology marketing services firm based in Nashua, NH. He can be reached at rgriffith@mreach.com.

7 Best Practices for Hiring Quality Copywriters

7 Best Practices for Hiring Quality Copywriters

Copywriting is now more critical than ever for your organization to communicate with your audience. Good copywriting is needed, for not only a company’s website, but also for blogs, brochures, white papers, videos, presentations, case studies, advertising campaigns, emails, newsletters, and more.

However, not all copywriters are the same.

Different types of copywriters include sales copywriters, content copywriters, individuals who specialize in business to consumer communications, others who focus on B2B content, and other specialized types of copywriters depending on field.

Here are some best practices when hiring copywriters…

  1. Inquire about their areas of expertise.  It’s important to determine the writer’s specific domain knowledge. For example, security organizations should consider copywriters with a background in cyber security over individuals who lack industry knowledge.
  2. Confirm the skill level of the copywriter. Is the copywriter you are hiring — permanently or temporarily — a professional writer or somebody who does writing on the side? Does your project(s) require a copywriter with minimal experience or a seasoned pro?
  3. Determine if the copywriter knows your audience. Many businesses will have already determined targeted audience via customer profiles. Make sure the copywriter you hire understands your audience’s pain points/challenges and how your product or service benefits this audience.
  4. Ask for writing samples. Experienced copywriters are happy to share a sample of their work to show their skills and experience. Reviewing their portfolio can help you determine if they are the best person for your specific project.
  5. Learn what type of content the writer excels in. As covered, not all copywriters are the same. Some writers may specialize in writing web copy, others may have the expertise in writing white papers. While many copywriters have experience in various content types (case studies, blogging, white papers, solution briefs), they may have a content type they are truly passionate about and you can use that as an advantage to your marketing efforts.
  6. Request copywriters interview subject matter experts. Subject matter experts (SMEs) can provide an insider’s perspective of the particular topic, product, or service you’ve tasked the writer to cover. When copywriters interview and work with your organization’s SMEs, they will learn about your company’s positioning on the topic. Consider copywriters who have a background in journalism as they will have the experience of interviewing and valuing the time of experts.
  7. Consider scaling from one writer to a whole team. Hiring a copywriting team, which includes a chief editor, can help extend your content creation efforts. The chief editor can help manage the team, deliverables, and deadlines. While hiring one writer might be sufficient for your needs, what happens if your marketing organization requires multiple content deliverables under tight deadlines? Considering a copywriting that can extend your team’s efforts, manage expectations and help deliver relevant content to speak with your audience.

Sridhar Ramanathan is Managing Director and Co-founder of Aventi Group, a product marketing agency specializing in B2B tech firms. Based in San Francisco, Aventi Group boasts world-class clients who engage the firm for expertise, speed and flexibility when it comes to revenue growth initiatives.

 

Is Your Go-to-Market Plan Solving the Right Problem?

Is Your Go-to-Market Plan Solving the Right Problem?

Bruce La Fetra, Eastwood Strategy Advisors

Summary

The Three Pillars increase Go-to-Market ROI by putting your focus on improving the customer’s business, learning why customers select your offering, and understanding the science of decision-making so you can help your customers make better decisions.

The product marketers at the recent Boston Product Marketing Community conference created a list of their top challenges. They were:

  • Harnessing the trusted customer voice
  • Creating messaging that rises above the noise
  • Measuring product marketing ROI.

Product marketers can address all three challenges by re-framing the issue as: “How do you improve your customer’s business?”

Winning a customer requires more than solving a problem. To win a customer over the long term, you must help them improve their business. To most marketers, this represents a shift in how they think and market.

The Three Pillar approach helps makes this shift feel natural. The Three Pillars lock your focus on:

  • Positioning – Adopt an Outside-Looking-In point of view
  • Less Is More – Learn on why customers select your offering
  • Get Selected Faster and More Often – Accelerate the sales cycle by understanding how people make decisions.

Far from being difficult to implement, the Three Pillars create a virtuous cycle of marketing that improves execution with each iteration.

The Three Pillars are commonly overlooked because they don’t tie directly to your company’s tangible product or service. They are a foundational approach that improves any product or service. Because the Three Pillars integrate with traditional go-to-market strategy and planning activities, big gains don’t require new investments or technology.

Pillar 1 – Positioning: Adopt an Outside-Looking-In Point of View

Pick up a piece of marketing collateral and, with few exceptions, it will talk more about the vendor than the customer. This “inside-looking-out” point of view is natural but turns off customers who want to talk about their business, not yours.

Shifting your focus away from your product and how it is used creates the alternative “outside-looking-in” point of view. Instead, you ask, “How does working with my company improve the customer’s business?”

Start thinking this way, and your customers will notice and love you for it. Even if your product is unremarkable, simply speaking in terms of the success of their business rather than yours causes buyers to gravitate to your company.

A common point-of-view prepares you to identify the real reasons why your customers buy from your company.

 

Pillar 2 – Less Is More: Learn Why Customers Select Your Offering

Customers select your company for reasons that can be quite different from why you would select your company. Your customer’s buying decision depends less on the finer points of your offer than you think. You work hard to offer a quality product with lots of capabilities. So do your competitors. Customers expect quality, so quality is the cost of entry. Ditto for many features and capabilities. The downside of poor quality or missing a key feature is much larger than the upside from superior quality or a longer list of capabilities.

It’s not so easy to figure out what matters. Beyond hard sales data, most customer buying information is riddled with confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and guesswork. Uncertainty leads to “throwing mud at the wall” to see what sticks. The Three Pillars replace this kind of guesswork with confidence.

To figure out what drives selection, you must dig deeper. Be careful, surveys are ideal for validating hypotheses but are a poor choice when you don’t know what you don’t know. An open mind and an expert third-party will guide you toward insights you are unlikely to discover on your own.

Seeing your business the way your customers see it and knowing why they select your company prepares you for Pillar 3: shortening the sales cycle by understanding how your customers think and decide.

 

Pillar 3 – Get Selected Faster and More Often: Accelerate the Sales Cycle by Understanding How People Make Decisions

You don’t have to manipulate or even influence customers to gain a competitive advantage from aligning your marketing with how they make decisions. By understanding how your customer thinks, you can help them make better decisions. It’s counter-intuitive, but less information can drive faster, more confident decisions.

People are less rational and more emotion-driven than they believe. This includes complex purchase decisions. They strive to be logical, but processing gobs of often ambiguous or conflicting information from multiple vendors flies in the face of how humans make decisions.

People make an initial decision based on emotion, then cherry-pick facts to make their decision seem logical. A growing body of research shows that making an earlier emotional connection with the buyer gives you an advantage. Once they decide they like an option, the buyer’s thinking falls in line with their emotions (Raghunathan, University of Texas).

Take away the emotional component, and we struggle with decision making. That’s what researchers found working with people who lack emotions due to brain injuries (Damasio, USC). Good decisions balance emotion and logic; both are required.

The perception that a better logical argument wins the day undermines your marketing efforts. Nothing derails the buyer’s decision process like a long list of features—even benefits—when it causes them to reconsider their initial, emotional decision.

 

Connecting the Three Pillars

The Three Pillars infuse the entire go-to-market process, especially positioning & messaging, documenting the Buyer’s Journey, and sales enablement. Together these activities create clarity by re-casting critical marketing activities from the point of view of the customer.

When I teach the Three Pillars to marketers, they are surprised to find the Three Pillars work especially well with complex B2B offers involving multiple people. These types of buying processes are full of uncertainty, and the Three Pillars create clarity and focus. By clearly aligning with your customer’s business success, buyers and influencers find it easier and less risky to select your company. Internally, the phased approach allows for a virtuous cycle of marketing that reinforces and improves execution over time. The Three Pillars quickly collects additional adherents based on demonstrated results.

Using the Three Pillars to understand and align with your customers’ business success builds a more effective Go-to-Market plan that accelerates the sales cycle. Your company becomes an easier choice for customers because you are authentically aligned with the customer voice. Outside-In messaging rises above the noise because it is both unexpected and better. Finally, linking your success with that of your customers is extremely attractive positioning to customers.

About Bruce La Fetra

Bruce La Fetra is a Partner with Eastwood Strategy Advisors. He positions companies and products for growth by aligning Go-to-Market plans with their customers’ success. Marketing leaders benefit from insights gained during his 20+ years in product management, product marketing, and hundreds of customer interviews for dozens of clients. Prior to consulting, Bruce held product management, product & service marketing, and business development roles for leading software, hardware, and financial services companies. Contact Bruce at Bruce@EastwoodStrategyAdvisors.com or connect with him on LinkedIn at http://LinkedIn.com/in/blafetra