In late 2012, market research firm Forrester dropped a statistic on sales and marketing organizations that likely made them shudder with sudden pangs of helplessness and fear.
According to Forrester’s research, today’s buyers complete as much as 90 percent of their decision-making journey before they ever reach out (or respond) to vendors. They search Google, ask for referrals on social networks, read industry blogs, and digest reviews. And if your business is lucky enough to survive that rigorous filtering process, customer might respond to your outreach.
Yes, marketers can still play an influential role in awareness and guidance during that prolonged period of proactive customer research, and salespeople can still have a big impact on the final steps of a buyer’s journey. But for any of that to happen, both functions need to change the way they operate to become part of the conversation before their customers have already made up their minds.
So, how can you do that?
Content and social selling are two great tactics for engaging in two-way conversations with prospective customers earlier in the buying process. These strategies allow sales and marketing teams to monitor customer activity and interest leading up to a purchase decision, and quickly respond — via customers’ preferred communication channels — to questions or concerns with relevant, helpful information. That proactive approach can go a long way toward building more engaging, trusting, and loyal relationships that, ultimately, spur sales.
Seems obvious enough, right? So how exactly should B2B businesses go about incorporating content and social selling tactics into their sales strategy?
Here are four simple tips:
1. Focus your efforts: While it might be tempting to chase customers down every rabbit hole on the Web, your goal should be to determine the online channels your target customers visit most frequently and then deliver the right content and insight to them there. To make that determination, start by analyzing your best current customers and look for common threads. Content and social selling tools can also be helpful to match the right content marketing assets to the right customer and marketing channel.
2. Listen first and then act: Content and social selling is very different from conventional marketing and sales tactics. It requires two-way conversation and a deeper appreciation of buyers’ needs at each stage of their journey. This makes listening — rather than constantly interrupting to deliver another value prop — a key skill. Follow your customers’ conversations online, identify common challenges, and observe how buyers interact with each other. That insight should help you create more targeted content and dramatically amplify your messaging.
3. Resist the temptation to sell: When you finally feel comfortable offering something of value to your customers, avoid the trap of immediately jumping into a sales pitch. Engaging through content and social channels requires trust, and the only way to earn that is to deliver truly helpful hints, suggestions, and other educational tips that help buyers better understand their pain points. Once you’ve established credibility and it’s clear that buyers are ready to progress through the funnel, you can begin deliver content or commentary that is more directly tied to your product or solution.
Above all, B2B businesses must strive to achieve consistency and relevancy in their content and social selling efforts. The more customers view your business as a critical source of insight and information, the more they’ll lean on you throughout their buying process.
Ultimately, that will help you not only engage customers earlier in the buying cycle (getting a foot in the door well before buyers have completed 90 percent of their buying decision), it will also give your business a significantly better chance of making the final cut.